Workflow and document management are two terms that get bandied around a lot. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, which is incorrect since either may be a subset of the other, depending on how each is applied.
Let's look at workflow management first. On the micro level, workflow describes the processes and data routes that occur in a single application, while on the macro level it describes the routing of information within a firm. For example, in many firms, tax preparation workflow involves obtaining the taxpayer's data, possibly comparing income and expenses to those of the last year or two (though this can be done later in the flow), data input, data calculation, verification that the return contains all of the data delivered by the taxpayer, resolution of any questions or problems encountered in the preparation of the return, sign off of the return by one or more managers, review of the return by the taxpayer, filing of the return, and follow-up with the taxpayer. Workflow management here requires understanding of where the data moves into the system, where it's routed, why it's routed there, what processes are being performed at each destination, and having the ability to determine the progress of the application.
Tax prep is far from the only practice area that benefits from workflow management. At New Jersey-based WithumSmith+Brown PC, XCM is used to manage the workflow throughout the firm. James Bourke, CPA, a partner in the firm, explained: "I believe that a workflow tool should be deployed within a firm to better manage and control the flow of all work through the firm. Picking a tool to manage solely the flow of tax jobs or solely to manage the flow of audit jobs throughout the firm is a very inefficient deployment for a solution like this."
A DOC BY ANY OTHER NAME ...
Workflow is concerned with establishing the path that information takes within an application (on the micro level) or within a firm or client (on the macro level). To a great degree, document management deals with how the information is stored, searched and retrieved. There can be a considerable overlap between these two major functions. Some consider the capture, file conversion, and routing to be a responsibility of the document management system, while others consider that these tasks fall into the domain of workflow.
Regardless of which systems these particular tasks fall into, document management does have some functions that are solely in its purview. One consideration is that the word "document" in document management can have multiple meanings. It can be a scanned piece of paper, an electronic file, an e-mail, a fax, or even graphic images.
For the most part, document/content management is actually a database system, where the content object is stored, sometimes abstracted and/or assigned keywords, and linked with metadata such as author, version number, date and time stamped, and possibly network location. In many practices, access rights to specific pieces of data may be restricted.
With very few exceptions, the applications/systems detailed in this roundup are not intended to be installed or configured by the typical user, or even many IT departments. Tying into a network's active directory for e-mail addressing and access rights, for instance, is not a task for a casual user. Except for the very simplest system, expect that the installation and configuration is going to be performed by a qualified reseller, and prices will be quoted for a specific installation.
A number of applications covered in this roundup are tightly tied to other applications from the same vendor. While AccountantsWorld does not require that CyberCabinet be used with other components of its Software-as-a-Service-based PowerPractice system, it's really aimed at those users.
The application itself is more of a store-and-retrieve system than an actual document management system, though it has some of the more commonly found aspects of such a system, including the ability to scan in documents, file e-mails, and store other types of documents that are in electronic format, such as Microsoft Office files.
Where CyberCabinet differs from a full-blown document management system is in its lack of ability to convert files from one file type to another, abstract and extract key words, and track version numbers. At the same time, it can be set up so that clients can access files, so that sharing files generated in AccountantsWorld's other applications becomes a simple and easy process. For the reasonable monthly or yearly fee, if you are already using one or more of the PowerPractice components, adding CyberCabinet to the mix is almost a no-brainer.
CabinetNG is a DMS that is a step up from file-store-and-retrieve systems. The application is modular, meaning that you can add only the components that make sense for you or your client, and pay for just what features and functions are required. Should those needs change, you can add additional components at a later date.
Rather than use a system of folders or file drawer analogs, the core of the system, CNG-SAFE (an acronym for "Shared Access Filing Environment") maintains a single large depository of all documents that are stored in the system. The files and documents can be consolidated from multiple locations, and, with the CNG-Web component, easily shared by others in and out of your firm. Access rights are granted by the administrator, and password-protected. Documents can be files of varying types, including Office files, scanned files, e-mails, PDFs and graphics files. They can also be routed, providing basic workflow capabilities.
For QuickBooks users, a product-specific version, CNG-Books, gives them fairly extensive document management capabilities.
ProSystem fx Document
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
As with a number of the other applications in this roundup that are part of suites, ProSystem fx Document is primarily designed as an adjunct to the ProSystem fx Office suite. That doesn't mean that it can't be used with other apps. In fact, Document has tight integration with QuickBooks, so that clients' QuickBooks files can be kept in Extended Storage and searched and accessed just like any other fx Document files. ProSystem fx Document also allows you to drag and drop e-mail files directly from Microsoft Outlook.
The retention and destruction features of Document are among the several that distinguish it from many other document management systems. Much of the information in client files is not intended to be stored forever, and setting retention periods allows client files to remain manageable.
Another feature that is usually found in true DMSes is document lock-out, which prevents multiple people from unwittingly working on the same client file. Documents need to be checked out and checked back into the system, providing an audit trail.
CCH has a number of other optional application modules that can greatly enhance the usefulness of Document. ProSystem fx Scan can automatically scan paper documents and add them to a client's file. ProSystem fx Document also has tight integration with ProSystem fx Engagement, providing enhanced workflow tracking and management.
Doc.It Suite is a set of highly integrated modules that provides a decent DMS, as well as a number of capabilities of a workflow management system. As a SaaS-based system, Doc.It provides the economy of per-seat pricing, and freedom from maintenance.
The center of the system is Doc.It Archive. As documents enter the system, either through scanning or other means, they are converted into PDF format. All documents in the Doc.It Archive are maintained in this format regardless of what format they originally started out in, and can be searched and viewed with the included PDF viewer. Doc.It also provides a Policy Manager to provide consistent naming, access and retention policies.
The Doc.It WIP Binder is an organizer for all open engagements and tasks, while Doc.It Workflow gives administrators a graphic calendar view of staff assignments, staff vacation scheduling, and a Smart Scheduler that uses load-balancing rules to assign tasks to the appropriate staff member.
While the description of Doc.It might make it sound like a basic application, the nuances it provides require a fair amount of installation, configuration and training time. Doc.It recommends that you plan for a timeline of six weeks or so to be up and running -- certainly not a plug-and-play situation.
Knowledge Concepts Inc.
Due date and scheduling management are considered workflow management components. While process mapping is an important component of workflow, it does not need to be at the core, or even included, in a firm or client's workflow management system. Nor is a practice or client required to have a "complete" workflow or DMS, since there is no definitive definition as to what that might be.
FirmWorks addresses several aspects of workflow. Scheduling is an important aspect of workflow, especially in offices or practices with more than just a few staff members. Project and task collaboration has become an important aspect of maintaining an efficient workflow, and FirmWorks has calendaring and other features to facilitate this. Resource management, the ability to track staff availability and assignments, is another aspect of workflow that's covered.
The application has tight integrations with Office and many practice management systems, and can import data from these, and provide CRM services to users.
SharePoint is a product that wears many hats. Microsoft designed it to be flexible and accommodate many needs, but in doing so, it made the application complex to configure.
Before considering SharePoint, it's important to understand that it is not a single product, per se. Rather, it's the basis for building content management systems that can vary from simple to complex.
The free versions of SharePoint provide extensive collaboration features, such as shared document libraries and wikis, and can be used to create an entity-wide intranet. SharePoint Designer is a Web site creator, and other add-ons and ancillary apps allow it to be evolved into a complex and comprehensive document/content management system. SharePoint is also frequently used with document capture and routing systems such as those from Notable Solutions and eCopy.
Because of SharePoint's complexity of installation, you or your client may well need the assistance of a reseller to get the best use from the application.
Notable Solutions Inc.
For documents to be managed, they first have to enter the system somehow. Much of the time, they are a paper form, or reside on different PCs or servers and possibly on different networks. Getting them together and indexed in a searchable, findable format is what a capture-and-routing system like NSi's AutoStore does. It gathers documents from varied sources, including scanners and multi-function printers, as well as electronic documents from various devices, and sends them to designated locations. These can be e-mail and fax servers, individual or departmental staffers, or a document or content management application such as SharePoint.
AutoStore, and similar capture-and-routing apps such as Nuance's eCopy, can reside on servers and be accessed through clients installed on PCs or directly on a device such as an MFP. Managing the routing on the other side of the process, such as integration with DM systems, is accomplished through a piece of software called a Connector, which is specific to the application AutoStore is being integrated with. NSi currently has over 30 connectors available. In many cases, NSi has partnered with MFP vendors like Canon and Ricoh so that the application client can be run directly from the MFP's control panel. This allows you to preview the capture and, in some cases, perform editing on the captured document before sending it on.
Not every practice or client requires a complex and expensive document management system. Sole practitioners or a small business might just need some better way of organizing, storing and retrieving documents and other content. PaperPort Professional 14 might just be the affordable answer.
Though originally a scan-and-store product, PaperPort -- now available in standard, Professional and Enterprise editions -- has evolved considerably beyond that. Nuance, PaperPort's developer, has one of the best OCR technologies on the market, and this allows PaperPort Professional to take a PDF document created in other applications or by scanning a paper document with almost any scanner, and convert it into a number of popular formats, including Word and Excel. As a front end to a scanner, you can scan in a variety of image formats, including searchable PDFs, as well as graphic formats such as JPEG, TIFF or BMP. You can create forms with fillable fields, and store content not only to SharePoint if installed, but also to the cloud. This gives you the ability to access your documents from devices such as laptops, smartphones, or even an iPad or Android tablet.
There is an Enterprise version for larger entities that need multiple-user capability.
Office Tools Pro Practice Management
Office Tools Pro.
Generally, practice management applications are more or less an enhanced version of time and billing. The emphasis is on revenue, and use of staff resources to effectively provide it. Office Tools Professional takes a somewhat different approach. It does have the ability to track employee time and time spent on tasks and projects, though it isn't actually a time and billing system.
Practice Management 2012 also provides a basic DMS, using file folders. In this respect, it's similar to several of the other applications in this roundup. Other capabilities include due date monitoring, calendaring and collaboration tools, and a basic CRM system. Office Tools Professional also has some add-ons available to provide or enhance features in the system. These include client portals and tools to sync with QuickBooks, Microsoft Outlook, Lacerte, and an Excel importer.
Office Tools Pro isn't a workflow or DMS per se. But for a small practice or partnership it might be a workable solution that's relatively inexpensive and simple to install, configure and use.
The Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters
Thomson Reuters' suite offering is the CS Professional Suite, and Filing Cabinet CS is the electronic document component. Filing Cabinet CS is not a full-blown document management system, but as its name implies, it provides a way to centralize files and documents produced by the other modules in the CS Professional Suite. This is actually a sensible addition. While the CS Professional Suite uses the same underlying databases, the client files are not stored in a single place, so consolidating them for easier access and retrieval can save staff time and effort.
Thomson Reuters also offers a Source Document Processing service. You can scan documents, but you have to send them to Thomson Reuters (and pay) for them to be run through OCR. Once that's done, FileCabinet CS can store those documents as well. Of course, if you have a fair amount of this type of document, most stand-alone scanners, and many MFPs, come with OCR capability, so you may want to do it yourself, rather than scan and send.
XCM Solutions Inc.
While many of the products detailed in this roundup address one or more aspects of workflow and/or document management, XCM is strictly focused on being a comprehensive, firm-wide workflow manager.
Its capabilities include establishing routing priorities and assigning responsibilities for specific tasks, mapping process workflows and integrating them with Windows Explorer, and tracking the specific location of tasks in progress.
If a DMS is in place, XCM can link to it to store and retrieve documents as needed in the workflow, and provide due date management if an application does not already have this capability.
XCM is not intended to replace already-installed apps, but provides a way to track data when information is shared, such as when write-up is tied to tax preparation. The system is Web-based, which allows traveling and remote staff members to actively update and check the status of projects and tasks even when on the road or at another office.
There are several versions of XCM. The standard version is for larger firms and practices, while XCMessential is for practices with one to five users, and XCMessential Plus is designed for five to 10 users. If you have clients that would benefit from a workflow management solution, XCM is also available in a corporate version.
Ted Needleman writes frequently on software, hardware, and technology-related subjects, and was previously the editor-in-chief of Accounting Technology.
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access