When many firms began their move towards becoming a "paperless" office, most took on the task of scanning their documents to a disk and storing them until needed. These days, the method is less popular since they have found the need for security, workflow and integration to their tax, audit and practice management applications.
Moreover, the acceptance of placing client documents either on a server, portal or some secure cloud-based location has grown among CPAs. As such, so has the availability of those offerings.
Technology analyst and consultant Randy Johnston stressed that for CPAs, the growth and use of document management tools has a lot to do with the overall convenience they offer.
"Cloud or SaaS-based versions of document management systems are being introduced by a number of players targeting the CPA community now more than ever," he pointed out. "The advantages are the backup is automatic and assured, and access is more universal. There are some difficulties, however, including getting scanned documents to the data center where the document management system lives, the speed of delivery to the local desktop, and integration with some applications [that CPA firms use]."
Salina, Kan.-based CPA firm Kennedy and Coe went paperless six years ago using CCH fx Engagement. While it's not a document management system, it gave the firm a place to store needed files. Two years ago, the firm began using iChannel as a document management system and hasn't looked back, according to IT director and principal Greg Davis.
Davis noted that the firm didn't necessarily need iChannel to be cloud-based, and currently, the firm enjoys several features about the solution, which suited all of the firm's primary document management needs. These include client portal capabilities, ease of access to documents/document search, and the ability to automatically enforce its own document retention policy.
"At the end of the day, we really chose this solution because it was easy to use. Some of the vendors are moving their products to the cloud and smaller firms might be moving to the cloud for document management, but we are not," said Davis. "We are getting most of the benefits of the cloud already. Although we have eight offices, all of our data is centralized in our main location. We use [hosting via] Citrix to give staff access, and this gives our staff the ability to access client files from anywhere they can get an Internet connection. With also being paperless, we can scan in a client's information and anyone in the firm can work on the project."
Tempe, Ariz.-based Skinner + Co. also began using document management tools within the past couple of years. Much like Kennedy and Coe, the firm cited ease of access to documents and overall convenience as its primary reasons for doing so, though the security they offer was an added plus.
"We like that the documents we want are available anytime from anywhere but under tight control. The documents are protected from loss from fire or theft and easily disposed of according to our document retention policy," said partner Todd Skinner. "We like that the products we use are geared mainly for accountants. We haven't had inquiries from clients [about document management solutions], but certainly recommend document management tools as a better way of managing paperwork."
Skinner + Co. had used eFileCabinet before switching over to Thompson Reuters' GoFileRoom for its document management needs. Skinner claimed that eFileCabinet had great document storage features, but "lacked the workflow capabilities GoFileRoom has."
THE IMPORTANCE OF WORKFLOW
Workflow has become increasingly important for accounting firms in every facet of their business, and having it embedded in the document management systems they use has been a big incentive for using them.
Mike Herlihy, senior director and product manager at Thomson Reuters Professional Software and Services, said that the company has been building its applications based on the specific needs of CPAs, which comprise nearly all of its GoFileRoom and FileCabinetCS business.
Herlihy also said that beyond any specific feature a document management solution may have - be it having workflow, security access features, cloud-based or hosted - the most important driver for CPA use of these tools has been client needs.
"From last year to this year, with the economic 'dip,' servicing our customers keeps the business, and when you can offer things like portals and publish them to [CPA] clients, you're offering a better service," said Herlihy. "The more you can build that trust, you will retain clients, and having a firm that is using the top current technologies is good service. Clients are going to start advising the CPA firms on how to grow and if they aren't meeting their needs they are going to leave. Document management is a tremendous ROI for them, from reduced mailing costs and filing costs. We even built ROI calculators to show you how you save."
Coral Gables, Fla.-based CPA firm Goldstein Schechter Koch has been a GoFileRoom user since 2004, primarily because the firm needed a document management solution that was easy to use, provided accounting firm-specific workflow capabilities, and stored documents in the formats it needed, such as Excel, Word and Adobe.
Lately it has been utilizing the hosted features of Thompson Reuters' NetClient CS portals, which integrate with GoFileRoom.
"Disaster recovery and business continuity through offsite, online secure storage is very important to us. We live in a hurricane-prone state and need to know our files are safe," said the firm's IT director, Amelia Regalad. "The portals also allow us to publish client documents in GoFileRoom for clients and/or their authorized employees to view and download if needed."
Another key player vying for CPA market share in the document management space has been eFileCabinet. The company is courting CPAs by marketing its product's security features, as well as upcoming enhancements that will give users the option of a SaaS-based model with workflow features.
"At one time, document management was very expensive for CPAs; now 70 percent of our business is serving accountants," reported eFileCabinet chief executive Mark Peterson. "Accountants are trying to differentiate themselves, so we are trying to evolve with them."
Peterson said that the company's SaaS offering should be available for use by November. "Workflow is becoming a very important feature to have and we are developing that. We do document retention too, where you can set a schedule, move, copy and delete, as well as a portal because CPAs are getting tired of putting files on CDs."
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