Implementing a document management system in your CPA firm can be a difficult task. In order to achieve the best ROI possible, it’s important for firms to understand the current best practices for document management specific to the accounting profession. The term “workflow” can take on a number of different meanings, but in its most basic form, a workflow is simply the steps required to complete a task. Your documents are an integral part of your workflow, and how those documents move through your firm can make all the difference. Let’s look at some common document workflow mistakes and the document management best practices that can help you overcome them.
- You don’t know who worked on a document or what they did to it.
One of the benefits of digital document management is the ability to be confident that you’re looking at the most recent version of a document. Your document workflow should include the ability to lock a file down so that no changes can be made while you are working on it. And when you are done with that document, your system should save a record of what you did and when. In addition, it’s important to be able to easily revert to previous versions of the document if needed.
- You have a retention policy, but it isn’t enforced very well.
Many firms have document retention policies, but a large portion of them don’t adequately enforce those policies. Of course, keeping documents too long can be just as damaging as not keeping them long enough. To protect your clients and your firm from legal liability, your firm needs to enforce its document retention policy. Your document management system can assist by monitoring the ages of documents and flagging them for removal when necessary. This functionality should be to accommodate different retention periods for different types of documents.
- Your document management system is just the final resting place for your finished documents.
A document management system is a great place to store final copies of your documents, but if that’s all you’re using it for, you are not using it to its full potential. Your document management system can and should be central to all of the workflows within your firm. This includes storing client 1040 source documents, reviewing files when completing a tax return, storing and presenting invoices, archiving copies of payment checks, and gathering audit-related client files which are later transferred to the engagement binder. The easier it is for you to use your document management system within these various workflows, the more success your firm will have.
- Your final copies and invoices are delivered and stored in hard-copy format
If you go through the trouble of creating digital workflows only to end your process by printing to paper, you will not realize the full benefit of your technology investment. Look for document management systems that include integrated portal solutions, with mobile access for staff and clients, end-to-end encryption and easy to use search and filter capabilities. Clients can use portals as long-term storage for all their files, and you can support the growing demand for self-service technology features.
- Your digital workflows mirror your old paper-based workflows
Digital workflows don’t necessarily mirror your paper workflows – they should be more efficient. Integration between systems helps improve workflow. When comparing multiple products, create an integration matrix with your existing products plotted against the different systems you are evaluated to see which will provide the greatest level of integration. Your document management system should integrate with a variety of other systems commonly used by accountant, like tax preparations software, audit/engagement software, CRM, project management, time and billing, client portal, Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat.
Implementing a new document management system is never easy, but it can be highly beneficial for your firm. Version control and retention policies limit your firm’s risk; ease of use and integration make you more efficient; and collaborative features help you provide client service that will help your firm grow. By following a few well-tested best practices, CPA firms can reduce the time to ROI and ensure they are getting the most out of their technology.
For more document management strategies, download the whitepaper, Document Management Strategies: New and Upcoming Trends