Magazine article The CPA Journal

Managing the Impact of Cloud Computing

Magazine article The CPA Journal

Managing the Impact of Cloud Computing

Article excerpt

A fourth Industrial Revolution is underway globally; a digital revolution driven by the rapid, wide-scale deployment of digital technologies, such as in high-speed mobile Internet capabilities, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning. Cloud computing is at the vanguard of this transformation. As a result, organizations of all sizes, sectors, and geographies have substantially and rapidly increased their use of cloud computing. According to Gartner (2019), more than one-third of organizations see cloud investments as a top-three priority. The public cloud services market is projected to reach a staggering $266 billion in 2020.

One driver in this proliferation and widespread use of cloud computing is the current digital transformation. In a 2016 address, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella advanced this enduring description of digital transformation: "becoming more engaged with their customers, empowering their employees, optimizing how they run their business operations and transforming the products and services they offer using digital content." Such benefits from a cloud computing perspective include managing and outsourcing costly and difficult-to-update and -manage in-house IT infrastructure; streamlining and scaling storage, software, and application support; increasing speed and processing; reducing costs. As a result, organizations of all sizes, geographies and sectors, including CPA firms and their clients, are developing their own private cloud or purchasing public cloud services from cloud service providers (CSP), such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS.

While such potential benefits are compelling, market intelligence reveals that cloud computing exacerbates risks and creates new and unexpected risks. For example, a cloud security breach exposed the names, addresses, and account details of as many as 14 million U.S.-based Verizon customers. In this context, one can only imagine the potential cloud-related cybersecurity breaches and service failures that may emerge from the unexpected disruption and rapid transformation to remote working caused by the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. On the one hand, workers unexpectedly transitioning to remote working have been enabled in part by cloud computing to immediately, rapidly, and seamlessly access necessary data, software, and applications. On the other hand, such an unanticipated disruption and rapid transformation has exacerbated existing risks and created new risks as workers access data from remote locations; for example, breaches in data confidentiality, unauthorized access, and system availability failures.

This disruptive cloud paradigm raises questions from the corporate boards, managers, regulators, and assurance providers concerning cloud strategy, performance, risks, and controls. Such questions include: the scope and location of cloud activities; the implications of dependency on a web of cloud solution provider (CSP) vendors; reputation, intellectual property, financial statement and market trust vulnerabilities; global jurisdiction regulatory compliance; as well as the adequacy of risk management, cybersecurity, audit, and change management. This article looks at cloud computing opportunities, risks, and resiliency strategies, including enterprise risk management, CPA firm assurance, and change management.

The Cloud's Impact

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as a means for enabling on-demand access to shared pools of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage applications, services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released. In simple terms, the cloud is a massive cluster of super-sized servers housed in locations scattered around the globe (i.e., cloud farms). Cloud farms are operated by CSP vendors such as Amazon AWS; these vendors provide a range of hosting services.

Some organizations are adopting a cloud-first strategy for new systems or when replacing systems. …

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