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IN FIRM Integration & Streamlining Opportunities

Column: Technology in Practice

From the August 2008 Issue

Summertime in tax and accounting firms provides one of the few lulls in activity
that allows firms the opportunity to evaluate and implement new products to
streamline their core production processes. The transition to a digital environment
is making firms evolve how they are creating, storing and linking information
that was simply not possible in a paper-based environment. In many cases, today’s
digital information can be integrated with other applications either directly
or through import routines, both saving time in re-keying this data, as well
as by reducing the time required to reconcile the information in multiple locations.
While the obvious place to look for integrating your accounting tools is within
the same accounting product suite, there are also opportunities to link generic
data from different vendors. Below, is a list of the best locations to evaluate
for integrating your applications and taking advantage of the capabilities within
today’s accounting applications. Spending time now looking through these
features within your firm’s accounting products will save you time in
the long run.

  • Organizer Production: Most of today’s organizers
    have a cover letter feature that can be edited to include the firm’s
    standard engagement letter and instructions so there is no need to print them
    out separately and hand collate them. While digital organizers have been minimally
    used by clients, they do allow the importing of data directly into the tax
    return, which streamlines processes if done properly the first time.
  • Tax Projections: Some of the tax programs have their own
    projection software while the leading product has the ability to import data
    directly from these tax vendors. One caution on any of these linked projection
    tools is to be sure to provide training since analysis and printing of reports
    can be overwhelming for first-time users.
  • Depreciation: Many firms have legacy fixed asset products
    that are not linked to their primary tax processing application so this data
    is often re-keyed into the return. Today, the top suites have built solid
    fixed asset products that are worth transitioning to, allowing the data to
    be naturally integrated with the tax programs. Many firms set a threshold
    of 10 to 15 assets for calculating within their tax application, and beyond
    this number they go directly to the fixed asset module.
  • Research and Forms: Some of the top tax programs have
    the capability to jump directly to their research and forms applications from
    within a tax return, which saves time launching another application. Often
    times, firms selected their research and forms products based on their history
    with the paper services so today it makes sense to re-evaluate the benefits
    of linking within the same suite, which can also lower the firm’s overall
    costs.
  • Trial Balance to Tax: For business returns, many firms
    utilize their audit/trial balance application to do adjusting entries. These
    trial balances can be set up with tax groupings to transition this data to
    the tax return. While the initial training and setup may require a significant
    amount of time, most firms feel it is well worth the effort in future years.
  • Trial Balance to Financial Statements: Each of the top
    audit document containers can either link to Word/Excel for financial report
    preparation or have their own report writing tool. By using the linked processes,
    firms can make an adjusting entry and then reprint the report with the corrections
    flowing through. These programs also have integrated print macro features
    to allow multiple documents to be printed into one PDF document so the financial
    reports are printed consistently.
  • General Ledger to Trial Balance: One of the first steps
    in the audit process is getting the trial balance from the client. By requesting
    this in a digital format such as Excel, it can be imported in most of today’s
    audit document containers, saving time with keying and looking for out-of-balance
    amounts.
  • Tax Workflow: Traditionally, firms have had a system for
    tax lead schedules, another for due date monitoring, and another for managing
    the staffing of the jobs. With today’s workflow tools that are often
    integrated with document management, this information is keyed into one application
    and managed much more easily. Some of the tax workflow tools also link directly
    to scanned images of supporting documents within the firm’s document
    management application so they do not have to launch separate programs.
  • Audit Workpaper Programs: Workpaper programs have gone
    through a significant transition with the new audit standards, and the major
    vendors integrate workpaper programs to not only import data but to notify
    the auditor of any changes or updates made to these programs.
  • Benchmarking Tools: A number of analytic tools are available
    to help firms assess audit risk and improve overall reporting of results to
    clients. Many of these tools can integrate with the audit document containers
    for easier use of this information.
  • Data Extraction: While data extraction has traditionally
    been done with third-party products, some of the vendors are now including
    this capability within their audit tools on top of Excel, which is the most
    common format for clients exporting their files.
  • E-mail File Transfer: Many firms continue to utilize e-mail
    for sending and receiving client files. Some of the document management products
    have tools to simplify the importing of attached documents into their programs.
  • Accounting Product to Write-Up: While many firms and clients
    have transitioned to QuickBooks, Peachtree or other small business accounting
    products, they are not always happy with the financial statement formatting
    they get out of these applications. Most of today’s integrated write-up
    products can import this information, which can then be linked to the tax
    return.
  • Payroll Services: Many firms utilize external payroll
    services but are still physically delivering paystubs. Most of these services
    now integrate with their portal solutions that streamline the delivery of
    digital paystubs so that the employee can look up their information online
    and the firm does not have to.
  • Microsoft Office Integration: Virtually every accounting
    application has the ability to export to Word or Excel for easier formatting
    or manipulation. In addition, these tools can link to Outlook for communication
    with clients so it is usually just a matter of being aware of these items
    and training personnel.

For any of the processes listed above where the firm experiences a bottleneck,
I recommend that you contact your vendor for both products to see what tools
and training are available to streamline their usage.