Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 8 seconds

Not too long ago, there were not only separate applications for electronic tax filing, there were separate companies selling those products. A little further back, tax preparers had to pay separately for laser printing functionality for their tax software. So how much sense does it make to have separate applications with document management, workflow and client Internet portals when the use of documents is common to all the products?

That’s a bit of a soft-ball question for companies like CCH that tout the importance of product suites that they say provide that needed integration.

“The difference between the document management systems all comes down to integration,” says Brian Steinert, a CCH product manager. He says that’s already one advantage of ProSystem fx Document, part of the company’s suite of applications for the tax and accounting office. For users, “The key is if they have other products in the suite, they have integration with the Scan product, with Tax. They want integration to be two-way to and from Document. A lot of firms will receive files through the year from clients. They need a temporary holding place.“

Although there are elements of workflow that don’t involve document management, most discussion of workflow centers on the progress of documents through a firm. And clients looking for secure distribution of documents or that temporary holding place are better served if they have access to a portal, he reasons.

You may have drafts you want to send out to the client and you want to manage those versions and manage it through the document system,” Steinert continues.
In fact, it seems likely that all companies marketing document management system will more quickly to at least bundle, if not link the various applications in the document management chain.

“We see ourselves as an end-to-end data management company,” says Matt Peterson, CEO of Provo, Utah-based eFileCabinet. Before Peterson assumed his position at the company in 2008, it was solely focused on document management for accountants, he notes. But the company has expanded its marketing beyond the tax and accounting business, since it believes its technology is suited to a wider market.

And eFileCabinet has moved beyond a focus that is only on a document management product.

Early in 2008, the company added to its Web-based line an online backup offering and last week, it introduced SecureDrawer, a portal designed to provide an online repository for those documents. Peterson says it is almost impossible to separate the need for document security, in terms of disaster recovery and distribution, from the desire to capture the document data for collaboration.

At Intuit, there is some thought being given to bundling products, says John Catrett, system product manager for the Document Management System, an application that can be used with Intuit’s Lacerte and ProSeries tax packages. Intuit also has eSort, a scan-and-populate system for processing source documents.

“You can have a DMS system and not use eSort. But once you use the eSort scan-and-populate system it doesn’t make sense not to have a document management,” says Catrett. “At the end of the day, they are absolutely linked. Historically we have built single-source solutions. That’s changing. Our strategy is to provide productivity and in order to do that you have to tell a compelling story about how all these products fit together.”

Of course, work to improve DMS has continued. A set-up wizard that was more difficult to use than it should have been have been replaced with one that reduces the number of steps a new user needs to set up the system, including how clients are imported and providing a utility for setting up folders.

For using DMS and eSort together, Intuit this year also added an internal PDF viewer as part of DMS so that customers who don’t have the full Adobe Acrobat system can use the viewer for annotations and bookmarking.

For SmartVault, whose world revolved around Intuit products until recently, the issue is also about providing a place to store and share documents. It’s not just about having the accounting firm go paperless, but being able to share documents within the firm and between accountants and clients.

“We make it very easy for the accountant and clients to share data back and forth,” says CEO Eric Pulaski.

In February, the Houston, Texas-based company moved beyond the QuickBooks world with the introduction of SmartVault v. 3, which enables them to store documents from other systems by mapping a drive letter to SmartVault.

However, more than most applications in the tax and accounting office, document management triggers the need for training within the firm because it requires professionals to look at their workflow processes. Most of the companies providing these systems are offering some kind of training that goes beyond simply teaching them the mechanics of using the software and advances into workflow and best practices.

“What our training entails is advice for accountants on how to set up the process for working their clients,” says Pulaski. That includes encouraging the firms’ clients to utilize SmartVault and instructing them on “How do I explain to my client why they should get on SmartVault.” Those reasons are common to most Web-based document systems, including the ability to have secure distribution of documents along with the ability to collaborate with the accounting firm.

And for firms that offer bookkeeping services, “The client is pretty much always audit ready,” Pulaski says. “They have the documents associated with all the transactions.”

Like its rival CCH, Thomson Reuters offers desktop-based and Internet-based document management applications. The former is FileCabinet CS, which can provide Internet-based functions via the Virtual Office, and the latter is the native Internet application, GoFileRoom. Both products increasingly feature integration with other applications.

The economy has spurred accounting firms to look to document management and workflow systems in order to get around constraint on resources, notes Mike Herlihy, senior product director for Thomson’s GoFileRoom, the Enterprise Suite and the CS Professional Suite.

“I think the reason is last year’s focus on internal process and efficiency,” he says. And in terms of achieving those goals, he continues. “Document management system is at the heart of that.” Firms are seeking to improve work flow and gain access to documents that enables them to work more efficiently.

For GoFileRoom recent enhancements include the Controlled Panel, a module that provides integration with the desktop, enabling users to drag and drop email documents to the system without creating a profile. There also been a move to providing, greater personalization. Based on the profile, users have control over navigation.

“If you want to bypass the drawer structure and go into document search or into the Firm Flow application, you can do that with more personal control,” Herlihy says.
The most requested addition that has been made to FileCabinet CS is the ability to create drawer-specific subfolders for documents. But for the longer term, perhaps the most significant change has been the modification of FCS to run in Client Virtual Office, a new product that enables clients to post documents from Thomson’s Client Bookkeeping Solution directly or through a hosting program if they want to post QuickBooks documents.

CCH made its big-bang in the document management space last fall with the introduction of what it calls its next generation suite in the ProSystem line. The online version of Document hit the market with that move while the desktop version awaits a debut later this year. Steinert says the desktop version will get Windows 7 compatibility, along with search-and-filtering enhancements.

The SaaS version, he continues, provides that integration with the clients that many firms are seeking.

“With our new product, you can accept uploads from clients. It pulls them in and also notifies the appropriate person that the client has uploaded documents,” he says.

Bob Scott
Bob Scott has provided information to the tax and accounting community since 1991, first as technology editor of Accounting Today, and from 1997 through 2009 as editor of its sister publication, Accounting Technology. He is known throughout the industry for his depth of knowledge and for his high journalistic standards.  Scott has made frequent appearances as a speaker, moderator and panelist and events serving tax and accounting professionals. He  has a strong background in computer journalism as an editor with two former trade publications, Computer+Software News and MIS Week and spent several years with weekly and daily newspapers in Morris County New Jersey prior to that.  A graduate of Indiana University with a degree in journalism, Bob is a native of Madison, Ind
Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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