A year ago, the emphasis in document management systems remained on the core areas of scanning, storing and retrieving documents. But the emphasis has changed in the past year, making it clear that document management alone will give way to integrated workflow in which document management is only one part.This makes sense, given that the concept of managing documents simply to produce a "paperless office" never really got off the ground. It wasn't that accountants were disinterested in saving trees or eliminating the cost of storage. Rather, it was the fact that document storage was relatively cheap and the systems used to store and retrieve documents were already integrated into the practice workflow.
Technology changed that.
In addition, the growing use of electronic communications, combined with the need to safeguard data and archive it in a secure but accessible outside location, have made document management essential, and mandated that it be incorporated more easily into the office workflow.
To be sure, there are DM solutions that stand alone, with no workflow systems enveloping them. But these are generally aimed at smaller offices and single locations, where they fill a need for automation without disrupting established procedures and workflow.
Of the nine packages included in the 2009 roundup of document management solutions, five include workflow management dynamics and three address document management as an independent function. The final entry focuses on workflow exclusively, with document management almost a secondary consideration.
Cabinet NG's CNG-Safe (Shared Access Filing Environment) is a client-server system designed to automate workflow processes for accounting, tax and financial planning/wealth management.
Built on the .Net and Microsoft SQL platforms, CNG-Safe follows a standard filing-cabinet architecture of drawers, folders, tabs and documents. The system is designed for easy customization and interoperability through its Retriever and Synchronizer plug-ins. CNG also offers its CNG-API to organizations with programming resources for more custom integrations.
The company has made a concerted effort to target accounting and financial services firms, enhancing workflow capabilities to more nimbly handle the ad-hoc workflow schedules of a busy tax season and other accounting engagements. In addition, documents are stored in their native file format, so they can be more easily accessed.
CNG-Safe 6.0 was released just over a year ago, and the company since then has extended its functionality with a number of Web-based resources. CNG-Web was introduced to enable browser-based access to stored documents, and more recently CNG-Online debuted as a Software-as-a-Service application. In addition, the company has improved the integration with Outlook for filing e-mails, and has introduced CNG-Books 6.0 as a QuickBooks-specific application.
CNG-Safe offers an excellent blend of archiving, workflow management and data security features that will be attractive, especially to the small or mid-range accounting firm. Its ability to deploy across every office in the firm, including remote locations, provides excellent flexibility and economy.
Doc.It Suite, a workflow management, work-in-progress binder, archiving and client portal application, aims for a combination of usability and effectiveness for firms with as few as five employees to as many as 500.
The suite includes Doc.It DM, a firm-wide document archiving platform; Doc.It Workflow, to allow firms to track and manage any type of project and provide "load balancing" for tax engagements; Doc.It Work-in-Progress Binder, to provide the ability to share and process active "unpublished" documents within the security of the Doc.It DM environment; and a Client Web Portal for folder-based views of client documents.
Doc.It Suite 3.0 includes a PDF editor, composer and printer; scan and OCR; advanced forms recognition; a binder (to electronically replicate paper file folder tree structure); and archiving. Last September, the company added a progressive consolidated interface and a new PDF editor functioning as a direct replacement for Adobe Acrobat Standard.
It is straightforward in its ability to capture, convert and archive any paper, fax or electronic document into PDF format.
FileCabinet CS is tightly constructed solution for document management and workflow management built around the concepts of paperless workflow, integration with other accounting applications and Internet access to the archived documents for both professionals and their clients.
The system combines a stand-alone document management and archiving solution with a strong workflow management engine whose security features make it particularly valuable to firms with engagements in tax, wealth management and other client services. Electronic documents created in Microsoft Office applications convey directly into the workflow system, while other documents and information are integrated into the flow via an OCR Source Document module. Using this module, users can scan source documents and then transmit them to CS servers for identification and capture of relevant tax data. The source data is then returned and flows into the application.
While the system works well as a stand-alone document manager, its real power lies in its ability to seamlessly flow information to and from other applications of the CS Professional Suite. Recent enhancements for 2009 brought the ability to share client notes among the suite's modules, including UltraTax CS, Fixed Assets CS and FileCabinet CS, automatically.
FileCabinet CS offers a strong platform that integrates well with Windows applications, Outlook and Office, and is particularly useful as a scan-and-OCR solution for smaller firms. But for firms making use of other CS applications, and those that require more advanced capabilities for workflow, FileCabinet CS becomes one of the best-of-breed solutions in the marketplace.
GoFileRoom ES is the document management and workflow solution for the Enterprise Suite that includes Practice ES, GoSystem Tax ES and Engagement ES. In addition, it provides native support for Office file formats, extensions to Adobe Acrobat, and one-click integration with Outlook and Lotus Notes.
GoFileRoom, with its family of modular workflow solutions, provides a complete document and workflow management system tailored to accounting, wealth management and financial planning. Physical papers such as client input sheets are scanned and stored in PDF format via a ScanFlow program, but virtually any file format used by the accounting industry can be accommodated, including tax, engagement and accounting software. FirmFlow workflows can be used to standardize business processes and provide real-time reporting. Client and other related documents can be stored in GoFileRoom. Access can be restricted via several levels of security. ClientFlow can provide a secure and convenient way to collaborate with clients. Additionally, RecordsFlow can ensure that proper document archiving and purging occurs in a timely manner.
Recent enhancements include a GoFileRoom Control Panel Add-In, which allows the user to send a single file, multiple files or an entire folder of files to the system by dragging and dropping to a desktop shortcut and setting up profiles that minimize the need to manually index documents. GoFileRoom has extended its generic editing feature to include all document types. The GoFileRoom Office Add-In enables the user to add links to any system documents from within Word and Excel. And in accordance with pending Social Security privacy legislation, GoFileRoom will include an expanded version control for PDFs created in Adobe Acrobat; the ability to select documents for the automatic redaction of Social Security numbers; and a document distribution approval chain that allows the firm to manage content at the document level.
Sporting desktop productivity tools that include GoFileRoom QuickLaunch and Control Panel, Thomson Reuters has put serious muscle behind an already-formidable workflow system. Its ability to work with competitive accounting systems and its modular approach to workflow make GoFileRoom both different from other products and more appealing.
Lacerte DMS is a very functional and straightforward document archiving and retrieval system with capabilities for security, search and backup of files.
It offers built-in integration with the Lacerte Tax Software and all Lacerte add-on solutions, including the tax planner, e-organizer and trial balance utility. Firms can store and retrieve any type of client information electronically: tax returns, source documents, e-mails and spreadsheets, from virtually any application. In addition, this information can be easily edited, e-mailed or faxed directly from DMS.
The software is simple to learn and to use. Recent enhancements include the ability to drag and drop e-mails and attachments directly from Outlook into DMS. Also, when setting up folder templates for the current tax year, users can cut, copy and paste folders from the previous tax year for faster set-up. And performance has been enhanced to reduce time for document scanning, storage, retrieval and viewing. This allows quick set-up of current-year folders for all clients in one easy step.
Lacerte DMS provides a practical and economical introduction to document management for smaller accounting firms, but is a strong and viable solution for tax preparation services and small businesses, as well. Offering tight integration with Office and other Lacerte applications, it is a solution built for maximum efficiency among both professionals and administrative help.
PROSYSTEM FX DOCUMENT ASP
CCH offers two dynamic document and workflow solutions under its ProSystem fx brand, a PC-based system and ProSystem fx Document ASP.
ProSystem fx Document stores electronic workpapers, binders, source documents, financial statements, human resources data files and back-office documentation, and also secures client communication by moving it to a secure server.
The Web-based Document ASP provides secure document transfer and storage from any place with an Internet connection. A customizable home page reflects individual preferences and job requirements, including recently accessed documents, tax returns, engagement binders and full search capabilities.
It facilitates compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley and internal control procedures by managing document retention periods, and by maintaining an audit trail and document versions automatically. Incorporating a high level of security for document sharing, Document ASP fosters collaborative workflow from multiple locations and clients, offering secure, immediate access to their documents through the Client Portal.
CCH has forged document management, workflow and compliance into a single, well-integrated platform, and then extended that platform into a first-rate SaaS implementation. Its rich feature set, tight integration and flexibility make this ASP product a must-have addition for firms using ProSystem fx applications.
ATX SCAN & FILL
The TaxWise lines of products are aimed at high-volume tax prep operations, and include two document management and workflow applications.
TaxWise Document Manager, a low-cost, baseline product, converts client source documents and finished returns to PDF files and stores them in a client folder. The system also includes security and automated backup functions.
But it is TaxWise Scan & Fill that is generating attention, for its stronger capabilities and tangible savings for tax prep services. Scan&Fill automatically identifies, sorts and labels scanned W-2s and 1099s for new and existing customers. For any form recognized by the application, a digital folder is created listing the form type, the customer's name and the Social Security number. This folder not only holds the properly identified forms, but also becomes a paperless filing cabinet for all other customer data. The source documents and finished return are then printed directly to the client's storage folder. An autofile feature recognizes existing clients and automatically selects the correct client folder.
Three major enhancements in the program's August release were the creation of a program Audit Trail, inclusion of an annotation feature and the ability to password-protect client folders. A more recent December update brought enhanced OCR technology with a forms recognition tool. This tool simplifies the scanning process and enables the system to recognize more types of tax forms not already stored in the program library.
Scan&Fill uses high-level scanning and OCR to reduce data entry and streamline workflow for tax offices. It includes the TaxWise Document Manager, making it one of the most economical document systems for accountants and of particular interest to companies using other TaxWise solutions.
SmartVault, an easy-to-use, Web-based service, enables QuickBooks users to securely store and share documents.
Accessed through the SmartVault toolbar, the application enables accountants to scan and attach documents directly to QuickBooks transactions to streamline document management. Documents and data files can be accessed anytime, anywhere over the Internet, enabling collaboration and document sharing between accountants and their clients. As a SaaS system, there is no hardware to install, and no need to configure server software.
Launched last year, SmartVault offers many of the features of a conventional DMS, but in a package with a substantially reduced learning curve, virtually no start-up costs and tight integration with QuickBooks. Since its launch, the service has been updated with an electronic inbox that allows users to scan and upload documents, with or without QuickBooks, for later processing; a new drag-and-drop feature; improvements to the user interface; and compatibility with the QuickBooks 2009 and Enterprise editions.
SmartVault fills a niche not otherwise served among QuickBooks users and their accountants. The company's SmartAdvisor program for accountants, bookkeepers and QuickBooks ProAdvisors entitles the accountant to free use of SmartVault in their own practice, as well as offering their clients the service at prices starting as low as $19 per month. This low cost, toolbar functionality and simplified operation make it an attractive option for accountants serving small businesses.
The Web-based XCM, an intuitive workflow and information automation system, automates the movement of work through the office for greater efficiency while electronically tracking each step of the process.
Its search and reporting capabilities give partners and firm administrators an instant view of the status and open items for individual client projects, a staff member's workload or all the work firm-wide for resource planning purposes. It is at present the only Web-based workflow and information automation solution that works either stand-alone or with any of the leading document management systems.
XCM offers full support for multi-office environments, a feature helpful to larger firms with distributed offices. It also provides customizable due-date monitoring by jurisdiction for project-specific tax classifications. Because it is Web-based, it excels at collaborative tasks, serving as a centralized information repository for all questions and review comments, one-click advanced search, and a full suite of client and management report templates.
Recent notable enhancements include integration with CCH's ProSystem fx Document; the addition of workflow capabilities for extensions; new capabilities that allow firms to add budgeting and actual hours to specific tasks; and the automatic scheduling of certain re-occurring tasks based on time period, type of information to roll over, or by the staffer assigned to the task. New workflow categories and expanded process controls give the software broader application for all types of work across all departments within the firm. And the Windows Explorer integration provides a path to a completely paperless workflow for firms of all sizes that are not yet using a full-blown document management system.
XCM leans toward the workflow management, rather than strict document management, end of the spectrum, though it does offer many of the benefits of document management in the electronic storage and retrieval of documents. It offers accounting offices dynamic, real-time and perpetual access to key documents within the context of workflow, an approach that is well-suited to accounting operations ranging from midsized to the enterprise.
Dave McClure is the president of Kent Associates, in Alexandria, Va., an independent testing laboratory and evaluation service.
Price: Per user - $995; per concurrent - $1,395; per viewer license - $495.
Price: Monthly - $25 to $35 per user, plus initial fee.
Price: Starts at $1,500.
Price: Annual five-user license - starts at $3,950.
Price: Initial license - $600.
ProSystem fx Document ASP
Price: Base - $3,000; each additional user - $500. Portal ASP base - $2,000; each additional user - $50.
ATX Scan & Fill
CCH Small Firm Services
Price: $715, plus $89 training required with initial purchase. Five users - $1,035.
Price: Single user - starts at $19 per month. Up to five users - $39 per month; each additional user - $5; blocks of five additional users - $20.
Price: Per user - $50 annually; per task - $3.
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