Firms can go to websites4Accountants.com to see a listing of these providers that include portals. These solutions are usually the most cost effective from a firmwide view and can be scaled up from a few users to hosting a portal for every client in the firm. Please note that the firm should take a look at the anticipated volume of clients and data capacity needed for the portal as the cost is very dependent on these factors. The 2008 AAA Study found that the vast majority of firms with portals had set up individual sites for less than 10 percent of their overall client count (though this was expected to grow).
The final portal bucket is for those larger firms that have sophisticated
IT capabilities and resources and choose to build their own portal. The most
common solution for this group is Microsoft SharePoint, which requires extensive
programming skills, as well as personnel with in-depth security experience so
it is relegated to a very small number of firms. There are also liability concerns
in the event the site is breached or inaccessible during a critical time.
When evaluating solutions, it is very important to narrow them down based on ease of use and administration, and not just focusing on cost. Following is a list of summarized features that firms should walk through a demonstration of prior to making a selection:
Ease of Setup: What does it take to set up a client for the portal the very first time? Two-thirds of AAA firms in the survey utilized administrative personnel, while the remaining third had to have the IT department set it up. For firms that are short staffed from an IT perspective, a delay in setting up the portal could impact client service adversely.
Ease of Publishing Documents: What steps are necessary to put a document into the portal? With an integrated DMS, it is usually a matter of designating the document be made available on the portal, determining how long it should be available, and who to notify. Stand-alone portals often require more steps to publish the document, which means more confusion and training.
Ease of Client Access: What steps does the client have to go through to access the portal and logon? Most firms will make the portal accessible through the firm website where they would have a logon (such as their email address) and a password. The AAA survey found that three-fourths of firms would email the password or instructions on what the password was, and 38 percent would telephone the client, which takes additional administrative time. Firms will also want to ask how clients with multiple business entities would logon to each unique portal and how many other people within the client’s business could also have access.
Ease of Client Use: What steps do clients go through to copy down or move files up to the portal? The portal solution should be easy and intuitive for novice users or your accounting personnel will spend a lot of non-chargeable time walking clients through the steps until they become comfortable.
Notification: Does the portal notify the client and the in-charge for that client when the portal has been accessed and a file uploaded or downloaded? This is an important feature to keep firm personnel aware of when there has been a change so they don’t have to guess the status of a file.
Audit Trail and Security: Does the portal monitor activity? Some of today’s portals also document who placed which files in the portal, who accessed them and if there were new versions, which helps the firm comply with their confidentiality and document retention policies.
Cost: What does it cost to set up, maintain annually and add more clients? Firms should be aware of the overall cost per client as well as space allocated for each client, and the cost if this space is breached. Firms transferring very large QuickBooks files and not cleaning them up can find themselves in a situation where the additional storage space makes certain portal options cost-prohibitive compared to others.