Paperless Office for CPAs - Myth or Reality?
As a new CPA on the block, about eight years ago, I had made it a practice to read as much as possible on practice management along with the regular reading I had to do keep up with the technical matters. I came across articles after articles about how it was possible for CPAs to operate in an almost paperless office. It was, however, quite difficult for me to imagine my own office being a paperless office. “How could a CPA really operate a practice without papers?” I would wonder all the time. I thought of these talks about paperless offices as being something of a creation of imagination about how life would be in 2035 when I may not be there. The technology that I was using in my office was helping me improve the production.
It was also helping me learn some of the more advanced possibilities in my system. In my small practice, it was a simple client-server network with a T1 internet connection. It was during one of my overseas trips about four years ago, that I discovered the power of my system to its best. With the T1 connection and a static IP address, I was able to work on my office system from over 10,000 miles away without any problems. This was a wonderful experience and my desire to learn more about the paperless office became extremely strong at this point.
I spent a lot of time, powered by my strong desire, to learn on the ways I could possibly convert my CPA practice into a paperless practice. I had already enjoyed the pleasure of working on my office system from around the world. I thought that if I could only access all the other papers I needed to look at while working on a client’s file I would not even need to be in the office at all to work. Besides enjoying the frustrations of continuous interruptions, accessing papers was the only remaining reason for me to be in the office. Sure there were other reasons, but to carry out my work for a client, accessing papers was the only one. Now that my desire was so strong, I started running into various pre-packaged solutions advertised in the direct mail and magazine advertisements. I checked out a few, called a few 800 numbers and received some promotion materials. All turned out to be beyond my budget. I had learned a lot about the potentials of my simple office network by now, and figured out that I was too poor to afford some of the good pre-packaged solutions available out there for CPAs. Upon a thorough study of the technology in my office and the hardware available in the market at affordable costs, I came to an unbelievable conclusion.
It was unbelievable because based on my calculations the cost of converting to a paperless office was going to be 5 or 10% of what it would cost me to go with a pre-packaged solution. This happened within one year of my trip overseas and it has been three years since then. I could not believe it but I had a gut feeling that I was right in my conclusion. I considered the cost of failing in an attempt to go paperless not too high. I was already managing a paper-full practice and if an attempt to go paperless were to fail – I would remain where I was – a paper-full practice. I spent a considerable amount of time developing the detailed plans on the whole process of going paperless, ordered the scanner that I had studied and found to be most affordable and launched the project. In terms of managing the staff time to work on the conversion process and managing priorities it was quite challenging. The process itself was quite enjoyable and revealing (about the hidden treasures in my filing cabinets) but above all quite enriching. At the conclusion of my project to go paperless, about 60 days from when it started, I discovered that it was truly possible to manage an almost paperless office. I enjoyed more than two years of paperless office at my practice.
The efficiency of the office went up significantly during that period. Clients experienced a different, a much higher level, of efficiency in service. There were certain things that went right for me in this process. I was able to develop my understanding in this area over the years due to my curiosity and had a good handle over the capacity of my seemingly small office network. I discovered that the current office networks, in many small CPA offices, are like human brains. They are highly powerful and highly underutilized. A paperless CPA office is no more a thing of the future. The true beneficiaries of this move by CPAs are their clients. CPAs who do not have to spend a lot of their time pushing papers and locating lost documents, would definitely be able to provide high-level services to their clients and benefit them more. All clients deserve a CPA who is at least paperless at the basic level, which is completely possible with a small office computer network and a very small investment.
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