Tips for accounting firms getting into document management

Tips for accounting firms getting into document management

Good document management – a term often simplified to ‘going paperless’ – can turn inefficient accounting practices on their head and lift staff into new levels of productivity. No don’t click away yet – this won’t be another article packed with buzzwords that claim a whole lot while saying very little. We’re here to provide solid, actionable tips on how to improve your document management.

But let’s start with a little proof: With the right document management solution in place, your accounting firm could reduce overheads by 30% and increase annual revenue by the same figure (data from a HubOne case study on one of its accountancy clients).

To help you find information that’s most important to you in this article, we’ve broken down the document management process into three categories, from equipment and software to change management.

Going paperless can’t begin without an efficient digitisation process

1. Digitising documents

You can’t go paperless without digitising paper. Naturally, that means one of the first steps on the road to better document management is establishing an efficient digitisation process.

This is the part where you say, “Our office already has a photocopier and it’s incredibly slow. How is this going to get any better?” Well, photocopiers are certainly great machines but they’re not designed to support the large digitisation loads that an accounting office will require. To improve your scanning efficiency, it may be wise to invest in a dedicated scanner.

Here are some of the things an advanced scanning machine can do that many ageing photocopiers can’t:

  1. Scan quickly: A dedicated desktop scanner has vastly quicker speeds than an old copier. Even modestly priced devices can scan five to seven pages per minute, with more advanced devices quickly getting into the 30-60 pages per minute category. Plus, a good desktop scanner will come with a page feeder that can hold up to hundreds of pages at a time, saving you from waiting at the device to feed it new files
  2. Scan a variety of media: If you need to digitise a variety of media types, from multi-page, two-sided documents through to receipts or even embossed plastic cards, a scanner with a feed tray can be an efficient option. Many modern devices are equipped to scan varieties of media within the same batch
  3. Recognise characters: Crucial to the productive running of your practice is the ability to search for digital documents in a pinch. A scanner equipped with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology will read the text you’re scanning and understand what it says, allowing you to search for those words later (even, in some cases, if they were hand-written notes). Some OCR systems will also convert scanned text into an editable format, so you can make changes to the documents after scanning
  4. Link to multiple locations: Finally, a good desktop scanner can send digitised files to multiple locations – for instance, to a USB drive, email or cloud provider

Portable scanners are also options, so if your staff are ever on the go they can take their device with them.

Once digitised, files must be stored in a logical manner so that they can be recalled at any time

2. Storing documents

Once digitised, files must be stored in a logical manner so that they can be recalled at any time by relevant staff members. Without a good storage method, you risk the system becoming too unwieldy to use – the last thing you want is to be unable to find important client information.

Reducing this risk is simple, though, with good document management software, hosted on the cloud if possible. Cloud tech is the future of almost every type of office environment (accountancy included), and can save a lot of money compared to on-premise servers.

Cloud tech vs. on-premise servers

Servers cost thousands of dollars to set up, are a depreciating asset, require time and expertise to maintain (expertise that is an additional cost), and are tricky to scale – scaling up requires additional spend, scaling down means you’re no longer using some of your assets. That said, we recognise that some accountancy firms turn to on-premise servers for security, as trusting a local server is often easier than a third party. However, most modern cloud providers have more than adequate security – but we’ll come back to that shortly.

Cloud, in comparison, is typically fast to set up (mere minutes, in some cases), requires only the initial purchase or ongoing subscription cost, and can be scaled as needed.

Establishing your document management software

So what should you look for in a software provider?

  • An intuitive organisational system – something you and your staff can actually understand. Book a demo if you can, to see it in action. Your system should mimic the organisation you’re used to with your filing cabinets, while improving upon their efficiency. This will also help with your compliance, as you’ll be able to store vital information in a logical place that can be quickly accessed
  • Fast keyword search functionality – so you can quickly search for specific files. Essentially, you want a Google but for documents
  • The ability to edit documents once stored. This includes making small tweaks, updating whole pages, and everything in between
  • Good collaboration functionality. Multiple team members should be able to access the same document, if appropriate for their role. It should be easy to know when a peer has updated information, and sharing files between staff members should be fast and simple
  • Up-to-date security. Sensitive client information must be secure, so scrutinise each provider’s security credentials to see if they meet Australian legislative requirements. Additionally, check if you can find software that has customisable access levels. That way you can give your intern limited access to the system while administrators have total control

Those are your core requirements, and with these alone you’ll have a fast, efficient document management system that improves productivity without exposing you to compliance risks.

  • Bonus tip: You could also look at ways to automate processes with your new system. For instance, some software allows you to build document templates that eliminate the need to make new ones every time. Additionally, some systems automate workflows, routing documents to different locations automatically based on set parameters (e.g. documents for review go here, documents for processing go there). Every ounce of automation speeds up once-time-consuming tasks, enabling staff to focus on better serving their clients. Take a look at what’s on offer and see if it suits your individual firm’s needs

Staff members have to accept and adopt your office’s new practices or else you may struggle to see fruitful results

3. Change management

The next most important element of switching to a paperless system is change management. Staff members have to accept and adopt these new practices or else you may struggle to see fruitful results.

But here’s a problem: Change is not instant. People go through a number of emotions, many of which are negative, before finally accepting something new. You can actually track these stages with a theory called the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, which itself is an evolution of the five stages of grief. What you’ll see with this model is that, when faced with sudden change (such as in the workplace as we are discussing today), people go through a variation of:

  1. Shock
  2. Denial
  3. Anger/frustration
  4. Depression
  5. Experimentation (i.e. testing the new change)
  6. Acceptance

Before we can conclude these tips about going paperless, we need to cover managing the changeover so you can mitigate any impact of this emotional journey.

Managing change in your firm

We can see above that most people start out feeling negative towards change. It’s perfectly natural, and not a sign of discontent in your office nor of bad staff members – resistance is simply the first step to change. With the steps we’re going to outline below, you can overcome this resistance and have some very constructive conversations in the process.

In a study by change management solutions firm Prosci, respondents said the biggest things they would do differently the next time they needed to make major change in their office was:

  1. Start the process earlier: Respondents underestimated the amount of resource and time required to address resistance, and said that engaging staff earlier – middle managers were highlighted in particular – would have helped
  2. Create a more robust plan: This plan would include identifying potential sources of resistance and training managers to address them
  3. Communicate more: Frequent, honest communication was highlighted as the best way to counteract elements of active resistance within a company
A lady sitting down with a sales professional with a laptop in a cafe
Open, honest communication is key to a smooth change to a document management system

What would this look like in an accounting firm?

It’ll depend on your size, but it could look something like this:

  1. Begin communications early, and always be honest – why is this change occurring, how will it impact people, why is it being done? You should already have a lot of data to back up why the change will be of benefit to your firm, so consider publicising it
  2. Offer one-on-one face time with staff to hear their feedback and their feelings. This may also help guide what investments your firm makes, as staff will be able to highlight the features that would best help them, and in turn, support future staff advocacy or buy-in
  3. Provide training on the new equipment and software so staff can use them to their full potential and, accordingly, get the most benefit from them
  4. Encourage staff to be vocal supporters of change, as positive peer-to-peer influence may sway some opinions. If someone is particularly good with the software, perhaps they can help those who are not?

In conclusion

Document management systems can greatly improve productivity in accounting by streamlining the digitisation process, organising files intelligently and automating simple tasks. But to effectively switch to a digital office, you’ll need a three-pronged approach:

  1. Efficient scanning equipment: so the act of digitising documents isn’t a frustrating bottleneck
  2. An intelligent system: that is easy to use and matches the needs of your specific firm
  3. An honest change process: where staff are consulted regularly and feel their voices are heard

To take that first step on your journey, talk to Brother about our document management solutions. We have a range of contemporary scanning devices that feature a broad range of functions, with built-in security controls that can be configured to meet the needs of your firm. Portable solutions are also available.

Ready to learn more? Speak to a Brother representative today to find out what we can do for your business.

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