by Carly Lombardo
Like what you see? Click here to sign up for Accounting Today's daily newsletter to get the latest news and behind the scenes commentary you won't find anywhere else.
Pattie Weaver started with Aarons Grant & Habif 18 years ago when PCs were just hitting the market. Now the firm is implementing a document management system and she can't imagine business without technology.
The 28-year-old Atlanta-based firm specializes in traditional tax planning and preparation, as well as industry-specific consulting services--especially for the health care sector. AGH has consistently grown due to the partners' (especially Weaver's) willingness to evolve with technology. Annual revenue is now approximately $5 million; there is an installed base of 3,000 clients.
Weaver heads up a five-person technology team that serves the 35-member firm. The key to successfully implementing technology in-house, she explains, is to "make sure you get everyone involved, and make sure the new technologies you're implementing are easy to use."
A case in point: the firm's recent implementation of a document management system. Weaver believed the practice was spending too much time storing, archiving, and retrieving documents in the traditional way. "We were afraid we'd lose, misplace, or destroy important client data," she says.
In order to make the transition as palatable as possible, Weaver set up a committee to identify all the relevant issues and to solicit employee feedback. However, Weaver says, "The biggest issue when deciding to implement the system was choosing the software because the concept of a paperless office was still new." She enlisted the help of Premier Logic, an Atlanta firm specializing in implementing such systems.
Premier Logic helped Aarons Grant with two challenges. The first was to determine an appropriate document management software package that fit the firm's needs, and the second was to implement the new system prior to the busy tax season. The choice was between Xerox's DocuShare and Microsoft's Sharepoint Portal Server software package.
"We chose Xerox's DocuShare and Flowport system because of the out-of-the-box functionality, ease of customization, price, and scalability," says Weaver. Modifications to the system included automated client folder creation, quick access client search, and automatic metadata population.
The firm invested approximately $50,000 in hardware, software, and consulting fees, and expects a return on investment in two years. "We are going to start to use the system during tax season," reports Weaver. She can hardly wait for the benefits to accrue. "Besides decreased storage costs, improved employee efficiency, and no document retrieval costs, the most important aspect is it will allow us to be more responsive to our customers," she says.
Serving A Niche
The firm has also been drawn into the low-end accounting software market. Ninety-five percent of AGH's small to mid-size clients use Intuit's QuickBooks; the rest are on Best Software's Peachtree.
Weaver has been helping clients with QuickBooks since the software first came out; she finds it fits nicely with Aarons Grant's health care clients. These users not only need to allot costs among various profit centers, which QuickBooks can easily accommodate, but the software also "is easily customizable for management reports."
For example, Weaver recently did an implementation for a medical practice that encompassed eight locations, seven doctors, and a surgery center. "The practice wanted to know the revenue from each location and doctor, and where they are making a profit. We set up QuickBooks so the system could manage what they need to know." She considered using the new QuickBooks for HealthCare Edition introduced last May, but ultimately decided to stick with QuickBooks Pro combined with a chart of accounts developed by the Medical Group Management Association.
The average cost of a QuickBooks implementation with custom set-up and training is $2,000 and takes about six weeks to complete, according to Weaver.
Carly Lombardo is Associate Editor of Accounting Technology and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.