There is no doubt we are living in a world where technology grows more and more sophisticated each day. And yet, despite our advances, the lack of awareness or understanding around true document management remains an issue, particularly in traditionally paper-based industries like accounting.
Let me explain.
The Business Fitness team have discovered while working closely with hundreds of accounting firms in the past 12 months, that there seems to be confusion or a lack of understanding between electronic document storage and electronic document management. In reality, document storage is just one aspect of complete document management. Equating the two would be like equating bookkeeping with accounting – they’re related, but one clearly is a progression from the other.
We often joke at Business Fitness that Microsoft named their file management utility Windows Explorer for a reason: You have to go exploring in order to find what you’re looking for. This takes time.
Most document storage systems are essentially just as limited as Windows Explorer when it comes to managing and controlling folder structures, file names, where documents are stored and how they are controlled. Some examples of these types of systems include Sharepoint, Dropbox and Google Drive.
A document management system (DMS) is specialist software that stores and tracks electronic documents and/or images of paper documents. It involves scanning, electronically saving, storing and retrieving documents received or created by an organisation.
A DMS makes it easy for documents of any file type to be electronically filed, centrally stored, shared, quickly found, secured, tracked, quality controlled, shared and archived. A DMS functions essentially like a document factory – managing the documents that come into, are created in, flow through, and leave your firm.
This all sounds good, but many accounting firms without a true DMS may not see the real benefits it can bring. That’s possible because you’re used to the way things are and therefore see no reason for the change. However, below are a few examples of what the Business Fitness team encounter on a regular basis. If you don’t have a true DMS, do you or your team experience any of the following?
- Folder structures where documents are stored are a mess – there is no consistency or control with how people create or name folders.
- The way files are named when they are saved is inconsistent between users; two people might name similar types of documents in entirely different ways.
- This means it’s difficult to find the file you’re looking for because you don’t know where it might be saved or what it might be called.
- Even similar types of files saved by the same person over time can have different file names, leading to the “Now where did I save that again?” and “Now what did I call that file again?” syndrome that causes frustration and wastes time.
- Different types of files are stored in different locations, so there’s no “one place to search”. For example, emails are in different users’ Outlook or Gmail inboxes; Word and Excel files are sometimes on the server, sometimes on individuals’ computers, sometimes in the cloud; accounting data files are stored in a different location due to large file sizes, and so on.
- Multiple copies of a file such as a Word document or Excel file are created when people email attachments to each other; this causes version control issues where it becomes uncertain who has the most up-to-date version of a document or spreadsheet, and then work is sometimes lost when two people working together accidentally edit different versions of the file.
- There’s no control over who sees which documents or files, or who can finalise and sign-off on certain types of files such as letters or spreadsheets (workpapers).
When it comes to the files and documents within your organisation, you want control and you want speed; speed in filing and speed of retrieval.
A study by BAE Systems PLC (Show me the Money, Measuring the Return on Knowledge Management) found that 80% of employees in ‘knowledge worker’ roles waste an average of 30 minutes per day retrieving information while 60% are spending an hour or more each day duplicating the work of others.
What a waste of time and money! This flows through to poor turnaround times on tasks and, ultimately, to poor service to the clients and customers of the organisation.
Let’s take a look at some example situations in which a true document management system clearly trumps a basic document storage system.
Imagine you’re looking for what has been done for or communicated with a specific client or customer, prospective client/customer, supplier or an employee. You want to see recent emails, recent Word documents, recent spreadsheets, scanned documents, file notes – everything, no matter who within your organisation created or worked on the documents. Being able to bring up all this on screen, literally within a few seconds, is a real time saver!
And how useful: you can see the big picture overview of what’s been happening with a client by having these documents and files instantly at your fingertips. You’ll never again need to say to someone on the telephone, “Let me dig that up and I’ll come back to you.” You’ll retrieve the information you’re looking for within seconds, giving a seamless and impressive experience for the person you’re speaking with, and it saves you time by avoiding playing telephone or email tag with them later.
Imagine then that you want to filter that list of documents and files in front of you on the screen to just show emails. Or perhaps just show spreadsheets. Or just show work-in-progress (yet to be finalised) documents or spreadsheets. Or just show scanned documents.
And imagine if you could filter the list down, just as you want, within a second or so.
All these features (and more) are offered by the leading document and email management providers – now it’s up to you to choose the right system for your firm.
To recap, a true document management system brings with it the following benefits:
- Retrieve documents in a fraction of the time that it takes using paper files or Windows Explorer;
- Quickly and easily create merge documents such as letters, checklists and reports with client data automatically inserted;
- Use templates and precedents to make jobs quicker to complete and quicker to review.
- Saving 20 to 30 minutes per person per day quickly adds up to improved productivity and profitability;
- Save money by also freeing up office space and eliminating off-site storage currently used for paper files.
- Comprehensive and systematic record keeping reduces risk;
- Consistent centralised filing of emails and file notes across the entire firm;
- Audit trail function provides an automated record of quality assurance process for each document;
- Improve standardisation, consistency and quality through the use of templates and precedents.
- All staff can quickly and easily see all documents, emails, files notes, etc. relating to a client;
- Remove the need to email and Cc work colleagues in regarding progress of client work;
- Dramatically improve—and essentially automate—‘knowledge sharing’ about clients.
Increasing management control
- View a list of all work-in-progress documents across the firm and be able to filter that based on; Who is working on it, who is to review it, who is managing it; and/or
- The status of the document – e.g. Draft, Review, Approved, Out For Signature, Final.
Reducing key person dependence
- When people are away or leave the company, easily view all the documents, emails and file notes they have filed and have been working on;
- Standardise processes through use of procedures, templates and precedents.
Increasing business value
- A systemised business with thorough Knowledge Management and Document Management systems attracts a higher valuation because such systems make succession easier for the new owner(s).
With all these bonuses, it’s little wonder more and more firms are making the switch. The time and money saved when your office is run by a true document management system easily covers the investment of the specialist software. If you haven’t already, when are you going to take action?
Brad Geelan is the Client Development Manager at Business Fitness, the leading provider of email and workflow management software, workpapers and benchmarking tools for Australian accountants. For 15 years now, Brad has been a key figure in guiding accounting firms and SMEs into a profitable future through the latest industry tools and techniques.