[IMGCAP(1)] I recently read Copanion’s 2010 Annual Tax Survey results that reported about 70 percent of accountants are now scanning documents. This statistic sounds encouraging, that is, until you dig deeper into the data. Seventy percent are scanning, but ONLY 20 percent are scanning before preparation.

That leaves a whooping 80 percent of firms that are scanning at the end of the process, which does little more than provide an electronic archive of source docs. It really doesn’t support a paperless tax workflow.

Transitioning from paper to digital files is certainly a move in the right direction…and an admirable attempt at going green. However, scanning at the end of the tax process has little value outside of the green effect and reducing the number of physical file cabinets and ink cartridges used.

Accountants need to start thinking about technologies that support a true paperless tax workflow from start to finish. After all, come on, there are so many out there. You’ve got highly efficient scanners, powerful scan and organize solutions that integrate with leading tax prep applications, online document management applications…and the list goes on.

With all the technology that is available to us, why do so many accountants choose to adhere to old processes? I’ll tell you why. Because they simply don’t know where to start.

I’m a lucky woman!  I’m married to a great guy, who also happens to be a Lean Six Sigma black belt. What is that, you say? Essentially, he spends his entire day measuring, documenting, and improving processes. And I get free access to all his knowledge and expertise.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to step back and rethink my firm’s broad processes. I know now that significant gains in efficiency and workflow improvements are not accomplished by simply plugging in new technologies…the process has to change with it!

Accountants certainly need to change their way of thinking and start evaluating processes—not just technologies. However, at the same time, I challenge vendors to make a change as well. As accountants, we see a lot of marketing around ease of implementation and the power of features.

And while all this is great, accountants need more…they need the vendor’s help to see where the technology fits into their broad process. Instead of collateral on the power of the product, vendor’s need to provide the profession with detailed, step-by-step instructions—complete with real-world examples and templates.

Accountants need help to see the bigger picture; they need to understand how products fit into their daily workflow. Vendors: give accountants a stellar product with A-to-Z process implementation guidelines and watch just how much products they buy and how many raving fans you will gain.

Jody L. Padar, CPA, MST, is a Certified Public Accountant experienced with Complex Federal & State Income Tax Compliance for Business & Individuals. Jody is an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College, where she teaches Taxation and QuickBooks Courses. She is part of Intuit Trainer Writer Network and speaks nationally on various Technologies and Taxation. Reach her at jody@matousekconsulting.com.