In an interesting recent report, “The Practice of Now,” accounting and business software provider Sage summarized the results of an international survey of accountants on practice management issues (http://bit.ly/2BI6M8k). While 35% responded that hands-on tasks such as data entry, management reporting, and tax return preparation were the most enjoyable parts of their job, they also indicated that the time spent number crunching was their second biggest frustration, after hounding clients to submit their records. More (39%) were using desktop software for client recordkeeping in comparison to cloud options (28%), but Excel spreadsheets were still popular with 25% of survey participants.
Respondents to The CPA Journal’s annual survey of New York practitioners have generally been strong users of technology—where it has made sense to them. In the 2017 survey (“Overcoming Obstacles with the Right Tax Software,” November 2017, http://bit.ly/2BE9j3F), 40% of participants reported the use of portals for clients to upload tax documents, an increase from prior years. Survey respondents were not directly asked if they used work-flow management software, but less than 20% reported doing so in connection with tax preparation software. In CPA.com’s “Second Annual Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey” (see Sidebar), more than half of mid-sized and large accounting firms adopted workflow solutions in 2014/2015, while fewer than 20% of small firms and sole practitioners did.
Workflow management concerns obtaining information (client data, employee timesheets), processing the information (spreadsheets or software applications), and providing the result of the information activity (reports, tax returns, invoices, paychecks). It also involves resource management (staff assignment, technology usage), document management and storage (onsite, offsite, or cloud), communication policies (e-mail), and relationship management (clients, employees). To the extent computer software and applications are used for these activities, they can be purchased from one vendor or multiple vendors and have become more customizable in recent years. The tax software vendors rated in The CPA Journal‘s annual survey generally offer related workflow management tools, and there are many independent vendors whose products can interface with tax software.
Workflow management helps firms keep track of resources and projects as well as meet deadlines and client expectations, and can make any CPA’s job more enjoyable. Workflow software can also make it easier to determine how far along projects are, find and access data and documents, and monitor performance. Readers desiring to simplify their technology can glean useful information from the ideas discussed in resources reviewed in this month’s column.
CPA.com is well known to AICPA members as the successor organization of CPA2Biz, a commercial provider of technology products and services to CPA firms; it offers helpful free materials on office tools. The infographic “A Roadmap to Getting Started with Workflow Automation” illustrates the overlap between document management, workflow management, and practice management activities (http://bit.ly/2jaQr1d). For example, workflow management entails an overview of tasks, resources, and projects; coordinating, scheduling, and allocating resources; and due date management. Workflow overlaps with document management in sharing information and documents and intersects with practice management in control of time and billing as well as quality and compliance management. All three areas connect for reporting.
Several free white papers are available on workflow automation. “Buyer’s Checklist of Workflow Automation: Does Your Firm Need Workflow Automation?” is a downloadable nine-page booklet that discusses key reasons to consider automation and evaluation of resources already in place (http://bit.ly/2BuBVd0). A 10-step checklist includes process automation, accountability, compliance and quality control, cost, and other important factors. Other free CPA.com whitepapers are highlighted in the Sidebar.
Jetpack Workflow is intended to help accounting firms to track recurring client work through continuous activity cycles more efficiently than a paper checklist system. Its website (https://jetpackworkflow.com/) has two excellent features for busy CPAs. The first is a series of “Growing Your Firm” podcasts that can be accessed from Jetpack Workflow’s web-site (http://bit.ly/2Cy3Xn6) or the iTunes podcast library (http://apple.co/2BvSdT8). The podcasts generally run 20 to 40 minutes, and the individual web pages for each presentation include a detailed summary of the content and links to the speaker and related resources. “How to Add 35% More Revenue with Tax Planning” is particularly timely, as not only does any tax season provide opportunities to review clients’ financial situations, but the current possibility of tax changes doubles the incentive for clients to communicate with their CPAs. “One Quick Trick Could Stop Accounting Firm Hackers for Good” states that the most common way that fraudsters penetrate a firm’s security is through email phishing attacks. This podcast addresses several other topics, including the major challenges and opportunities that accompany adding a new application.
The jewel of Jetpack Workflow’s website is “A Curated Directory of 100+ Accounting Resources & Tools” (http://bit.ly/2BGA0o5). The listed resources are grouped under 12 topics, including accounting software, workflow and productivity apps, team/client dynamics and communication, and document management systems. There is a brief description of each item and direct links to the provider’s website. The list is too long to repeat here, but as sample, the accounting software entries covered are Intuit’s Quickbooks, Xero, and Sage, along with specialized applications such as SAP, Sage’s Intacct, Freshbooks, and Kashoo. Two free options for small businesses, Wave and ZipBooks, are also discussed.
TaxWorkFlow (http://www.thetaxworkflow.com), founded by New York–based CPA Jonathan Medows, is a suite of automated practice management tools designed to provide efficiency in the tax preparation process. Its website contains a good overview of practice management applications, which is helpful for readers who are considering first-time or expanded office automation (http://bit.ly/2keVvTb). The TaxWorkFlow Blog (http://blog.workflow.rocks) offers practical how-to articles that include extensive screenshots and step-by-step procedures.
CPA.com Workflow White Papers
- Demystifying Workflow—Roadmap to Firm Success (13 pages)http://bit.ly/2D5kUXr
- Emerging Trends in Workflow Processes and Productivity (10 pages)http://bit.ly/2BACm5E
- Re-defining Workflow: A Guide to Understanding the Value of True Workflow Automation of Your Firm (17 pages)http://bit.ly/2CFt7Ak
- The Complete Picture of Workflow Automation (7 pages)http://bit.ly/2BKe9MB
- Workflow: The Foundation of Today’s Emerging Firms Second Annual Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Surveyhttp://bit.ly/2CFxc7Q
“OCR: Make Your Documents Text-Searchable” (May 2017) discusses the use of optical scanner recognition (OCR) to convert scanned hard copies to text records (http://bit.ly/2B9ce51). When documents are text-searchable, it is no longer necessary to look through an entire record to locate specific information. A related article, “Mastering OCR for PDF Documents,” (May 2017) explains more technical aspects of PDF creation, such as the length of computer processing time to create a document, along with a suggestion to disable document viewing until the record is finalized (http://bit.ly/2CCmheO).
“Emails: Setting Up Your Personal Outgoing Email Account” (June 2017) contains a useful table of settings for popular email providers, such as AOL, Gmail, Office 365, and Yahoo (http://bit.ly/2kHZt66). “Emails: Setting Up Your Global Outgoing Email Accounts” (June 2017) discusses the benefits of firm email accounts, such as maintaining consistency for client communications, as well as providing an alternative to using a personal email account for workflow tasks (http://bit.ly/2kHc6i4). The article also provides another table of settings for AOL, Gmail, Office 365, and Yahoo.