With a digital tax workflow, your office may no longer be buried in piles of paper files. But that doesn’t mean that your document storage troubles are over. If your firm is overwhelmed with figuring out how (and for how long) to retain documents, while also making sure they are accessible, secure, and shareable, it may be time to think about a new system. These are the top five things to look for when choosing a document management system:
1. Version control
If multiple members of your firm work on each client’s return, it’s essential that they’re all working off the same, most up-to-date documents. When they email each other files, instead of accessing them through a single-source document management system, it’s easy to introduce duplicate documents, which can lead to errors and inefficiencies.
Look for: A document management solution that stores everything in a single system. It should have a check-in/check-out function and allow real-time edits and collaboration. Plus, you want a solution that tracks a document’s entire version history so you can create an audit trail—and restore an older version if necessary.
2. Native file formats
There’s something neat and tidy about static file formats, like a locked PDF. But if you need to import data from a client’s archived documents, static files are not your friend. When files are stored in their native format—Word or Excel, for example—you can easily retrieve and merge data into your current file.
Look for: A document management solution that works with any type of file so you can search, access, and edit files quickly. When documents are stored in their native format, you can go back to them year after year without worrying about converting them.
3. Workflow automation
As part of an integrated digital tax solution, a system that centralizes document management and processing—all the way up to client sign off—can deliver a seamless end-to-end workflow all within a unified system.
Look for: A robust digital document management system that lets you name, tag, sort, and search documents in multiple ways. Plus, a function to capture electronic signature means that the return’s workflow is digital—and documented—end to end.
4. Retention policies
What documents do you need to keep and for how long? Deciding what to store or purge may be guided by local, state, or federal regulations, but sometimes it just comes down to what makes sense for your firm and way of doing business.
Look for: A document management solution that helps you know what to part with and when with an automated file-retention protocol that includes customized settings by date or document type, including client documents, as well as personnel and operational files.
As remote work and virtual offices become more and more common, you need your document management solution to be accessible from anywhere any time. Sure, you can email documents back and forth, but that may not be secure enough, plus it makes searching for documents a nightmare.
Look for: A solution with portal functionality, which allows your firm and clients to securely share sensitive information from any computer or mobile device with an internet connection.
Do you need more advice on choosing a document management system for your firm? Download the “5 Essential Principles for Smart Document Management” ebook.