Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a six-part series from Insightful Accountant on why, what and how today’s companies are approaching going paperless. Sponsored by Canon imageFormula scanners, the series takes a deep dive into what a path to paperless strategy means, the various solutions available and a guide to help you get there. Check out part one, part two and part three.
Receipts. Bills. Contracts. Brokerage statements. Bank statements. Leases. Time sheets. Tax withholding forms. Benefit election records. The list of source documents that an accounting firm has to work with every day is endless. So is the scope of the work and time associated with keeping these files together.
In today’s technologically driven landscape, scores of opportunities abound for helping your firm store and maintain paper files, including document management systems (DMS) and cloud-based software systems.
Like with any program you initiate, it is important to have a carefully laid-out plan for the transition and stick to the guidelines. That includes having a timetable for training, implementation of software and execution.
“This is the time when a company needs to recreate its everyday business processes with a digital mindset, so they can fully take advantage of a paperless office,” says Darcey Wilde, Director of Marketing for eFileCabinet. “Fortunately, the investment in hardware and software is minimal. For hardware, it depends on the volume of documents that your company needs to be digitized and how fast.
One of the best places to start is to get a solid desktop scanner or centralized machine. While a quality scanner can get the job done, a high-speed one that can handle large amounts of documents in a short amount of time is recommended.
Sarah Sivesind, Partner, Operations at Aero Workflow, offers one note of caution: Avoid multifunction devices such as printer/copier/scanner/fax machines, which tend to compromise functionality. She recommends selecting scanners that offer double-sided and batch scanning capabilities, OCR capability to create searchable documents, scan directly to your DMS or other cloud apps.
The key is to make sure the scanner is equipped with easy-to-use software that allows you to scan directly to your document management system and is compatible with your computer hardware.
“Also, if you spend a decent amount of time at client sites, you should consider investing in a small portable scanner,” Sivesind says.
Document Management Systems (DMS)
Finding a good document management system can help eliminate paper from your workflow process. Find features like a secure client portal, version control and security features that allow you to control access at the client, folder or document level. Systems that can integrate with e-signature software are a plus. Other factors to consider with DMS include data backup, amount of storage, number of user accounts, audit logs, employee permissions, and automation.
Before you settle on a solution, you must thoroughly research which software you need. At a minimum, your software should be capable of optical character recognition (OCR), which allows it to recognize printed text and translate into usable data. This is to turning physical documents into digital content. There are apps designed to eliminate paper that flows from your clients, including ones that help manage expenses and receipts, track time management, automatically fetch bank statements and bills, and digitize the bill paying process.
After you decide on your plan and equipment, it is time to get the most from your new equipment. Get as many demonstrations and trials as you can so that you see how the software functions. Let your team test the software, too, which will help ensure it is usable and easy to comprehend. Every employee who handles files must have knowledge of how to access the information in the cloud.
The key is to not only ease into the transition, but to make it stick. “As you design your new workflows, make sure that tasks associated with the old system don’t hang on,” Sivesind says. “Examine why a certain action is performed and ask if the same goal can be achieved in a better way. Take advantage of what your new tools have to offer. If at all possible, implement new workflows in your own firm before you roll them out to clients. This allows you to iron out your process in a lower stress environment and also gives you and your team an opportunity to become experts on the tools you use for your client services.”
Next: Part 5 — Industry Leaders Discuss Considerations/Keys to Going Paperless
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