It is no secret that accounting firms produce, manage and store a large amount of paper - creating a need for increased staff and storage and resulting in lower productivity and smaller profits.

Now is the time to evolve your firm's paper-based processes and consider green technologies to reduce your firm's carbon footprint - and more.

"In the long run, moving your operation away from paper will save more time and energy, but maybe more importantly, it will increase your ability to provide better client service," said Doug Sleeter, president and chief executive of QuickBooks consulting concern The Sleeter Group.

By considering the following technologies, your firm will be able to do more with less.

DUAL MONITORS

Most firms are on board with dual monitors. However, if your firm is in the minority that has not implemented them, it's time to immediately pilot at least two dual monitor set-ups in your firm. One of the most common processes that can be enhanced is tax preparation and review, since the system allows the user to have the tax preparation program open and running on one screen, and the client's source documents on the other.

The dual-system also aids in audits - with workpapers on one screen and trial balance on the other - and with just about any other situation where the user has two windows open, such as a write-up program and Outlook. "Two monitors save me from printing returns. I can look at one screen and key punch in the other screen," revealed John Lally, a CPA in North Dartmouth, Mass.

SCANNERS

Front-end scanning, scan-and-organize solutions, and integrated tax preparation software have taken accounting processes from paper-heavy to nearly paper-free.

According to Copanion Research's annual survey of 450 accounting firms, 68 percent of tax professionals surveyed scanned tax documents in 2008, up from the 45 percent that scanned in 2007.

"Adoption and usage is now accelerating rapidly," said Ed Jennings, vice president of sales and marketing for Copanion. Scan-and-organize solutions like Copanion's GruntWorx automatically organize scanned client documents and deliver them in a bookmarked PDF file that makes it easy to prepare and review returns. With solutions like these, Jennings stressed that the scanner matters. Scanners fall into the following tiers: desktop, workgroup, departmental and enterprise. They typically vary on image quality, speed and daily load, as well as other areas such as bundled software, feeding mechanisms and drivers. A 300-DPI in black and white with a decent speed of 20-30 pages per minute is common across most scanner levels.

"The biggest mistake we see is when people don't factor in the daily load. Low-end scanners can handle the quality and speed, but not for a large volume of pages," said Jennings. "Once firms are moving all client tax documents into a paperless environment, they will need to scan potentially thousands of pages a day during peak season. We suggest a minimum of a workgroup-level scanner."

PORTALS

Portals can help firms save money, better meet client expectations, and improve their image. Meanwhile, a firm's clients benefit because they have access to accounting information via the Internet whenever they want it, the turnaround time for deliverables is greatly reduced, and less paper reduces clutter in clients' homes.

"For everyone, the thought of printing out invoices, checks or tax returns, and sending them in the mail is so 20th century," said Sleeter. "Using secure portals to deliver these types of documents to the receiver is now the norm for forward-thinking firms."

PAPERLESS BILLING

The bottom line is that online bill management and payment streamlines your invoicing and gets you paid faster.

How? By allowing accountants and clients to collaborate to review and approve invoices, manage cash flow and payment schedules, digitize and retrieve financial documents, and handle online payment. For example, users of online bill-payment system Bill.com can receive, route and pay invoices electronically - resulting in time and cost savings of over 50 percent versus manual accounts payable and check-writing processes, and ensuring a complete audit trail and eliminating lost or mishandled paper. "Bill.com provides paperless storage of vendor documents ... but in addition, it allows businesses and their accountants to collaboratively manage the entire AP function," said Sleeter.

Meanwhile, Intuit's Billing Solutions allows firms to get paid online via credit card from any invoice, whether it is mailed, e-mailed, faxed or printed. The solution also provides e-mail payment reminders to notify customers of overdue invoices and provide better customer service because customers can access their own 24/7 online Customer Account Center, a personalized and password-protected Web page where they can view their billing history and pay their invoices.

Pat Carson, with the San Jose, Calif.-based firm of Carson & Crew, uses Intuit's Billing Solution because, "It provides e-mail and paper billing, but Intuit does the mailing. It allows our clients to pay online and those payments download into QuickBooks."

ONLINE PAYROLL

From e-mailing paystubs, to direct deposit, to ePay and e-filing of tax returns, the whole payroll process can be paperless.

"We use PayCycle for payroll because it provides online filing, ePay, direct deposit, and employees are notified and have access to their paystubs at any time," Carson said. PayCycle allows firms to get started quickly, enter payroll data from anywhere, pay employees instantly, pay taxes and file forms effortlessly, and export data to other programs.

In his next step toward a paperless office, Lally is implementing PayCycle's online payroll program: "In the past, clients did some of their payroll on paper and gave it to me, I did some of their payroll on paper and gave it to them, and it went back and forth. Now, we can electronically file and pay all taxes online. We are taking an old system with lots of paper and streamlining it."

PAPERLESS COMMUNICATIONS

Paperless communications, such as e-mail newsletters, can enhance relationships, increase brand recognition, generate leads and improve cross-sales opportunities for your firm. Barry Friedman, chief executive of BizActions, which provides a CPA newsletter solution, says, "E-mail newsletters are not only saving trees, they're making life easy for a firm's administrative office. When you want to print 500 newsletters, how do you get them out of the office?"

In addition, paperless com­munications can provide your firm with reports that show who is reading the newsletter, how long they are reading and what they are reading. Friedman estimated that BizActions e-newsletters cost about one sixteenth the amount of a traditional print-based newsletter.

Said Sleeter, "The fact that paperless saves trees is not lost on any of us, and it's a great improvement to go green throughout the practice. It's the biggest no-brainer we've seen in a long time. While I don't think we'll ever throw away our printers, if we can change our staff's behavior to scan everything that comes in, and print everything to PDF, we gain incredible flexibility. Everything gets easier."

THE COST OF PAPER

* The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year - one sheet every 12 minutes.

* Each four-drawer file cabinet holds an average of 10,000 to 12,000 documents, occupies up to nine square feet of floor space, and costs $1,500 per year.

* Every 12 filing cabinets require an additional employee to maintain.

* Each lost document costs between $350 to $700; each misfiled document costs $125.

Source: Square 9 Softworks

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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