Firms, especially those of the small variety that grow fast, can quickly find themselves unable to keep up with the increasing number of clients and the demands that come with them.
Workflow software does the work of organizing jobs from beginning to end in collaboration with the user, minimizing human error and maximizing efficiency. Below, three firms share their impetus for finding a workflow solution that works for them, and how they put those solutions to use.
SING A SONG OF WORKFLOW
Firm: LWS Tax & Accounting Services / Springfield, Ohio
Product: Jetpack Workflow
Commencement date: December 2013
On record: President Blake Shaffer
Amount spent/pricing: Approx. $1500 a year
Challenge/objective: Two years ago, Shaffer found himself in over his head with too many clients and not enough resources and organization to handle them. Shaffer admitted that tasks started falling through the cracks and he lost a couple of big clients. He needed a workflow solution, and chose Jetpack because other products either “weren’t cloud-based, were clunky, antiquated, and didn’t flow well … I had a vision, and none of the other products fit that.” He tried 10 products before selecting Jetpack.
Process: LWS had approximately 1,500 clients at implementation, and importing them all onto the system was quite easy, Shaffer said: “I spent about two days implementing every single thing we do into the program. Jetpack’s customer service is crazy — I reach out with a question, and they immediately have a YouTube video and a link on how to do it.”
Almost every aspect of LWS’s workflow is now in the Jetpack system, and Shaffer said that it has been easy for his staff to learn.
“There is also great team communication for every job you have,” he added. “We can work together really well on a project without having to do anything outside the system.”
Results: According to Shaffer, since implementing Jetpack, LWS hasn’t missed a deadline. If they miss anything, it’s because of user error. “We were a firm that was growing so fast that I was planning to hire a partner and more staff,” Shaffer said. “But as soon as I implemented Jetpack, I realized I could double again and still manage my work.” The firm has 2,100 clients today. “It really changed how I do my business,” Shaffer added. “It changed my life a little bit. I’m not joking — my staff even made a song about how much I love it!”
Next steps: Most missteps that occur with Jetpack are usually the result of Shaffer or his staff forgetting to input information. However, Jetpack is currently rolling out a new feature where users can forward an e-mail to Jetpack, and the software turns the subject line into a job name, while the contents of the e-mail go into the job. Other features Shaffer would like to see added are the integration of time and billing — currently LWS uses a completely separate system for this — and the ability to send QuickBooks Online invoices directly from within the Jetpack software. Jetpack does have a QuickBooks Online plug-in, but a user can only send the invoices from QuickBooks and not the workflow program.
STELLAR CUSTOMER SERVICE
Firm: Michael A. Gordon CPA / Coos Bay, Ore.
Product: Workspace (Office Tools)
Commencement date: December 2010
On record: Owner Michael Gordon
Amount spent/pricing: Initial price: $1,700; renewal fee: $2,830 per year
Challenge/objective: In 2010, Michael A. Gordon CPA was using a different workflow product, and according to Gordon, around that time “there were very few products doing the integrated project — integrating a whole bunch of functions in one product, at one time, in one place.” To Gordon, integration was critical, and that’s why he switched.
Process: During implementation, a Workspace consultant came to Gordon’s offices for two days to help install the program. “Office Tools is very unique in this way,” he said. “You pay for a consultant, but it is well worth the expense. I can’t imagine trying to take a piece of software that does so much — and that’s key, this software does so much — and implementing it yourself. When the consultant leaves, you are running full speed … they go through the entire office procedural system, understand who does what, when, and tweak and fine-tune it to run the system just for your firm.” Implementation was not without its bumps, however. When Gordon’s firm came on board, Office Tools was switching its database management system over from Microsoft Access to Microsoft SQL. But Gordon said that Office Tools met every question with an immediate solution.
What is clearly his favorite aspect of the tool is the customer service. “When you call Office Tools — this has been remarkable — you get people who know what they’re doing,” he said. “You get real help … And if the report you need isn’t there, they’ll customize one for you. That has continued to be a very pleasant surprise for us.”
One of the biggest advantages of using Workspace is its time and billing module. Gordon said that the billing process is “remarkably easy and incredibly customizable.” He has billed with “several sophisticated time and billing software” solutions, but Office Tools’ Workspace is “the easiest and most flexible.” Another advantage is the extensive integration that allows users to “work flawlessly between all the different modules.”
Results: The main result of using Workspace for Gordon has been “having up-to-date information at your fingertips whenever you want it, regarding client projects, client data, client contact information, the progress of different projects you’re working on, and knowing where you are with any client on any project at any time, which is just phenomenal. That’s the name of the game. That’s what we’ve all been screaming for for 20 years.”
Next steps: “The next step for us is just to continue to use Workspace and make sure we’re using all of the features in the most efficient manner,” Gordon said. “The only area I want to see beefed up a little bit is in the use of the portal — the portal is a secure method of communicating and sharing documents with clients. [Office Tools has] been improving it almost monthly and I’m very impressed with the improvement. What I’d like to see is a little more speed in the transmission of documents back and forth. I have been told they’re currently working on this and we’ll see it in the next version.”
Firm: Windes / Long Beach, Calif.
Commencement date: January 2015
On record: Senior manager of tax services Christy Selogie
Amount spent/pricing: Contact vendor
Challenge/objective: Windes performed a Lean Six Sigma project together with XCM, and found some “major inefficiencies” that the firm wanted to work through. Selogie said that the firm looked at other products that “just seemed to automate our current problems … XCM seemed like a solution.”
Process: For implementation, Windes pulled a team together from that Lean Six Sigma team. The firm had a representative from XCM assigned to help walk it through the rollout process. “The difficulties that we ran into were uncovering stuff we’d done wrong on our end,” Selogie said. “We had a lot of skeletons — things we’d previously done and needed to update. Our firm has been around for 90 years. It was time-consuming and took a lot of working together, coming together, and coming up with solutions.”
Selogie said that at first, Windes “wasn’t too thrilled” with the rep assigned to the firm. However, the new representative Windes got after requesting a change was “totally on top of it and responsive.” It was also easy to get all the users up and running. “After each level we had a Q&A to hash out any issues. I don’t remember any massive hiccups — just trying to get everybody on board with the idea of using it … But everybody’s on board now.”
Windes has come up with a unique method of using the job assignment feature within XCM, which allows jobs to be assigned to users according to difficulty. The firm created its own matrix of categories in a job, each of which is assigned a number between 1 and 5. The aggregate of these values determines the difficulty level of a particular job, and is then input into XCM and assigned to a staff member according to seniority/ability.
This job assignment feature, having all the due date information in one spot, and up-to-date information on every job are among the advantages of XCM that Selogie named.
Results: “Just within the first year, we had much better realization because we had our finger on our work and where it was.”
Next steps: Selogie said that she would like to see Windes get better at using the difficulty level/job assignment tool. “There’s probably a lot more with respect to reporting that we could utilize,” she added. “We’ve reached out to our representative. There are [instructional] videos, but it would be nice to be aware of all the features and to dig deeper.”
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