They have evolved to include tax workflows, bookkeeping workflows, audit workflows and other routine items like due date monitoring, notice processing and routine financial reviews. Each of the publishers offer implementation services and will provide what they have learned to be CPA Firm best practices while implementing their products. You will want to follow their initial advice and grow with the product to evolve your own implementation.
Where can we use workflow? Most workflow systems were designed to run in a web browser and can now be used from tablets and smartphones as well. When your workflow system is implemented properly, there are no geographic limitations on where you can check status and make approvals.
If people in your firm are frequently out of the office, workflow is the key tool to communicate the status of a project. Workflow has the potential to reduce the amount of internal email traffic if used properly. Workflow is critical to profitability of a multi-site firm if work is to be shared between locations.
How long does workflow take to implement? Implementation times vary widely. Most publishers have standard workflows that can be adopted. Implementations with standard workflows can take less than 60 days. If the firm has no consistent methodology, and the partners are willing to change, the standard workflows will typically serve as a good starting place.
Our best practice implementation strategy involves mapping the 15-20 processes that most firms currently have (As Is). After review, changes are made eliminating unnecessary steps, modifying and improving the existing processes to a produce a new set of documented processes (To Be). Good workflow implementations evolve over a 2-3 year period and are updated at least annually.
When does workflow not work? Simply put, when partners circumvent the processes. We realize that as an owner of the firm, you have earned the right to have input on the processes used by the practice, but suspect that you know that your way is not the only way. When you force others to accommodate your way of working you are driving up costs and down realization for your convenience.
That is certainly a choice you can make. Workflow also does not work when some team members don’t use the system. Workflow has to be the place you live every day to make your work easier and more manageable.
How does workflow resolve partner differences? It usually doesn’t! However, if workflow becomes the basis of discussion on the best way to serve a client and complete work correctly with the least amount of steps, most partners will agree that workflow is a good thing.
You may build your system to “agree to disagree” and set up multiple workflows to accommodate a difficult partner. As long as you understand the increased cost and potentially have a way of allocating that additional cost, you should be no worse off than before.
What is the impact of workflow on the firm? More profit per partner and less time worked are the two most common outcomes. Better client service, faster turns of work, and few dropped projects internally are other frequent benefits.
How often do workflow processes have to be updated? Clearly processes and workflows should be reviewed at least one per year from the As Is process map (which is the new To Be processes from last year).
There are changes in software, regulations, team members and services offered by the firm in addition to steps where some have discovered easier processes. You want to keep simplifying and making the process steps better and easier in the firm. Additionally, schedule time to retrain all involved on the new (To Be) processes.
One key benefit of workflow is helping to transfer the knowledge of best practices. If you are concerned about how your firm will work in the future, capturing the knowledge of your very best accountants and other firm members, providing superior client service, and minimizing hours worked, then workflow is definitely an option.
Randy Johnston is a nationally-recognized technology educator, consultant and writer, specializing in assisting accounting firms. He is A VP and Shareholder at K2 Enterprises and NMGI. He was the innagural inductee into CPA Practice Advisor's Tax & Accounting Hall of Fame in 2011.