From the Aug. 2009 Issue
With a primary focus on servicing clients and chargeable hours, many firms seldom have adequate time to focus on identifying optimal production practices, standardizing them, and providing training to all their firm members. The current “soft” economy, coupled with the natural production slow down most tax and accounting firms experience over the summer, provides a unique opportunity to take a look at firm processes and actually do something about improving them!
Most of us have been through one or two tough economies before, and we know that the eventual turnaround provides huge opportunities for those who are well positioned to take advantage of them. With additional staff resources currently available, firms should commit time every week to look at their workflow processes, identify opportunities and improve upon them on a scheduled, programmed basis.
Going “less-paper” in the tax area has created opportunities to move information more efficiently throughout the firm and access documents from any place and at any time. Digital versions of documents must be managed as effectively as their paper counterparts, and workflow tools integrated with higher-end document management systems track the status and location in lieu of individuals keeping manual lists or spreadsheets.
In addition to the integrated tools within Thomson GoFileRoom, Doc.It, Conarc, Acct1st and other document management products, there are dedicated tax workflow tools such as those from XCM Solutions, LLC, which works with CCH Document and even Windows Explorer, providing a digital dashboard to each firm member of the status of all tax returns and their supporting documents.
Transferring physical documents to and from clients takes a remarkable amount of manual handling, which can be streamlined by using digital documents via a web-based portal. Most higher-end document management applications and website content providers have secure portal sites where both firms and clients can upload and download files instead.
These portals streamline productivity as they notify the recipient almost instantaneously when a new document has been placed or updated within the portal, which can then be saved electronically, without having to go through any printing or scanning. Utilizing portals that are integrated with the firm’s existing document management system makes it easier to train your personnel how to use these tools.
But for firms without a document management application, certain website content providers offer cost-effective and reliable portal solutions as part of their overall service. You can learn more about website content providers in The CPA Technology Advisor’s article on website builders for accountants at www.CPATechAdvisor.com/go/2193 and at www.websites4accountants.com. You can also read more about portals at www.CPATechAdvisor.com/go/2334.
When creating tax organizers this fall, firms should utilize the custom cover letter feature and integrate the firm logo so that the organizer prints out all of these documents in their entirety, rather than having to hand-collate additional documents, checklists and instructions. By using window envelopes, firms can eliminate the matching of labels with the organizer and ensure they are mailed to the right client. These firms can also deliver lost or missing organizers via a tax portal electronically.
Please note that while there are digital organizers available online that can import the data into the firm’s tax program if the client fills them out, my research indicates that the majority of firms that have utilized these have not yet seen a profitable ROI and have not standardized on their usage.