Accountants and Clients Online: Who Owns What Data?
While mobile smart device support and remote access to applications and data is becoming a standard requirement for most businesses today, the “online” working model goes a long way towards addressing problems faced when they need to get team members together no matter where they are.
“When the information is stored and managed centrally, it is easier to provide access to outside accountants or other professionals in the collaborative loop,” writes accounting technologist Joanie Mann recently at The Progressive Accountant.
Collaborative Model Snafus
But, while this collaborative working model solves numerous problems, it also introduces a number of issues that neither the business owner nor their outsourced professionals may have thought about. One of these issues is the challenge represented with dissolution of the engagement, and subsequent division of information assets related to it.
This separation can become unfriendly and problematic if the parties do not have an agreed-to plan. Quite frequently, disagreements result from the use of subscription-based online services which are not clearly delineated as customer-controlled versus provider-controlled. In these cases, clients may benefit from the use of a service through their provider, not understanding that the provider ultimately owns or controls access to the solution.
Joanie Mann at The Progressive Accountant -
In general, it is safe to take the approach that whoever pays the bill for the service is the owner of the data associated with it. This “he who pays the bill owns the data” approach is simple and it makes the most sense. Consider that the individual paying the bill for the services is the individual who is financially obligated for what occurs with the service, so it makes sense that they would have authority over service access and usage.
It is quite common in outsourced and online accounting models for a professional firm to subscribe to services or solutions which help them support various processing needs for their clients. Solutions such as Bill.com or SurePayroll to provide tools to assist professionals in efficient delivery of various process-support services, such as bill payments and approvals, or payroll processing and reporting. These tools are utilized as part of the professional service offering, and are generally not directly exposed to the client users (other than in specific contexts, perhaps). Separating the client from these systems is usually not difficult; the professional simply stops using the solution for that ex-client. Since the transaction information from the solution ultimately integrates into the accounting data file, the accounting firm can simply return the accounting data file to the client without losing their process support data in the online service.
On the other hand, if the client was the subscriber to the solution and the accounting professional was “invited” to participate with them, the separation would mean that the accountant no longer had access to the online data, and the client would retain use of the solution.
>>Continue reading at The Progressive Accountant