From the July 2009 Issue
Recent surveys have revealed that more accounting and tax firms have procured an electronic document management system (EDMS) than those that haven’t. The first caveat, however, is that many of those who have made the leap are still busy making the transition to full deployment. But the fact is they’re trying! If you’re in the shrinking minority of firms reluctant to jump in, this review of EDMS solutions for accounting and tax practices will provide some useful information to help you understand what these systems can do to help you make the transition to a paperless or digital practice model.
This has become a perennial feature of The CPA Technology Advisor and is my fourth consecutive year of conducting these reviews. The capabilities of these systems have progressed significantly on many fronts. The one characteristic that really stood out for me this year is how so many of the vendors have transitioned to a focus on fine tuning their features and functions based on a mature base of installations. That’s a good thing. Implementing an EDMS successfully is no small task; it is a multi-year journey that will provide significant rewards. Those rewards come in terms of increased staff productivity and enhanced quality of client service. So take our tour of leading EDMS applications and get a feel for what this collection of best-selling solutions has to offer.
To help you assess each vendor’s offering more effectively, we have reviewed their offerings based on four key sets of attributes: usability, file management and organization, integration and relative value.
Usability is the most subjective of the categories. What I look for here is simply how easy the system is to interact with. If the system is not designed intuitively, or takes too many steps to get things done, then it isn’t going to score very high. Ease of use is what it’s all about as far as I’m concerned. Most of us have become pretty comfortable working within Windows Explorer, even with all of its shortcomings, so it will be important for your staff to perceive the new system as a step forward, not backward. If it’s too difficult to work with, they will reject it.
File management & organization features address the methodology that the system utilizes for organizing the electronic documents. Essentially, this is an extension of the usability attribute; however, we can be a bit more objective in this category by describing the way the file storage is organized. Before I go any further, it is important to point out that despite the fact that we refer to these as document management systems, for all practical purposes, they are really file management systems. They are designed to manage the storage and retrieval of all your electronic files: PDFs, Word and Excel files, email messages, QuickBooks files and more. So think of an EDMS as Windows Explorer on steroids.
Integration is an attribute that covers a lot of territory. There are three basic perspectives from which I have assessed each vendor’s strength in this area: MS-Office, accounting and tax applications, and extended applications such as intelligent scanning, workflow and portal modules.
Finally, the relative value is a rating of the vendors’ solution based on the breadth and depth of functionality relative to the cost of the system. When you combine the scores from each of these four categories, you get a pretty good sense of where each vendor falls in comparison.
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