In many industries, document management is a mature technology. It is now time to move on to knowledge management.

Few accounting firms can make the bold statement that their document management problems solved and that they are ready to move to the next step: knowledge management. Based on reports from our Boomer Circle member firms and feedback from numerous conferences, we are witnessing firms that are making great progress.

However, they all tell us that it has been a struggle and the common issue has been "change management," no matter what products and application the firms have chosen.

In all cases, the firms have demonstrated the following characteristics:

  • Strong firm vision and leadership;
  • Use of a team approach
  • Written documentation of processes and procedures;
  • Training to firm standards;
  • Termination of those who do not wish to comply; and,
  • Confidence to make mistakes, adjust processes and move forward.

The conclusion is that 20 percent of the solution is the technology or the tool and 80 percent is processes and behaviors. The good news is that those who have made the investment are convinced that it was the right decision and believe they are now getting a reasonable return on their investment.The bad news is there is pain. Every firm that we are aware of has experienced pain in the process. The additional good news is that client service can be expanded and improved.
Now, let’s look forward to the next step after getting the documents in digital format. According to our research and experience, there are six major building blocks in the process of getting to knowledge management:

  • Search capabilities;
  • Question and answer;
  • Expert profiling;
  • Collaboration;
  • Portals; and,
  • Document management.

The difficult part of moving to the next level is that there are currently no proven solutions or clear-cut winners in the accounting vertical market. Therefore, it often requires looking at horizontal rather than vertical market solutions.A pioneer and leader firm, such as Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, in Atlanta, found that many of the solutions were too expensive and didn’t really meet the requirements of a CPA firm and its diverse entities.
They utilize CaseWare, Practice Engine, ProSystem fx and SIAN, which they jointly developed. Lattimore Black Morgan and Cain PC, of Nashville, Tenn., one of the first firms into document management, experienced similar problems.

Habif Arogeti & Wynne chose to develop their own solution named SIAN, while LBMC has utilized applications from OnBase, CPASoftware, CaseWare, ProSystem fx and Interface (InterAction - CRM). One of the key factors is that all of the products are based on databases that make it possible to share and transfer client and prospect data.

Another conclusion that we have come to is that there is no single vendor that has all of the answers. Many vendors offer one or more of the pieces, but few have created a client-centric approach where you can access all documents for a given client through a single search. These two leading firms have approached the problem from similar perspectives, but have used different applications and vendors.

They, along with other firms, all talk about the need for written standards, policies and procedures. Both firms demonstrate strong leadership and admit to making mistakes along the way. The primary differentiating factors between these two firms and those who are struggling are vision, leadership, confidence and measurable results. Both also have internal training programs and facilities.

They continue to experience increased revenue per full-time equivalent while experiencing significant reductions in hours on many jobs. The reduction in hours didn’t just happen. It was planned and expected by firm management.

Both also admit that the journey is based on progress rather than perfection.

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