While the idea of managing a paperless office isn't entirely new to CPAs, there are still numerous firms that are only just starting to explore document management software and the processes associated with it.
It's not that most firms aren't aware of what current document management systems and practices can do, but there are still questions and reservations about how to take the first step towards reducing years of filed paper.
In an attempt to highlight the products and processes firms can undertake in their move towards controlling and reducing paper flow and storage, several firms of varying sizes shared their experiences and best practices managing their documents.
Driving out paper
Firm: Picker & Auerbach / Brooklyn, N.Y.
Size: Five people
Product: Office Tools Professional (Office Tools Professional)
Amount spent: Initial outlay - $1,500; $500-$600 per year thereafter.
Commencement date: 2007
On record: Managing partner Barry Picker
Challenge/objective: The firm had a document storage system, but no workflow to help manage it or any projects that involved documents. They needed a better system - one that could continue to reduce paper costs.
Process: After selecting Office Tools Pro based on price and the overall capabilities of the product, they brought in a member of the Office Tools sales team to help with training. Picker discovered that the program was able to do more than they initially needed and he didn't want anyone in his firm to be intimidated by using it. After a month of training and use, he claims that everyone at the firm was comfortable with the system. Also, since some documents were already scanned into their existing document storage system, they decided to simply move forward from the time they began using Office Tools, rather than transfer files.
Results: The firm, on occasion, still utilizes the original system. Paper costs are down and they now have some leeway to stock up on paper when they find it on sale, rather than running out for it when the supply is nearly out. There is also less paper in the office, since everyone is now in the routine of scanning into Office Tools and shredding what they don't need to retain.
In addition, the firm utilizes Office Tools for time management, since it has a feature that allows administrators to check hours worked on any particular project. "The hardest thing we had to get used to was not getting up and going to the file cabinet. I can just click now. What's better - especially in tax season - is not wasting time," said Picker. "There is still too much paper on the desk; clients continue to give us paper, though occasionally they do submit electronically. The software does give us a list of what to do, which is helpful. It's a step-by-step process and we'll get there."
Next steps: The firm still has a file room, though there is far more space in it than there used to be, and there is less need to visit these days. Still, Picker quipped that he would one day like to "reclaim" the room.
A head start
Firm: Accounting Strategies Group / Preston, Md.
Size: 15 people
Product: ProSystem fx Document (CCH)
Amount spent: Initial outlay - $14,000 with the portal. Cost includes training, consulting and set-up. Maintenance - $8,900 (discounted annually).
Commencement date: July 2010
On record: Partner Sam Sauca
Challenge/objective: In order to reduce paper and costs, they needed an efficient and cost-effective document management product. Being a firm in a rural area, they also wanted a DM product that could be accessed from anywhere without having to worry about forgetting any documents - all while saving on time and adding flexibility to staff work schedules.
Process: The firm began paperless efforts back in 2004 using a simpler document management system, which did not have the capabilities the firm needed, but gave it a head start. After attending a CCH user conference, the firm was introduced to ProSystem fx Document, a cloud-based DM application that could integrate with the firm's existing tax software. The firm began training immediately after tax season last year, and by August was set up and ready to move forward.
"We came up with the right training for our employees, as well. The biggest thing was getting everyone on board; when we set up, we spent a lot of time with guidelines and procedures such as how to name files and check things in and out," explained Sauca. "We did struggle with how much we're going to put in there - we have things from 2004 and we didn't want to pay people to go in and move everything. So we decided as of Jan. 1, 2011, everything we do [going forward] would be in [ProSystem fx] Document."
Results: The software has, so far, exceeded the firm's expectations. The only remaining issue is the firm's Internet connection speed, which is slow for uploading large files. "When you go to a client and say, 'Let me show you your return,' and you see all the work papers there, they're impressed," said Sauca. "[Document management and going paperless] is definitely something that gives [accountants] some pause, but in my opinion, it was less of an issue going from one paperless product to another. But it was a positive step."
Next steps: The firm is starting to input some client payroll documents into ProSystem fx Document, and would like everyone at the firm to be more comfortable working with the new system.
Put out more scanners
Firm: Kerkering Barberio & Co. / Sarasota, Fla.
Size: 100 people
Product: Fujitsu ScanSnap510 / eFileCabinet
Amount spent: Just under $300 per scanner; $10,000 for eFileCabinet. Annual renewal - $3,300 for 110 users.
Commencement date: Mid-2008
On record: Chief operating officer John Nicholas
Challenge/objective: The firm needed a "reasonably inexpensive" way to reduce paper and the time tax pros took having to scan documents from one central scanner in the office. The decision was made that they needed a document management system and more scanners for everyone to use.
Process: The firm has various committees ranging from tax to technology. Everyone met at once and made the decision to adopt a good document management system, which ultimately necessitated the use of cost-effective scanners. "We had not been using document management software before, so we had to do some research and found these to be the best, most simple and cost-effective solutions for us," said Nicholas. "This approach necessitated use of multiple scanners. Initially we didn't order 100, but once we saw how easy eFileCabinet was [to use] and ScanSnap to facilitate it, it didn't take long to push out."
Results: In terms of cost versus earnings, Nicholas said that if one $300 machine helps a partner bill at $100-plus an hour and saves them three hours over the tax season, it's paid for. There is currently a ScanSnap scanner on every desk. All tax pros in the office can now take client documents and push them through the ScanSnaps. The firm is at a point where the scanners and eFileCabinet are an integral part of the tax preparation process.
Nicholas also noted that the firm has modified its processes, in that for larger tax documents they use a central processing department to do the scanning. Until two years ago, the firm was still processing tax returns decentrally, in which each executive assistant who works for a tax team was responsible for processing in their area. In addition, the office space used to be 30,000 square feet filled with built-in filing cabinets in the hallways. This year, due to its reduction in paper, the firm was able to remodel and took out 100 feet of file cabinets from the hallways.
Next steps: The firm still has offsite storage, but said that it has been dramatically reduced, and that it would eventually like to do away with it. In addition, the firm is looking to increase its use of its central document processing and is currently pushing financial statements and payroll documents through. Finally, the firm would like to see all of its tax professionals focus more on reviewing returns, rather than data entry.
Up the curve
Firm: Hack CPA / Wausau, Wis.
Size: 7 people
Product: FileCabinet CS (Thomson Reuters)
Amount spent: $2,700
Commencement date: February 2010
On record: Tricia Nielsen, CPA
Challenge/objective: To become more efficient and save space by going paperless, reducing the growing piles of archived documents. Also from a client service standpoint, the firm wanted a document management system that could integrate well with its portal, so clients could submit and access documents anytime. The firm had been experiencing a notable increase in inquiries about document management efforts from colleagues and clients.
Process: As an existing Thomson Reuters client, utilizing the company's tax software and portal, the firm was introduced to FileCabinet CS. Even so, they attended a couple of webinars that compared a few systems, and read trade publications that featured other document management systems before deciding that FileCabinet CS would meet their integration needs. Once the decision was made, Nielsen attended online training and webinars through Thomson Reuters and then met with the firm's owner to settle on a rollout procedure, all of which took two months between training and testing. The firm settled on a three-year plan that would ultimately reduce its paper storage, starting with current tax documents and payroll documents. For the first year the firm had only one person scanning what came in, but now everyone has a scanner on their desk, where files are ultimately stored in FileCabinet CS.
Results: "We are not quite to the phase of having the efficiency we want - we are still reviewing manually - but I think by next year we will see more efficiency," said Nielsen. "We went into this thinking it would be a year or two learning curve. We are still warming clients up to the idea [of the firm going paperless]."
Next steps: Next tax season the firm is hoping to offer a completely paperless service, where clients won't a receive paper copy of their return unless they request it.
Firm: Horne / Ridgeland, Miss.
Size: Approximately 500 people
Product: KwikTag (DocSolid Inc.)
Amount spent: Software - $25,000; annual maintenance - $4,000.
Commencement date: January 2007
On record: Business analyst Carlton Beamon
Challenge: Implement a scalable scanning solution that tightly integrated with Horne's Enterprise Document Management system while providing centralized, full-text indexing of paper from any business unit in the firm. Consistency within processes is an ongoing strategic focus at Horne, so the solution had to be flexible enough to address the changing needs of any service area within the firm.
Process: Horne discovered DocSolid KwikTag through due diligence conducted by technology consultants iEnvision Technologies. There were a few products of interest, but the firm ultimately found thatDocSolid KwikTag best fit its needs. Horne chose KwikTag's integrated add-in to the existing document management that software users were already accustomed to, so training is extremely simple.
"What it does is allow the user to initiate scan reservation placeholders within the context of the client engagement workspace [in the document management system]," according to Beamon. Using barcode labels tracked by KwikTag, users verify their next barcode, create a scan reservation in the workspace, and place the matching barcode on the paper document. At the scanner, users select a single firm-wide KwikTag scan destination and then scan. From there, KwikTag uses the barcodes to separate the documents and then produces a full-text searchable PDF that replaces the original scan reservations in the document management system.
Results: On average, 7,000 pages are scanned per day. Once the firm's administrative and professional staff experienced what KwikTag could do to improve their daily workflow, they were all interested in using it. Staff levels from administrative support to partners use KwikTag everyday. Most do not even realize they are using a separate system because of the tight integration with the document management system.
KwikTag allows users to process large numbers of scan reservations that they have accumulated one at a time, or in large stacks. This has minimized trips to the scanner and time spent standing in front of the scanner. Professional staff appreciate the ability to maintain focus on engagement work at their desks, while still using KwikTag reservations throughout the day. Once they can find time to scan, they know all of the documents will go where they are supposed to. Also, everyone likes the fact that the barcode is redacted from the final document.
Other features users have come to rely on are the e-mail notifications that are sent immediately after documents have been received, and daily "Scan Not Received" notifications for staff that never got around to scanning.
Next steps: The firm's technology team recognizes the superior value that a full-text searchable document holds over that of a scanned "picture" of a paper document. Many staff do not realize this key difference. Future plans at Horne are to use the KwikTag paper gateway to ensure that 100 percent of documents introduced via central network scanners are full-text searchable.
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