Path to Paperless: Why it Should Matter to You & Your Firm

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Editor’s Note: This is the first 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. You can view the original article here.

“We’ve always done business this way.”

“It would take way too much effort to switch.”

“I don’t trust saving my business’ most important information online.”

“I’ve tried it and it was actually more work.”

“The investment to convert is way too expensive.”

When the topic of going paperless comes up—a conversation accounting, bookkeeping, and tax and advisory service professionals have been having for some 20-plus years now—industry professionals like Isaac Herring have heard all of the excuses. Sure, every business owner or office manager wants to find every possible advantage to streamline operations, cut costs and save time. But no paper? Do they really want to throw that into the mix? Is it possible to run a business without a paper trail detailing all of those invaluable connections with your clients?

Does such a transition even make sense?

Herring, Director of Sales at Lucion Technologies (FileCenter), believes it does. He says the first step in embracing a true path to paperless is to have a firm understanding on what the whole process entails. That means dispelling some myths. For starters, going paperless does not mean eliminating paper. It means using less paper and incorporating more efficient processes. Truth be told, even in today’s technology driven landscape, it is near impossible to get business done without some type of physical paper entering the mix. The path to paperless is more about embracing a shift from traditional paperwork processes to those that take advantage of documents being in a digital state.

This type of efficiency (and mindset) can be critically important in verticals like accounting, where a lost document can take an office staff hours to find or force them to recreate it. That lost time—day after day, week after week—can add up to an incredible amount of lost money and manpower. And if you are a small company, every penny and second counts.

So, what’s the hold up? “My 10 years of experience in DMS (Document Management System) has shown that the major impediment to most companies going paperless is nothing more than status quo,” Herring says. “Making changes can be daunting. In many instances, software can be complicated, so the adoption of it within the ranks is a tough sale.”

Issues like poor technology and complicated transitions have made earlier attempts to convert to a paperless office more painful than the paper-centric process it was designed to replace, forcing many to dig their heels in and revert back to traditional, paper-driven business processes.

But times are changing. Driven by new and improved technologies and more streamlined DMS strategies, there is a resurgence in the paperless office push. Also leading the charge is a changing cultural workforce—one that expects technology to drive most back-office operations.

“Our research is pretty clear that these objections [to a paperless office structure] are largely generational,” says Matt Toth, VP of Sales for The Neat Company, which offers integrated software and scanning solutions that enable consumers and small businesses to scan, digitize, and organize receipts, business cards, newspaper clippings and documents. “Younger generations express a greater willingness to consider a paperless office. This helps reduce the percentage of the workforce who remain skeptical of technology replacing manual processes.”

That is one of the main selling points—or detriments, depending on your perspective—to the buy-in for a paperless world. For today’s accounting professional, embrace the opportunity and you open your mind to the possibilities of reducing or eliminating the amount of paper used in preparing tax returns, financial statements, etc. You gain quicker access to workpapers and other files. You protect yourself against lost or damaged files due to fire, flood, etc. Your firm can share documents across multiple office locations, paving the way for options like employee telecommuting. And you reduce the need for the physical office space it requires to store physical files.

“If firms are not doing it today, the reason is most likely resistance to change,” says Greg Pope, VP of Marketing at SurePrep, which helps accounting professionals streamline their tax preparation process through a suite of tax automation software and outsourcing services. “Going paperless today matters because tax and accounting firms want to increase efficiency and profitability. People want to work in offices that value technology and the benefits the technology brings. Clients demand a modern experience.”

The way forward

As accounting professionals explore new and improved ways of doing business, the siren call of paperless will continue to make its presence known, driven primarily by the case that it offers ease, automation and accessibility. The temptation is out there.

“Having a digital file of all documents on your computer database is important, because you have immediate access and control of all documents from anywhere you can access your computer database,” says Sara Cavender account manager for GruntWorx, which offers a comprehensive and integrated family of web-based products that automate client tax document retrieval, organization, data entry, and review. “Some are still afraid to take the leap to go into the digital environment or they think their way is better.”

Darcey Wilde, eFileCabinet’s Director of Marketing, says that while making the transition is important, sticking to the plan is key. “Creating paperless processes and only doing them sometimes is bound to create confusion and frustration with the system,” she says. “Every employee needs to be willing to embrace the new processes in order for it all to work cohesively. Then it’s a matter of communicating to clients, suppliers, and partners about the change and make accommodations so they can better interact with your new processes.”

So, as the industry moves forward, the question of going paperless is becoming more of a “when” proposition and less of an “if” proposition. From a strict business standpoint, going paperless is not just an advantage, but a driving factor in whether or not a business stays successful. The path to paperless is a remedy for righting the extra work and excessive overhead to sustainable growth.

The rest is up to you.

Next: Part 2 — Getting into a Paperless State of Mind

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