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REVIEW: Document Management Software

document artIf your firm hasn't moved to a document management system (DMS), it may be time to do so. DMSs are increasingly affordable and practical even for the smallest accounting firms. A DMS lets you go "paperless," or as paperless as anything is. The system stores documents-records, accounting files, tax returns and reports-and then helps manage their access and distribution on a centralized online system. A DMS makes your documents compact and instantly accessible, which saves you time and effort.

What Should You Expect?
You can expect that any DMS will have good features for importing existing documents as well as supporting document scanning using TWAIN-compliant and Fujitsu Scan Snap scanners. DMSs also let you create documents directly within the system (usually using an external tool such as Word). DMSs interface directly with Outlook, Microsoft Office and many accounting and other products.

Security is a major feature of all DMSs. You can expect that there will be good password and encryption features, extensive access rights down to the individual document level, and audit trails. You can also set retention information, flagging and optionally purging documents after a specific date.

Most DMSs let you share and exchange files and information with clients through secure online portals instead of email. The disadvantages with email are that it is insecure and that there is a limitation of 5MB to10MB for email attachments. Sending attachments with sensitive personal or financial information can even be a violation of government regulations. In contrast, a web-based portal is secure and has no practical limitation on the size or number of documents you can exchange. Portals can also be accessed from anywhere with a standard browser. Unlike email attachments, files on a portal can also be set to expire after a certain period, so that outdated information doesn't stay visible. Portals can also be "branded:" you can customize the portal with your firm's logo and colors, so users logging in see it as an extension of your firm rather than third-party software.

DMSs come in locally hosted client-server versions that you install at your site and hosted server versions (aka "cloud computing") hosted by the company that you then log into over the Web. Client-server versions give you total control over your data, but you must take care of important IT issues such as server maintenance, backup, site security, and disaster recovery procedures. In contrast, cloud-based solutions are accessible from any computer or tablet and the company takes care of IT... but the ongoing costs may be higher. With the marked increase in tablet access of the Internet, you can expect to see more cloud-based DM products in the next few years.

Document Management Systems

CNG-Safe 8.0
Cabinet NG
Madison, Ala.
(256) 258-0460 or (800) 621-6501
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Price: Software purchase: $995- $1,395 per user (local server); Software subscription: $50 per user per month (hosted server); CNG-Share subscription: <10 users is $15/month/user, 11+ is $10/month/user.

CNG-Safe 8.0
CNG-Safe (for Shared Access Filing Environment) provides both local client-server and hosted solutions. The product uses very intuitive terms for describing its structure: documents are stored in folders, which are stored in cabinets, which are stored in repositories. CNG-Safe emphasizes good workflows for documents. One of the special features in CNG-Safe is the ability to do drag-and-drop hierarchical sorts. Where most products let you sort by clicking a column header, you can drag-and-drop column headings to sort information by multiple criteria, such as document type within document name within date.

CNG-Safe's most recent release (in June 2012) has added CNG-Share, a secure portal for sending and receiving information with clients. There is no charge for clients using CNG-Share to access a portal, so an accountant can service their client list for only the fee for themselves as a licensed user.

Although CNG-Safe provides strong support for accountants and financial planners, it also supports other groups that can benefit from DM, such as medical or HR professionals. Accountants who set this up in their own companies may find themselves recommending it to their clients to solve their documendocumenttion management issues.

Doc.It Suite 3.6
Las Vegas, Nev.
(888) MYDOCIT (693-6248) phone/fax
Price: Subscriptions $25 to $35 per user per month, paid quarterly.

Doc.It Suite 3.6
Doc.It Suite 3.6, which was just released this month, has very good features and pricing that will appeal both to small practices and large companies. The suite has a built-in PDF editor for publishing documents to the Doc.It Archive. There are features such as a full set of Adobe mark-up tools, a built-in calc tape calculator and secure electronic signatures included. The product also has extensive OCR features.

One of product's biggest differentiators is that it distinguishes between work-in-progress and final documents. You can create a binder of WIP documents that can be checked out for collaborative work, and then published to the Doc.It Archive when they're complete. There are helpful features such as program links for CaseWare and QuickBooks and a document revision history with prior version rollback.

As an inexpensive product with many features, the Doc.It Suite may be perfect for the small shop that needs to access documents from client sites, but it has the strength and features to support large accounting firms as well.

FileCabinet CS
Thomson Reuters
Dexter, Mich.
(800) 968-8900
Price: Starts at $1,500, annual renewable license.

FileCabinet CS
A very robust product, FileCabinet CS integrates seamlessly with all other Thomson Reuters products as well as most other Windows software.
This application has all the features common to DMSs. Worth noting is the image scanning software, which lets you change, sort and tag scanned documents with keywords for easier searching. The product also has very strong filing management options, letting you filter, rename, and group your client information and documents any way you can think of.

FileCabinet CS can also do a number of things on the fly, such as automatically recognizing the client you're working with and filing documents in the appropriate period and client folder. It also indexes documents automatically based on the type: the front pages of documents are named and numbered for faster organizing and storing. The NetClient CS module (sold separately) lets you create DM portals for sharing and exchanging information with your clients.

The strong integration with the CS family of products is also a slight weakness if you aren't using them. FileCabinet CS also stores documents in a proprietary format, which could lock you into this system. FileCabinet CS may be a bit pricey for smaller shops compared to some other DM products, but it has the strength and compatibility to support accounting and tax firms of any size. It's available as a locally hosted or cloud-based product.

Thomson Reuters
Dexter, Mich.
(800) 726-1040
Price: Starts at $3,950 per year (five-user license).

GoFileRoom, also from Thomson Reuters, available only as a cloud-based product, has many things in common with FileCabinet CS, but there is more focus on managing workflow and processes.

GoFileRoom has internal modules such as FirmFlow for workflow management. Of particular interest is that the ScanFlow module can add barcodes to scanned documents for totally unique identification. The TaxSort module automatically identifies and sorts tax documents as they're being scanned, making sorting and filing that much faster. The system also offers document version control and strong, configurable indexing options.

Unlike FileCabinet CS, which is designed primarily for use with CS products, GoFileRoom works well with almost any accounting or tax product on the market. If you aren't using other CS products, but you want the robustness and scalability of a Thomson Reuters product, GoFileRoom is an excellent choice.

Intuit Document Management Systems
Mountain View, Calif.
(800) 765-7777
(650) 944-6000
Price: Lacerte DMS Productivity Plus Bundle, includes Lacerte Tax Analyzer and Lacerte Tax Planner, $249. ProSeries DMS, $450.

Intuit Document Management Systems
Intuit, renowned for its many accounting and tax preparation products, also provides DMSs. Lacerte DMS works directly with the Lacerte Tax Analyzer and Tax Planner. The ProSeries DMS works with ProSeries Tax. Both products have the same clean, easy-to-understand interface we're used to from QuickBooks and other Intuit products.

Neither the ProSeries and Lacerte are as feature-rich as the other products in this article. For example, they don't integrate with tax or accounting products made by other companies. (The Microsoft Office products are supported, of course.) Neither of them has a portal option, although they do offer encryption and password protection of documents sent via email. And, not surprisingly, you must buy a new version of the DM software each year. (You'll still be able to use the DM features even if you don't upgrade, but you won't be able to work with the updated tax software at all.)

The ProSeries and Lacerte DM products are probably not going to provide a complete, end-to-end DM solution to a larger firm, but they are just the thing for a small firm that is dedicated to tax preparation. If you use either of these two tax products in your company, the associated DM products offer solid integration and reasonable features at a modest price.

ProSystem fx Document
Riverwoods, Ill.
(800) 739-9998
Price: Annual subscription starts at $689 per user.

ProSystem fx Document
ProSystem fx Document is part of CCH's ProSystem fx Next Generation Suite, a powerful collection of integrated tools for accounting, tax preparation, FAM, and general practice management. It is available as a local client-server product and a cloud-based application.

Document handles the standard functions for accountants and financial specialists. It also provides features for HR. The product has a portal for exchanging files and information with clients. One uncommon feature is that the cloud-based version scans files and documents for viruses as they are brought into the system.

All the products that comprise the Next Generation Suite share a common database. This means that documents don't have to be duplicated in a DMS. Instead, the DM module can manage the tags and references internally and update them automatically as the documents themselves change through other modules in the suite.

As with other DMSs designed around a specific product suite, ProSystem fx Document is only of interest to companies currently using the ProSystem fx Next Generation Suite. However, the depth of the integration and the breadth of the features this DM product offers make it complete enough to handle the needs of large accounting firms.

SmartVault Corp.
Houston, Texas
Price: $19 to $69 per month; 10-percent discount for annual billing.

SmartVault, a good cloud-based product capable of supporting medium to large firms, has pricing plans and options that put it well within the range of a sole practitioner.
As with the other products in this article, it supports Microsoft Office. It can also work with almost any accounting or tax product on the market. Moreover, there is a SmartVault SDK that lets programmers develop new, custom applications to fit your particular needs.

SmartVault lets you to set up a virtual drive view of your file area. This looks like any other drive, but you are seeing and working on files stored in its[[ secure data repository. Opening or saving files may take a little longer than saving to your local hard disk because of the time to upload or download a file, but the effect is the same.

Because it's web-based, SmartVault is updated every month or two. Bug fixes, enhancements, and new feature releases are added to the product whenever they become available. The product combines low pricing, a wide range of features, and good online documentation to make an all-around excellent product for smaller practices.

DMSs truly embody the adage of "working smarter, not harder." They offer a wide range of features that boil down to "less time spent looking for and fiddling with paper files." If you answer "yes" to any of the following questions, it's probably time to move up to a DMS:

• Have you ever found yourself running out of storage space for printed records and files?
• Do you have trouble putting your hands on the right records for a client quickly?
• Are you having increasing trouble complying with records retention/purging?
• Would you be able to work more efficiently on computer-based than paper files?
• Do you want to save the time and expense of building and implementing comprehensive backup and disaster recovery procedures?

All of the DMSs in this article have easy-to-understand interfaces. With one or two exceptions, they all offer similar basic capabilities. To make a selection, you may need to look at secondary features and options. For example, check out the product documentation, training videos, and support materials. Identify how well the product can handle growth and integration with new third-party software. And most of all, see if there's a trial period where you can play with the software and see how easy it is to use. Something that looks good on the screen may prove to be less than optimal when you actually have to use it in your office.

John Hedtke

John Hedtke is the award-winning author of 26 books. He has more than 30 years in the software business and technical writing, and seven years in technical publications management. John has developed and written documentation and books for many leading software products, and has received 26 writing awards to date. (A complete list of books, articles and projects can be found online at his web site, www.hedtke.com.) John owns a company that offers writing, business, and disaster preparedness consulting services for private, public, and governmental clients. He became a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication in 2003. When not otherwise occupied, John writes magazine articles and sleeps late as much as possible.

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