The concept of the "paperless office" has been around for nearly three decades, long enough for it to have become an almost meaningless piece of jargon- the revolution that never happened. Yet in 2006, the ability to electronically store and retrieve data is finally living up to its name, and is driving a revolution in document management that is central to the operation of nearly every size of business.
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Three factors have driven the emergence of stronger, more flexible electronic document management systems since the turn of the century:
* The cost of data storage has dropped significantly, and is forecast to continue to drop in the decade to come. This means that both internal and external data storage becomes more feasible.
* The turbulence of the new millennium, from hackers and terrorist attacks to flood and fire, has driven home the necessity of data retention, secure off-site storage, and limited-access procedures.
* Government regulation and oversight requirements are demanding more robust audit trails, access controls, and workflow solutions even in small to midsized enterprises.
Added to this is the rising cost of managing and storing necessary documents, both for the accounting firm and for its clients. While the costs for an average accounting firm vary-one estimation places the cost for an average firm with 500 clients at more than $7,800, another placed it closer to $28,000- the fact is that storing paper is costly, unwieldy, and dangerous in the event the data is lost.
Finally, there is the impact of EDM on client relationships. This includes the ability to store data in a format that is fast, easy to search, and easier to make available over the Internet via a Web browser. Clients no longer need to wait for historical documentation or excerpts from plans-their files are at their fingertips, ready for use or for collaborative review with the accountant.
This article reviews the seven best-of-class EDM solutions for accounting. Some of the systems are tied directly to accounting platforms, while others are independent. All offer very scalable and economical solutions that can comfortably handle the requirements of both the accounting firm and its clients.
ARCHIVE STUDIO FOR ACCOUNTING
Introduced in 2003, Archive Studio for Accounting is a simplified set of software products that enables small and mid-sized accounting firms to more easily capture, organize, and retrieve documents.
The process is simple and straightforward: Documents are scanned into any SCSI or TWAIN-compatible scanner and stored in user-defined folders on the network. The images of each document are compressed, using ITU Group IV compression, and sent to the network server or off-site storage facility.
The basic accounting suite includes the DocuLex Goby Capture software that works with digital copiers or network scanners to capture pages of client documents and store them as PDF, TIFF, or JPG images that exactly mirror the original. The Windows-based programs utilize an open-system format, and are compatible with most major-brand production scanners and multifunctional printers. The second part of the suite, WebSearch, provides secure, full-text content search, and instant access to stored documents.
DocuLex Search manages security and retrieval of indexed and stored electronic files housed locally on a network or remote file server with access to the Internet. Files are promptly available, presented by key values such as number, name, date, document type, or other custom fields. Information can also be identified and retrieved using full-text content searching. Searches works on platforms that include Windows, Web browser, or those published on removable media.
While Goby Capture is recommended for small to mid-sized accounting firms, there are options for more robust scanning software for use by larger accounting firms with multiple locations and more complex imaging projects. These are Office Capture for medium complexity and simple indexing needs, and Professional Capture for high-volume, high indexing needs.
Three features make the DocuLex suite impressive for accounting firms: the search system, which has been designed to allow searches on such key elements as engagement dates and tax year; the flexible file folder system; and the ability to search by individual words in each document. DocuLex Archive Studio is a robust and flexible solution well geared to the needs of accounting firms of any size.
Archive Studio For Accounting
Winter Haven, Fla.
(863) 297-3691 Ext. 209
FileCabinet CS goes far beyond the simple demands of document archiving, building instead a rich and well-designed system for data storage, editing, and collaboration.
Designed specifically for accounting offices, FileCabinet CS resides on the desktop. Microsoft Office documents, those generated by other CS Professional Suite applications and documents generated from other Windows-based applications, can be stored directly onto a hard drive or network drive, with each document identified by a client ID and name for easy indexing. Documents are stored in a logical accounting office folder set, and other documents-source documentation, deeds, wills, and other paper-can be scanned into the system and stored using any TWAIN-compliant scanner.
FileCabinet CS offers a wealth of customization features to make storage and retrieval easier. Documents can be segregated into different folders for different types of data, accounting versus tax information, for example. Documents are indexed by a custom list of document names created by each firm to ensure consistency of folder names and descriptions, or by keywords created by each firm.
Saving work documents into the appropriate folder is as simple as printing the document-just select FileCabinet CS as the printer. Files may also be embedded in the system for editing at a later date, with full retrieval capabilities. Older files can be "hidden" until needed to reduce clutter. And additional back-ups of the client data from other CS Professional Suite products-up to 10 versions-can be made for storage to removable media or at an off-site location.
Files from multiple workstations and applications reside in the same set of folders, so that anyone in the office is able to access and make use of any client or firm document if they have the appropriate security rights. Clients are even able to access the documents or share them over the Internet using a NetClient CS portal from the accounting firm's Web site.
FileCabinet CS is not intended to replace high-end search-and-retrieval systems, but rather to save accounting offices money by replacing paper document storage with a sleek, painless electronic document storage system. Tightly integrated with Office and the CS Professional suite, it qualifies as "must have" software for any accounting firm.
Price: $1,500 for single-user license. Networking module $500, plus $250 for four-seat license pack.
GoFileRoom, a secure, Web-hosted document management and workflow system, was specifically designed for use by accounting firms. Acquired from Immediatech last summer by Thomson's RIA Compliance unit, it combines an accounting-centric orientation with sophisticated search-and-collaboration capabilities.
GoFileRoom works with most document formats, including scanned paper documents, documents generated by the firm's accounting system, Word and Excel documents, Outlook and Lotus Notes emails, electronic faxes and other "printable" documents (Web pages, emails, or software applications). Each document is indexed or "tagged" for simplified filing and retrieval. Optical character recognition and full-text searching provides for fast and accurate document retrieval by allowing users to search for keywords within documents and across documents.
Documents from the desktop are either added to GoFileRoom in their native format or "printed" to GoFileRoom as PDF documents, and paper documents are scanned using any common scanner using the provided "Scanflow" software that uses bar-coding technology for accurate indexing. Scanned documents are stored in Adobe's PDF format, allowing for advanced capabilities that include searching, annotating, organizing, book marking, merging, and appending, highlighting, and approval stamping.
Additional modules expand the system to include tax workflow support and client collaboration. TaxFlow is an add-on module that replaces a firm's paper-based control sheets and tracks the entire tax process, from the creation of an electronic tax folder to the final delivery of the tax return to the client. ClientFlow, an add-on module, can be integrated to the CPA firm's existing Web site, allowing firms to securely share documents with their clients via the Internet.
As a Web-based application, GoFileRoom is updated on an ongoing basis rather than in periodic releases. Recent updates include integration with Adobe Acrobat 7.0; enhanced TaxFlow features; integration with the Windows Explorer Send To feature, enabling the importing of documents from the Windows desktop with one click; a new Sensitive Drawer feature to protect highly sensitive documents, such as employee or partner documents; and an Auto-Update feature that automates the updates of any client-side add-ins.
GoFileRoom is an excellent example of the fusion of the Internet and accounting: fast, simple, and packed with features that increase profits through efficiency and collaboration. It's a system that will sit well with the work style and workflow of accounting firms of any size.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
www.Immediatech.com or www.gofileroom.
Price: Starts at $750 per month.
LACERTE DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT