Weiser LLP details its experience going paperless

Going paperless in Weiser's Tax Department has helped the firm increase its efficiency in the process of preparing tax returns during this past year.

The initiative also builds on our green efforts and commitment to reducing our impact on the environment, and has directly benefited both our clients and staff. While going paperless has many benefits, it is also a continuous process, which includes planning, implementing and ongoing support.

Weiser has offices in New York City, Long Island, Westchester, and Edison, N.J. It was determined that the New Jersey office would be the test site for achieving a paperless environment. There are many things we considered before turning in the lease on our printers and beginning the paperless process.

For starters, it takes a dedicated team of individuals, both at the administrative and professional levels, to make the transition. These individuals need to be motivated and believe there is a need for such a conversion. They will serve as the firm's "champions" and communicate the goals to everyone in their office. The team should consist of individuals from all levels and areas in the organization, including IT, administrative personnel, and professionals. Management should also be a driving force in pushing the initiative forward, since employees often buy in to change based upon the "tone at the top."

After the team is selected, the next step is to consult with the IT department on computer memory capacity, hardware capabilities, and the integration of new software. Research also needs to be conducted on the appropriate document management system and scanning hardware/software for your organization.

Administrative personnel and professionals need to brainstorm and arrive at procedures that will most improve efficiency. This is an opportunity to start fresh and change the processes that are not currently working. The champions will be trained on new software and will test the new procedures prior to the program roll-out. This part of the process is the most cumbersome, as it can take an entire year to run through the new process and identify weaknesses. Various adjustments may need to be made before the program can be introduced to the entire organization.

Once hardware capabilities have been determined and the appropriate software has been chosen, procedures need to be outlined. They should be documented in a manual for use during training sessions. When developing these procedures, consider mirroring as much of the paper procedures as you can. For example, if a file is organized in a certain way in a paper file, mirror those tabs and organization in your paperless file in the software you've chosen.

As soon as the procedures manual has been completed, the next step is to implement the procedures within the organization. Using the "champions" to implement and train employees is a cost-effective way to roll out these new procedures. Not only does it save money on training, but these individuals have put so much time and effort into the project that they are passionate about it and will send a positive message throughout the firm. A lot of people can be resistant to change; therefore, motivated trainers are one key to a successful implementation.

Lastly, the team needs to provide ongoing support beyond training to facilitate a paperless environment. Be open to suggestions, and communicate that changes will be made on an annual or semi-annual basis. If changes are constantly made to the procedures along the way, it will become confusing for individuals to follow and create frustration throughout the organization.

Set up a suggestion inbox where employees can e-mail what they like and don't like about the new processes. Team members can review the suggestions every quarter and make adjustments where necessary. It is also beneficial to hold sessions to discuss ideas and suggestions for the paperless initiative in an open forum.

AND LOVING IT

Weiser has seen many improvements as a result of going paperless. With all client information stored in one location, our response time to client inquiries is more immediate. It has also provided benefits to our staff. The firm encourages a healthy balance between careers and personal life by adopting an alternative work schedule option for staff. By implementing a paperless environment, firm staff are able to easily telecommute from home or other offices.

Since our firm has four locations, standardization of workpapers and procedures allows the firm to increase productivity by not limiting assignments to one office. Files can be accessed more quickly when they are stored on the server, as opposed to transferring the documents between offices. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service has guidelines in place for the retention of certain tax-related documents and tax returns. By storing our information electronically, the firm is able to purge documents more accurately and systematically.

As our firm moves forward with technology enhancements, we are able to retain younger staff who use technology as part of their daily lives. It also encourages our clients to continually upgrade technology in their working environment. This will enable them to run their organizations more efficiently too. Going paperless also has a positive impact on our environment by using less paper overall. Over time, the firm will reduce and eliminate the paper file room.

By the end of the year, Weiser will roll out the paperless initiative to all offices. The process will be similar to the rollout in the New Jersey office, just on a larger scale. Going paperless has allowed Weiser's New Jersey office to improve its overall productivity and accomplish many other goals. It's important to understand that this is a gradual, continuous process and it will not happen overnight. But eventually, even the most resistant member of your organization will go from using less paper to paperless.

Maureen M. Green, CPA, is a manager in the Emerging Business Group at Weiser LLP, in New York, and Jeanette Gribbin is a manager in the Tax Department. They serve as co-chairs of the firm's Paperless Initiative Committee.

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