by L. Gary Boomer

Most firms have document management on their agendas. Before you start your project or even if you have already started, it would be wise to step back and ask a few important questions in order to focus on priorities, meet expectations and ensure success.

The “paperless office” means different things to different departments and personnel within a CPA firm. Too often we see firms committing to the hardware and software but not to the discipline and manpower needed to succeed.

The following list of questions should provide insight and vision as to the capabilities of digital document management.

● Do you want to implement firm standards, policies and procedures?

● Do you want to reduce paper, supplies, filing and retrieval costs?

● Do you want to store tax returns in digital format?

● Do you want to store clients’ supporting documents in digital formats (i.e. organizers, forms and other input documents)?

● Do you want to audit using less paper and store documents in a digital format?

● Do you want clients to access documents though a private client site?

● Do you want to access documents from remote locations via the Internet?

● Do you want to maintain control over document versions with check in/out?

● Do you need the ability to destroy documents in accordance with firm policy?

● Do you need to manage client-related e-mail?

● Do you want to improve workflow with integrated financial reporting?

● Do you want to manage internal documents with an intranet?

● Do you want to invoice clients electronically?

● Do you want to share client information with associates and other offices?

These questions can be broken into three primary categories: production, client service and practice management.

Most firms make the mistake of looking too narrowly at a department, such as tax, audit or firm management, without considering integration of the entire firm’s requirements. Many of the vendor solutions have encouraged a departmental approach rather than an integrated firm approach.

Document management is a significant undertaking and requires some planning. The following questions will help you in determining the scope and complexity of a document management project.

● Who will be in charge of the project?

● What is your time line?

● What are your top priorities?

● Do you have written standards, policies and procedures? If so, are they being adhered to by everyone in the firm?

● Are you willing to terminate personnel (including partners) if they do not adhere to firm standards, policies and procedures?

● What is your budget for hardware, software, implementation and training?

● Who’s responsible for end-user training?

● How do you plan to store your files - on a server, a storage-attached network, network-attached storage or an ASP?

● How are you going to backup your files - on tape, through a host or in some other way?

● Do you plan to back-scan old documents?

● Do you have a document destruction policy? If so, has it been reviewed with regard to current legislation?

● Do you have adequate bandwidth for remote access?

● Who are your primary vendors for core applications?

By now, you may be confused, overwhelmed or both. It is best to simplify complex issues and one of the leading vendors has done that by referring to static and dynamic documents. Static documents are those in your file cabinets, while dynamic documents are those you carry in your briefcase. Some documents will meet both definitions, but not all software will handle both types of documents efficiently. Check-in and check-out capabilities, as well as version controls are important in a multi-user environment.

Firms should first focus on core production if they want to maximize the return on their document management investment. The primary vendors now offer applications that include a trial balance, work paper container, content (programs of work) and financial statement preparation. CCH has Engagement fx; Creative Solutions Inc., a Thomson business, has GoSystem Audit and its successor, Engagement Solution; and CaseWare International has CaseWare and CaseView. (See the trial balance software review on page 26.)

All of these applications have improved in function and features, as well as technologically, over the past two years. There are numerous providers of content and some integrate better than others with certain applications. This is primarily due to company ownership and alliances.

On the static document management side, firms have used a variety of applications. Here is a list of those we have seen successfully implemented.

● FileCabinet Solution - Creative Solutions Inc.

● SIAN - Habif, Arogeti & Wynne.

● Docushare - Xerox.

● SharePoint - Microsoft.

● Document Imaging & Management - LaserFiche.

● GoFileRoom - Immedia-tech Corp.

● Visual File Cabinet - CPA Software/Best Software.

● iManage WorkSite Solution - iManage Inc.

● Series 3 Systems - DocStar/AuthentiDate Holding Corp.

One size doesn’t fit all

Your objectives and existing vendor applications should greatly influence your software decision.

A quick way to size up your firm requirements and partner expectations is to simply ask the question: “If we were meeting here three years from today, what has to happen in order for you to feel that we have been successful in implementing document management?” The answers will provide you with a perspective of the complications and requirements.

The tough part is to prioritize the requirements and dedicate the personnel to the project. The bad news is that there will be some pain. The good news is that the payback is significant.

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

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access