Over the last couple of years, I have been discussing with accountants in Australia, UK and now the USA on how their firms manage files and their thoughts on document management systems.
Not surprisingly the responses are not too dissimilar, regardless of which country you are working within.  If there was one key theme that did come through from firms that were looking to change their document management system (DMS), it was where the firms typically had seen that document management was more about document retention and storing files. While document storage and retention is absolutely important and fundamental for firms to be compliant with legislative requirements in their regions, what else should be considered?

Instant Searching & Retrieval – Productivity Gains

A real benefit of moving to the right document management system in today’s world (where we all expect information to be retrieved within seconds) is how quickly you can find documents.  How good is your searching facility within your DMS? Do you have to know which client folder to be in?  If you are using a system based on electronic client files in network folders, this is then dependent on everyone handling documents and correspondence and moving them into the appropriate client folders.  Even with the best intentions, this doesn’t always happen and particularly not with emails.

How much time are you spending on searching for documents and are all documents being captured from the point of delivery into your firm?  Accounting firms still receive paper, forms and emails, so it is important to consider how easy it is to search for any information, beyond tax returns and other client data, so email capture and effective electronic post distribution needs to be part of the solution you consider.

Integration & Automation With Firms Accounting Software

This is a must, as you want to ensure that you don’t have to update multiple solutions when adding or editing client records, so make sure that integration is covered.  Also check that you can automatically capture documents directly from tax and accounts systems, as again this will add to the efficiency of having one central location for all documents.

Industry Focused – Right For You

When choosing a DMS think beyond document storage and consider the purpose for which you intend n using it.  For some small businesses using a free online file syncing service is great if you are looking for storage, but lack the necessary legal and compliance requirements to be a professional DMS. Be sure to understand your legal obligations when it comes to document management systems and that you also comply with your countries tax office standards.

Document Portal & digital sign-off

If you start to look beyond document storage, the next consideration should be how can your firm collaborate with your clients electronically and do this quickly, easily and securely – while also keeping track of it within your document management solution.  For years we have used client portals, but they have been a standalone application from the DMS, so where this falls over is that there is no audit trail of documents shared and a real risk of having multiple versions of the same documents.  The latest DMS providers all have portals as part of their solution, so definitely consider the benefits of an ‘all in one’.

Also as part of this process start to think about digital sign-off and how this can add efficiency by providing a seamless end-to-end sign off process.  Again any good DMS will have an audit trail that will help to monitor the sign-off progress, but also consider what reporting is available around portals, so you can easily see who has or hasn’t viewed or signed documents that are shared through the portal.

Redundancy and Security

If you are using or moving to an online DMS provider don’t forget to check, what, if any, redundancy plans are in place? You need to understand the service providers’ redundancy process to ensure no nasty surprises. For on premise solutions the area of responsibility for redundancy is yours, so it will form part of your firms existing back-up processes.

Security around online DMS and portals need to be highly encrypted as well as having user security to ensure that the right person is accessing the right information.  User based security is a very important consideration for accounting firms and therefore is not only key to online DMS solutions, but also on premise DMS solutions.

Are you getting the most out of your DMS? Or is it time to consider looking at new developments in DMS technology and checking out how Virtual Cabinet could be the RIGHT solution for your firm?