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Best Practices: Paperless Office Planning

Special Feature from the 2007 Tax Season Survival Guide

By John G. Seale, CPA.CITP

From the January-March 2007 Issue & 2007
Tax Season Survival Guide

As each year passes and technology processes become more advanced, paperless
(or less paper) solutions are increasingly popular throughout businesses of
all kinds. Based on his or her position, experience and knowledge, the tax and
accounting practitioner can play a pivotal role in helping an organization or
firm standardize its paperless initiatives. Here is a set of time-tested tips
and tricks to initiate and maintain a paperless office:

Select one person to be “in-charge” of the paperless office project.
This person needs to have a good working knowledge of your current business
processes and have a love for technology. Since this project requires acceptance
from your decision makers, a partner- or manager-level person may be your best
choice. In addition, you will need to have a key IT person to assist with the
technology decisions.

Considerations For Initiating & Maintaining A Paperless Office

  • Project Assignment
  • Implementation Planning
  • Software Selection
  • Hardware Considerations
  • Record Retention
  • File & Folder Naming Convention

Get various committees together (tax, bookkeeping, audit) to discuss the paperless
opportunities that exist in your firm or business, and decide on which areas
provide the greatest opportunity and cost/benefit. In a lot of small firms,
for example, the individual tax area will provide the most immediate payback
of going paperless. Decide on a timetable for implementation, which might be
anywhere from one to three years, depending on your resources and budget.

In a small firm, integrating your tax, accounting and audit software with your
paperless document management software is a huge advantage. Check with your
tax or trial balance/engagement software vendor for software options. Sending
documents (e.g., tax returns) directly into your document management software
is much easier if integrated by the same vendor. Have key people sit through
Web demos.


  • Space — Get some estimates of needed hard drive
    space from the software vendor and then double that. You just can’t
    have too much available space. The first year of going paperless will cause
    the biggest jump in required space, which will continue to grow until data
    is eventually archived off the system.
  • Speed — The need for speed increases dramatically
    on your network because the new paperless software and data files will be
    demanding on the system. Consider moving from 100MB to 1GB network speed by
    reviewing your current wiring, switch speed and Network Interface Cards (NICs)
    in the computers.
  • Memory — RAM, RAM, RAM! Having 1GB of memory or
    more on the users’ PCs is probably the single most productive hardware
    consideration. This will play a big part in the speed experienced by each
  • Backup — With increased hard drive usage, the ability
    to back up your servers with existing tape drives or other means may be in
    jeopardy. Consider not only the size of the needed backup, but also the amount
    of time needed to make the backup. Going paperless also means a greater reliance
    on nightly backups. If it is time for a new backup system, consider using
    a hard drive backup system. These systems are generally more reliable than
    tape, and restoring files is a simple process.
  • Scanners — Depending on the size of your company
    and the business processes you adopt, you will need to purchase some high-speed
    scanners (25 ppm or higher). Check with your paperless software vendor for
    recommendations on scanners that may work best for you. Note that not all
    scanners use the same software drivers, which may be required for direct scanning
    into your paperless software. Consider scanners that can scan duplex (double-sided)
    and in color. You will also want to consider personal scanners for accountants
    to handle miscellaneous documents, such as tax notices and other correspondence.


Review and update your record retention policy, considering the impact a paperless
office will have on that policy. Decide when you will archive records off the
network and how you will store them. Review the archive capabilities of your
software so you can make the retention policy and your software capabilities

Now is a good time to review the file naming rules for your firm. Consider using
a format that includes the date, description and client number, for example,
“YYYY Description of Document 1234.doc.” This lets the document
stand on its own and can enhance your ability to search. When setting up client
folders for paperless storage, keep in mind the need for future archiving.


John G. Seale, CPA.CITP, is a shareholder with RBSK Partners PC in Greensburg,
Ind. He is a member of the AICPA’s Information Technology Executive Committee
and can be contact at