Planning for efficient document workflow

The right document management technology coupled with the right document workflows will enhance your firm’s productivity. Before you can find the perfect system, you need to know why you’re taking the document management journey. Take the time early in the process to map out your current document management workflows and identify areas where work is highly repetitive, takes too long or is too prone to human error. Here are some questions you can ask yourself while reviewing and analyzing your current processes:

  • Which process or processes do you use your current document management solution for? Are there other processes where document management could be useful?
  • Within each step of each process, what pain points can you identify? Think about usability, speed of the solution, accessibility and security of the data? How can using a new or different document management system address the pain points you’ve identified?
  • How can we redefine processes to be more efficient when implementing a new document management system?

Define Your Desired Document Workflow

The biggest mistake you can make when planning for a new document management system is to fail to improve upon your existing workflows first. Get the document workflow right before you evaluate and choose a new system. This way you can be sure that the new solution can meet the firm’s needs with as few compromises as possible.

The document management system you choose needs to accommodate your desired document workflow, not necessarily your current paper or digital workflows. If you don’t know the best way for your staff to work, how can you properly evaluate different document management systems for the right fit? You’re going to live with this new system for a while and it’s much easier to start out with the right organizational structure and supporting workflows in place than to reconfigure the system later.

At Wolters Kluwer, we’ve helped thousands of firms make the move to the cloud to embrace the digital revolution. One of the most common mistakes we see firms make is to quickly implement a new document management solution on top of old, less-than-efficient processes. Forcing a new document management system onto an existing process that never worked well in the first place will not transform your firm — it will only create a more high-tech version of a still-broken process.

Take time now to gather stakeholders and your Champions Team – partners, managers, staff, IT operations, administrators and even new hires or interns – to define objectives. Give yourselves plenty of time to deliberately think through all of the most important scenarios. This is the most important step in your document management journey. And if done properly, this will set your firm up for not only a successful implementation and rollout, but also with efficiency gains for years to come.

Identify Potential Integration Points

Integration will give your firm its biggest gains in productivity. Integrated solutions create optimized workflows that save your staff from constantly having to open and close programs. If your firm has multiple systems that create documents, make sure those systems integrate with any document management system you select to improve ROI and efficiency.

Possible Document Management Integration Points

  • Scan, extraction and data flow processes
  • Tax preparation
  • Practice management and billing
  • Client portals and file sharing applications
  • Desktop productivity tools (Microsoft® Office)
  • Email
  • Back-office applications (HR, accounting)

Involve a Variety of People on Your Champions Team

Your new document management strategy won’t work unless the staff is fully engaged from the start. Make sure you’re getting good input from your Champions team throughout the planning phase. Staff will adopt a new solution and processes much more eagerly if they or their proxies were able to express their needs before a new system was implemented.

Staff from all practice areas and at all levels should be involved in a firm-wide champions team. This team will plan the document management project, drive it forward, evaluate and recommend a solution, and help the rest of the staff learn to use it. This team will develop and implement best practices, according to the firm’s goals and plans.

It is important to have strong support from top management, including partners, to help get your staff engaged with the new document management processes and system. As you begin to implement a new process and technology, make sure the staff is understands the workflows and policies. Training should include more than just how to use the new software. It should help staff understand how new processes work and why the changes were made. Most of us are resistant to change. But if we feel like we are getting a benefit in exchange, we are more likely to accept the change more quickly.

The Implementation Process

Your document management implementation plan should evolve with your strategy. As you evaluate providers, make sure each vendor can explain the implementation process in detail.

  • Recruit champions. For document management to work, you need input from every part of your firm. Assemble a champions team of staff members to help define existing processes, develop new ones and provide feedback. Recruit an executive champions team of partners and senior managers to guide overall strategy.
  • Define your goals. Carefully scope out your document management project. What are you trying to accomplish for your firm? Build consensus among your champions for the project goals and constraints.
  • Map your workflow. Plan your new workflows within the champions team and decide what integrations you will need to achieve the best possible efficiency. Work with your vendor partner to ensure they understand the workflows you are trying to implement.
  • Plan your timing. Avoid implementing any new system during your firm’s busy season. Time your rollout so that all departments and practice areas go live at the same time, if possible. If you implement document management piecemeal, you risk storing client files differently across practice areas. Other non-tax departments may choose to implement later if it makes more sense.
  • Don’t forget training. No matter how easy software is to use, most solutions have hundreds of features. Professional training ensures that your staff are well equipped to handle their daily workload. After staff have learned the basics and used the system for a while, we recommend following up for more advanced or customized training. Train the champions first, and then train the rest of the organization. Train your staff on the new system as well as the new policies and procedures that guide how and where to store every type of document. After the system has been in use for a little while, gather user feedback and train again on any areas of concern.

To learn more about improving your document workflow, download our whitepaper, Document Management: A Tax Season Planning Guide.


Damon Russel

All stories by: Damon Russel