by Carly Lombardo
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Catherine Parente had her work cut out for her when the 200-person, six-office firm of Carlin, Charron & Rosen decided to go paperless.
"We wanted to go paperless so our staff could access work from home, we could save file space, and we could share our people resources between offices," says Parente, who's a CPA, CVA, and CFE.
Carlin, Charron is the largest independent accounting firm in New England, with annual revenue last year of $20 million. Headquartered in Worcester, Mass., the firm has offices in Providence, R.I.; Boston, Needham, and Newton. Mass.; and Glastonbury, Conn. In addition, the practice can draw on the resources of six New England-based affiliate firms, which provide specialty niche services ranging from financial services and management/R&D tax credit consulting to corporate revitalization, outsourcing, and recruitment.
"Having a large firm of more than 200 people, it takes more time to move people. We planned going paperless in the right fashion, and we didn't rush it," says Parente, a partner with the Litigation Support and Business Valuation Services Group, based in Providence.
As the mastermind behind going paperless, Parente has more than 23 years of public accounting experience and is a member of the management committee at Carlin, Charron. Parente graduated from Bryant College, where she received a B.S. in Business Administration.
Parente chose to go paperless in two stages, with two different software products. The first stage began in fall 2000 with the purchase of CCH's ProSystem fx Engagement (formerly ePace) to assist in eliminating paper for audits, compilations, and review engagements. Fx Engagement stores audit and tax engagement binders in a Windows Explorer-style file room, allowing users access to electronic engagement binders whether they are working stand-alone, peer-to-peer, or connected to the firm's network.
"We chose ProSystem fx Engagement because the binder system is what we are used to, and it goes beyond document management," says Parente. "For example, one big benefit is that we no longer have lost or misfiled files or workpapers. Also, the standardizing of workpapers (indexing, coding, and content) has helped improve the efficiency of engagements, including the review of those engagements by managers and partners. It has also helped in the training of our staff," says Parente.
Worth the Investment
Stage two was to make the tax department paperless. Parente looked at about seven different software packages before selecting Millennium 10 from Bohemia, N.Y.-based ConvergentEDM.
Millennium 10 provides users with indexing options by keying in specific information as the document enters into Millennium.
"With this stage, there was more scanning of documents," recalls Parente. She set up a team that included people from the tax, audit, administration, and technology departments. "From there, these people created sub-teams to look at all the nuances of each department. We wanted to make sure we took it down to a very detailed level, such as which files need to be scanned, how are they organized, and when and at what volume do they come in."
In addition, the tax department will use Millennium's Web Application Server, which allows users to store, search, retrieve, and manage documents over the Internet. The server was installed last month and will be used internally before being rolled out to the firm's clients next month.
All offices are connected to each other via dedicated T-1 lines. The firm uses a combination of desktops and laptops, mostly Dells. It has 225 machines, and generally replaces one-third each year. Every office has two scanners, the higher-end Canon 5080C, which costs about $6,000 and completes about 90 pages per minute, and the Canon 3080C for about $3,000, which still scans about 40 pages per minute. The firm is scanning incoming documents, not its existing files.
She estimates that overall, ProSystem fx Engagement cost about $75,000 and Millennium 10 about $80,000. The hardware cost for 13 scanners came to approximately $60,000. "We figured it out that the cost to go paperless was about $1,000 per person." Return on investment will be pretty quick—"within two years," she says.