From the April/May 2009 Issue
Are you concerned about the amount of confidential information in your organization that is being delivered via e-mail attachments? Is it being delivered securely? Is it being delivered to the proper recipients? Are you keeping track of who is sending which files to whom?
If you’re not comfortable with your answers to these questions, then it’s time to give serious consideration to deploying a portal in your practice. This article provides you with an understanding of what a portal is, how it can benefit your firm, what you should know about portals and how to develop your portal deployment strategy.
WHAT IS A PORTAL?
So what is a portal? Well, it is a term that is very broad in scope and meaning. Let’s begin with a basic definition of a portal as it relates to accounting and tax professionals: It is a gateway to a collection of electronic information and files that is accessible over the Internet via web browser.
For accounting, tax and financial professionals, the most prevalent application is a portal that provides clients with secure, online, self-service access to their information. It’s the information that you deliver via your portal that ultimately determines its value. The information that can be provided on a client portal can range from simply posting static (PDF) copies of tax returns and financial statements at one end of the spectrum to a collection of real-time, client-specific information such as portfolio valuations, bank account balances and KPI’s (key performance indicators) from the client’s accounting system on the other end. The quality of the information you publish on the portal and the ease of access are the two key value drivers for your clients.
You can choose from a multitude of approaches to develop the form and content of your portal, so I would like to outline some of the key strategies you can choose for your portal solution. I’ve organized the discussion into three topics: form, content and technology. Let’s start with form. While there are many different forms a portal can take on, I like to frame the discussion by describing three alternative forms, which can, in fact, be combined to provide a more comprehensive portal site.
ONE-WAY OR ‘PUBLISHING’ PORTAL
This is the most common form of portal being deployed by accounting and tax firms today. The nature of this portal type is to post electronic documents and files such as tax returns and financial statements that can be accessed securely and confidentially by clients.
The driving force behind the increased deployment of this portal type is the corresponding increase in the deployment of document management systems (DMS) in accounting and tax practices as they work through the transformation to a digital (paperless) practice model. The publishing portal is a natural extension of the DMS, and the value becomes more apparent as the volume of electronic documents and files continues to expand exponentially.
TWO-WAY OR ‘FILE TRANSFER’ PORTAL
This is a portal that allows your clients the ability to securely and confidentially upload electronic documents and files for your retrieval. The classic example is to upload a QuickBooks data file instead of sending it via e-mail attachment, CD or flash drive.
Actually, this type of portal has been deployed for many years in the form of an FTP (file transfer protocol) site that allows files to be uploaded and transferred back and forth between the accountant and the client. The primary difference with this model today is the design of more user-friendly html (hypertext markup language) web pages to navigate the file transfer process.