The biggest obstacle for firms that have attempted to go paperless has been the resistance to a cultural change, according to Roger Mongeon, co-vice president of sales and marketing of document management provider Doc.It.

It's for this reason that firms that sign on with Doc.It - which has offices in both Las Vegas and Hamilton, Ont. - don't see actual software implementation until the fifth week of a six-week process.

"We really focus on a thorough rollout," Mongeon explained. "This isn't just for the tax area. This isn't just for assurance and this isn't just for the scanning of the slip shred at the front end of the tax department. This is right from the paper's arriving to the preparation of the file, to reviewing of the file, to partner reviews, to the final steps of the administrator. That's what we focus on."

THE BEGINNING

Doc.It's roots trace back to Howard Brown, the company's current president and chief technology officer. In 1984, Brown founded Micro Business Systems Inc., a developer and supplier of custom networked accounting and office automation software systems for companies. The software the company developed - which focused on document management and archiving - ultimately helped the company evolve to Doc.It, which it became formally in 2001.

"There was the belief by Howard - he's an electrical engineer by trade - [that] in order to go paperless, what an accounting firm had to do is reproduce its file room," Mongeon said. "He undertook a strategy to create an archive. The focus was around archiving, creating a file snapshot of the accountants', the clients' and the government version of the file. That is fundamental to Doc.It and has been from the outset."

Doc.It DM, its flagship product, was installed into a number of beta sites, including Vine and Partners, a Hamilton-based accounting firm. About the same time, Vine and Partners went out to spread the word within the accounting profession about the benefits of going paperless.

Mongeon, who has been on board for five years, said that over that period, Doc.It has experienced an average growth rate of between 60 percent to 90 percent per year.

Though its average CPA firm client purchases access for 35 licenses or users, Doc.It works with firms from three to 300 users and offers software for single- and multi-site environments. Currently it has almost 6,000 users spanning nearly 200 accounting firms. Focused solely on accounting practices (though the company works with a few legal firms and distributors), Doc.It is an on-premise application that runs on the clients' own systems.

"We added a Web portal functionality so that clients can make documents from the servers available over the Internet, but it's our belief that when it comes to document management, a firm, so to speak, shouldn't be half-pregnant," Mongeon said. "Either run your servers internally, or outsource your servers and operate them at a remote location within a third party's server farm. But to go and start using an Internet-based tax application with one service provider, an Internet-based document management with another service provider, you start sprinkling your clients' intellectual property all over the Internet. We believe you manage your own client data."

HOW IT WORKS

The Doc.It document management system is a suite of tools that starts with an electronic binder, where anybody - depending on their level of access - can handle files. Mongeon explained that Doc.It offers, as part of its standard fee, scanning tools to prevent the client from buying separate modules that identify W-2s and 1099s.

"Other vendors almost all need you to buy Adobe Acrobat," Mongeon said. "What we found is that Adobe is, No. 1, expensive, plus it doesn't have all the tools accountants need.

It doesn't have calculators, it doesn't have tick marks. We include our own PDF editor that is fully Adobe-compliant."

Once the accountant's file - which could be, for example, a 2,000-page PDF of an audit - is created, the file is bookmarked and is searchable based on a variety of criteria, including the content of the entire document. Optical character recognition technology is included in the suite to make scanned documents and faxes searchable. The final published file, a PDF, goes into an archive, where it is stored in a logical folder structure.

"At the end of every engagement, a final copy of the file is made and stored to the final resting place, the archive. If you put them into a vendor system that you always need that software to get that PDF, you are kind of defeating the purpose," Mongeon said. "Our archive document is distinct, and those documents are really stored in a Windows operating system folder structure just so the client is always in control."

Last year, Doc.It added a workflow tool and a two-way portal. The portal allows a user's clients to view documents on a secure Web site, while the workflow addition is a tool to help improve organization and efficiency within a firm. The company is also scheduled to unveil a new consolidated interface.

"You could go from a binder to the archive to the workflow seamlessly in one application," Mongeon said, adding that a scheduling feature has been added to prioritize how the system is allocating work. "All of the modules have additional enhancements."

Doc.It charges a preliminary, one-time fee of $150 a user with a minimum of $1,500. It also offers a subscription model that charges $35 per user per month for the firm's first 10 users, $30 for the next 20 users, and $25 for 30 or more users.

"When we use the term paperless, we really mean less paper," Mongeon said. "Going paperless is a journey, not a destination."

Matthew Rudolph, IT manager at Las Vegas-based Johnson, Jacobson Wilcox, would know about that firsthand. He said that his firm uses Doc.It for primarily two features - archiving and the portal, not for the paper-management application. When the firm started investigating document management systems two years prior to the implementation, they were looking to replace their physical file room to store correspondence and firm files, and Doc.It fit the bill. Rudolph said that people at the firm were excited about the concept of replacing the file room with a digital version. Once implemented, he said that those at the manager level and higher noticed the time savings on document retrieval right away. Panic e-mails looking for files were reduced to zero and staff-level accountants quickly became used to scanning and e-mailing, instead of faxing.

"We never [before] had the ability to get to our files with just a couple of clicks of the mouse," Rudolph said. "That's been the biggest benefit. The benefit of being on the phone with a client, talking to them, with no more, 'Let me put you on hold and get you that file,' that's where it's worked out beautifully."

Rudolph admits that the transition to a DM system has had its challenges - mainly with integration with other software that he uses. However, he said, the experience has ultimately been worth it. The firm has saved physical space, the accessibility to documents has been a major benefit, and the implementation process was painless. And, he noted, when there was a problem, the company would address the issue almost immediately.

Rudolph said that it took clients a little time to get used to the portal - which allows them access to their confidential documents safely online - but eventually they got used to it. "At first it was a little rough," he said. "When we first started doing this, [clients] didn't like it because it wasn't as simple as just getting an e-mail, but they understood, once they learned they could receive large files, like a large tax return, instantly."

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