Document management seems like it should be so simple. Organizing, storing, searching for and retrieving documents should be easy to do, yet few firms have a well-planned document management strategy in place. The right document management system can improve your firm’s efficiency, accuracy, and ultimately, profitability. But in order to achieve a good return on investment, you need a solid framework for document management comparison. Here are seven key areas to evaluate when choosing the right document management solution for your firm.
Good document management can help you provide clients with the same value, but more quickly and easily. Is your firm trying to move to more value-based billing? A single repository of information can be the linchpin of better firm efficiency. You can quickly leverage work and research that’s been done for other clients. In this way, document management can help you provide clients the same amount of service, but with higher profitability. It’s important to understand how you’re going to send lots of different types of information to the document management system, including tax returns, client information, engagement letters, research and even emails. How will the solution store, organize and find those items later? Choose a platform with a single repository for documents, firm knowledge and client information if you can. If that isn’t in the cards, then integrate disparate technology products as much as you can.
Look for a document management solution that offers mobile access to your clients’ data and provides functionality that conforms to your document management policies. How do you and your staff plan to work and access documents? Many professionals are thinking about how remote and mobile access to documents can help them accomplish more. A cloud-based document management system gives you the ability to access documents in the office, at home or on a mobile device. Mobile access enables you to walk into a client meeting and essentially have your entire “file room” with you to help answer questions and give advice. As you evaluate, ask how each system will handle remote access. If a system requires the use of either a dedicated system or a VPN, those are more difficult access methods than a true cloud solution.
Integration & Workflow
Integration helps improve workflow. When performing a document management comparison, create an integration matrix with your existing products plotted against each document management solution. Tighter integration always yields greater efficiency. Document management should give your firm the ability to monitor, route and search for files and information quickly. You should be able to track and monitor any file and its location in real time. You can also report on the number of documents you have in any phase of the workflow, so you can help your staff manage workloads. Many firms have started to implement more integrative platforms so staff members don’t have to open up so many programs and recall so many passwords each day. For example, CCH Axcess™ is a fully integrated platform with a single login that brings together project management, time and billing, and tax in one system sharing common data and services.
Consider your current and future document storage and hardware needs. When evaluating solutions, you need to address scalability. That means considering all of the ways that your firm is likely to grow in terms of professionals, clients and practice areas. Many firms believe they’re either too small to need a document management system or too large to buy an off-the-shelf solution and must therefore build a system in-house. In reality, most document management solutions can handle a firm of any size. Concentrate on understanding how each system would work within your expectations and what features best support your workflows.
Many firms will implement document management by digitizing only the client files. Instead, Wolters Kluwer recommends implementing document management in all departments, so you can take advantage of the benefits of document management (version control, retention, etc.) across the firm. Make document management grow with your firm and handle any and every type of file you use.
To collaborate with staff, clients and third parties, you need a secure method to distribute documents internally and outside your firm. Research shows that when firms exchange documents like tax returns with their clients, about 20% use regular email! Other solutions employed include encrypted email, external services like Dropbox and client portals designed for accounting firms. Wolters Kluwer recommends using integrated client portals. They offer secure, easy file sharing, and give clients immediate access with the ability to search and filter information. Portals usually have check in/check out features and can follow document retention/destruction rules. Some even feature collaboration tools like e-Signature. Any collaboration tool you use should be guaranteed by the vendor to be secure and should comply with applicable laws and regulations.
Configure and utilize role-based security groups to assign pre-set access rights to files and client data. Document security is a concern for any business, but especially for accounting professionals handling sensitive client financial information. Find a document management solution that offers layers of security so you can control access to specific files and documents. For example, you may wish to restrict access to high-profile clients. Or, you might need to prevent staff from viewing files in the litigation services practice area. Ask vendors these questions:
- Can you set up different layers and levels of access for certain users, groups or roles?
- How do you prevent some users from using certain functions?
- Are you able to restrict access to certain clients or groups of clients?
- Can you restrict access across departments or offices?
- Are files encrypted when not in use and during file transmission?
The principal goal of document management is to improve firm efficiency by removing the barriers you faced with a paper-based process. Look for products that solve existing efficiency pain points! To make workflows faster and improve data accuracy, pay attention to how you will categorize files in your new document management solution. Keep your categories simple and very intuitive. Make it easy to sort, group and filter files. Avoid mimicking the filing system that you have now, especially if it doesn’t work very well. As you evaluate solutions, look for things that boost efficiency and speed adoption, such as: instant access, usability, ease of training and learning, intuitive and adaptable graphic interface, and flexibility in indexing documents. Once you’ve selected a solution, work with your solution provider to document every aspect of your implementation process.