I couldn't help but notice that No. 3 on the wish list of cloud services desired by accidental IT managers is accounting and financial applications.
Like customer relationship management (CRM) records, company's financial records are the sort of thing that it is convenient to be able to access regardless of location. Wouldn't it be good to know if an account is falling beyond in payments, especially if you are about to go ask them for more money? And woudn't it be easier on everyone if you and your managers could approve expense submissions on an ongoing basis, rather than creating a bottleneck in the process?
Naturally, all of the well-known SMB accounting vendors -- including Intuit, Microsoft and Sage -- are nurturing cloud-hosted editions of their applications. But there are also a slew of startups approaching this space, most of them with strong mobile access propositions as well as ties into other cloud applications for small businesses, including Google Apps.
The cloud accounting service providers might not have the legacy credentials that can be boasted by the big guys, but they are gaining traction as options for small businesses that might be looking for something a bit different or just something simpler.
FinancialForce.com - The San Francisco-based company, which has backing from Salesforce.com, is 100 percent focused on accounting and finance applications that are integrated with venerable CRM platform. It's probably more than a really small business will need, but the service has the advantage of both an impressive integrator network as well as a whole ecosystem of related applications that can be plugged into its platform.
FreeAgent - As the name suggests, one focus of this solution is freelancers who need a straightforward way to handle invoicing and bookkeeping. It "plays nicely" with Google Apps, PayPal, Basecamp (the project management service) and Capsule (CRM). There's also a module for multicurrency invoicing (which makes senses as the company behind it is from the United Kingdom). The monthly subscription is $24 per month.
Freshbooks - The Toronto-based service provider got its start as a billing alternative (the founder accidentally saved over an invoice in another accounting system), but it includes modules for expenses, time tracking and more. There are strong mobile applications for Apple iOS (smartphone and tablet) and the service now boasts 5 million users. Pricing starts $19.95 per month, although you can try it for 30 days for free.
Intacct - Based in San Jose, Calif., the 14-year-old cloud financial management software company just reported a 38 percent increase in bookings for its fiscal year ended June 30, 2013. It counts around 6,000 organizations as its customers. This is not exactly a simpler solution -- one of its strengths is a whole suite of integrated financial management applications for things like inventory management, vendor management and financial reporting. But it is probably a good option for fast-growth organizations, as the company has a big network of CPA firms and VARs that can create customized installations. Some trivia: the company's name is literally a mashup of the word's "Internet" and "accounting."
Kashoo - Vancouver-based Kashoo has made its mobile application (especially the iPad version) an integral part of its simple service. As of early May 2013, it had more than 100,000 users -- and it counted almost 50,000 downloads of the mobile app. (There is also an Android edition.) Pricing starts at $15 per month; there are also some fees for the in-app services offered within the mobile application.
Monchilla - Simplicity is the rallying cry for this service provider, which launched in 2012 and is being used by thousands of businesses (as of March 2013). The company uses recurring financial information that is already being generated by financial institutions and banks, and it includes a complete payroll module. The company is realistic, so it offers ideas for ways that you can integrate the service with Intuit QuickBooks. Or not. The pricing is simple: You pay $5 per company per month. "I use it to track expenses and invoices, run payroll through direct deposit, calculate monthly and quarterly taxes, reconcile transactions with our bank account and to run reports," writes Todd Storch, office manager with Rock Therapy Services, who contacted me after I requested a testimonial. "The ability to project your future bottom line by entering recurring (or estimated) income and expenses is a great feature that sets Monchilla apart from other accounting software."
Outright - The company was founded by two ex-Intuit employees, who were looking for one place to capture and organize the financial data for their own startup businesses. One of the top applications in the Google Apps marketplace, there are more than 200,000 small businesses using the software. The service was acquired by Go Daddy in 2012, and Outright delivers the behind-the-scenes bookkeeping for the Internet company's small-business customers. The basic service is free. Pricing starts at $9.95 per month if you want feautures such as sales tracking and reporting.
Less Accounting - The biggest plus of this very simple, free application is that it can be completed integrated with a Google Apps account. For example, it will recognize your Google Contacts database. Eventually, there will be paid add-on modules, but if you need something super simple to start, this service is one of the "most installed" services in the Google ecosystem.
Wave - Wave Accounting is part of a family of cloud applications from a Toronto-based developer. It includes all the basic accounting features you would expect, including payroll integration, and can be connected to information from PayPal and Shoeboxed. The service is free, but there is a catch: You'll have to view offers from companies like Amex, Staples and Dell that are using it as a way to advertise their services and products for small businesses.
Xero - There is a strong mobile component to this extensive set of core accounting modules, which include payroll, multi-currency support, reporting dashboards, and inventory insights. The multinational company has also been big on negotiating useful integrations, such as its relationship with payment processing service Stripe. Xero has more than 155,000 "paying" customers and 200,000 users in 100 countries. Pricing for small businesses starts at $19 per month.
Zoho - The Zoho Books service is just one in the Pleasanton, Calif., company's extensive suite of online applications for small businesses. It handles the tasks you would expect, including fees from financial accounts, unlimited invoicing, expense tracking, financial reports, reconciliation and multi-currency support. The subscription is $24 per month. (You can pay as you go, although you will receive a break if you buy a whole year upfront.)
Updated Aug. 12 to clarify developer for Less Accounting service.