From Accounting Today The Many Faces of Workflow
By Dave Mcclure
If any single industry is responsible for the emergence of workflow as a management process, it is the accounting profession. It has been accounting — along with some contributions from the legal and marketing industries — that has honed and polished the concept to bring it into the mainstream.
This year alone, business organizations as diverse as research firm IDC and nonprofit business association COMPTIA have taken up the banner of workflow for small to midsized businesses as the next method of extracting productivity and eking profits from today’s economy.
It is interesting to note that while workflow is coming to the forefront in these organizations, it is slowly disappearing as a stand-alone process in accounting firms. That is, workflow is being integrated into the core of accounting software at the same time it is being identified as a separate and unique process for other businesses.
While accounting workflow brought together the disciplines of document management, project management, task assignments, approvals and final billing, small-business workflow is seen as a melding of four processes — social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies. As they become more integrated in SMBs, these four are termed “business process management.”
According to the COMPTIA report, companies are seeking to use these four processes to reduce or eliminate:
• Bottlenecks that slow things down (mentioned by 48 percent of respondents);
• Duplication of work (46 percent);
• Poor interaction between departments (39 percent);
• Difficulty locating needed documents (33 percent); and,
• Lack of business process visibility (27 percent).
The concept of workflow is therefore following two timelines. For the early adopters in accounting, the process was initially seen as a stand-alone management function that is now evolving into the core of the business. SMBs that are beginning to explore workflow will first view it as a distinct and separate practice until it has proven itself in terms of productivity and profitability gains.
There are literally dozens of workflow systems for accounting, and even more for SMBs. Our roundup for 2014 considers the top integrated and stand-alone workflow management products that are specifically designed for accountants. This roundup does not include purely tax-related workflow, which will be considered later this fall.
Practice Management Workspace
Office Tools Professional
Practice Management Workspace from Office Tools Professional combines dashboards and data entry into a single workflow screen that combines contact management, calendaring, collaboration and task delegation, expense and billing, and tickler-file management in a desktop-based solution.
From phone calls and e-mails to documents flowing in and out of the firm, everything is tracked, accessed and measured. From the “who, what, where and when” of tax, accounting and consulting, Workspace tracks how much time was spent and how much was billed for optimal productivity.
Practice Management integrates with the Microsoft Office programs Word, Excel and Outlook, in addition to popular mapping programs. Reports can be exported directly to Word, Excel and all common formats. A new Microsoft Office Add-On toolbar saves Microsoft Office files directly into Practice Management. Firms can also create timecards for payroll or billing inside of Microsoft Office, and an Adobe add-in enables printing or saving of any file in PDF format.
Other key features include contact synchronization from virtually any tax or accounting application, and direct synchronization with QuickBooks, Intuit Demandforce, Microsoft Outlook and mobile devices. Recent enhancements include enhanced billing and reporting, faster operations, drag-and-drop document management, and better integration with the system’s client portal.
CCH Axcess WorkStream
Wolters Kluwer, CCH
CCH Axcess WorkStream is a modular, cloud-based tax preparation, compliance and firm management solution that provides accounting professionals with a single point of access to a centralized database and common services to enhance firm productivity. Master templates can be tailored to different types of work, so you can standardize your processes and then customize your projects as needed. And the dashboard provides instant notifications and up-to-date project information as well as powerful, flexible reporting tools.
CCH Axcess integrates five processes — CCH Axcess Tax, CCH Axcess Document, CCH Axcess Portal, CCH Axcess Practice, and CCH Axcess Workstream. These integrated processes enable the accounting firm to be more responsive and proactive by offering 24/7 client access; to work in real-time with your clients by using a cloud-based client service platform; to complete more client work in less time – and with fewer resources — with seamlessly integrated tools; and to reduce inefficiencies to allow more time for higher-value planning and advisory work.
Enhancements since the last version of Axcess include a new utility that makes it easier to re-order worksteps on projects, re-ordering more than 100 worksteps at a time to apply a change to all projects associated with that template.
The mobile app for Axcess has also been enhanced, with a new mobile client dashboard that lets you view client information, contacts, notes, accounts receivable balances, payments and invoices. A “New Transaction” area provides a means to enter, release and post new time, expense and CPE transactions. A new “Time Capture” area provides functions to view, edit/delete, release/unrelease and post existing transactions.
XCM Workflow Automation Software
The XCM workflow automation software, currently in its 11th version, has released a number of functional improvements over the past year, including an XCMscheduling module, comprised of two components — Automated Tax Scheduling and Calendar Scheduling — and expansion of XCMmobile’s capabilities and platforms. A further new release is planned for later this year (XCM 12).
XCMmobile gives users essential “on-the-go” workflow capabilities from smartphones and tablets, including the ability to view all projects assigned to each staff member on their My View page for personal workload management; the ability to search for projects to quickly see the status and associated information; the ability to add issues and points, or knowledge to a client project, and respond to client questions; the ability to move projects to the next step in the process and close completed checklist items; access to project-specific details like jurisdiction and due date information; and the ability to sign off on completed projects to more quickly move work forward even while out of the office.
XCM is a workflow solution that automates processes and information captured across all areas of a public accounting firm, with specific capabilities in each of four feature sets specifically designed for tax, finance/audit, bookkeeping/client accounting services, and a firm’s internal operations.
In addition to XCMscheduling and the turnkey solution for small firms, XCM Solutions has also released mobile access to the XCM application that allows users to see and act on information in their main XCM site in real-time. Additionally, the company has made a number of key and user-requested enhancements to the full XCM workflow solution across many areas of functionality.
Doc.It Workflow 4.0
Doc.It’s Workflow is used to track the status of any tax or accounting engagement as soon as documents stream into the firm from any source, then continues through the processing of work to the engagement’s completion. Doc.It’s Workflow allows accountants to instantly view the status of all active projects and see the status of all projects related to a client. When tasks are complete, the project status is changed to allow professionals within the firm to stay on top of workflow.
With Doc.It Workflow, accountants may quickly check the status of projects, route or reroute work, and efficiently monitor staff workload to identify issues before they occur. The system is instantly accessed through one unified screen, which does not require accountants to launch a separate application to manage workflow. It allows users to set up simple, defined workflows for various types of projects within their firm, while avoiding the complications often associated with formal workflow processes. And it can be used both with projects that are being processed within Doc.It and those that are being processed in other software applications.
Enhancements since the last version have focused on significant speed improvements and improved stability. Specifically, this version offers additional capabilities to support FIFO processing of workflows, including additional date fields for workflow start and the date the workflow entered its current step. The first allows a firm to process workflows based on the date they have received all the client’s documents, while the second allows a specific user within the firm to order their work based on the date it arrived on their desk.
Other enhancements include additional mass update capabilities that allow updating workflow attributes for multiple workflows simultaneously – a powerful feature that allows firms to update hundreds of workflows with a single action; and additional capabilities that allow creation of ‘Workflow Only’ binders for the purpose of using Doc.It Workflow to manage projects outside of Doc.It.
Future development plans include additional functionality in the area of workflow prioritization, allowing firms even more granular control over the sequence in which work is processed.
GoFileRoom Workflow Manager
Thomson Reuters offers three solutions for accounting workflow — GoFileRoom Workflow Manager, Practice CS and Accounting CS. One is a stand-alone system, the other two integrate workflow solutions as part of practice management.
Major enhancements for GoFileRoom include rules-based workflows that automate the routing of work based on the type and complexity of each project. Routing is based on a series of firm-defined questions at the inception of each project and configures workflow based on the answers to those questions. This enables administrative employees to perform more of the work, reduces the amount of time required to manually route and assign projects, and simplifies the set-up process for many workflow projects in the firm.
GoFileRoom also features a calendar with managed content that includes virtually all U.S. and international jurisdiction details, supported and automatically updated by Thomson Reuters. Streamlined navigation and user-subscribed reporting make it easier to manage documents for internal firm operations as well as client work.
Practice CS is a comprehensive practice management system providing real-time access to essential firm, staff and client information, and powerful management tools that integrate with other applications in the CS Professional Suite. Practice CS also offers seamless integration with Microsoft Outlook, as well as paperless processing and a variety of Web-based tools. Practice CS also integrates with Mobile CS, which offers access to key firm and client data on Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android devices.
Accounting CS Client Access provides firm clients with a full-featured small-business accounting application that’s completely integrated with the accounting firm, creating a seamless, secure, automated workflow. It shares deposits, checks, payrolls, and other client transactions with the firm instantaneously, eliminating imports, exports and cumbersome integration with third-party software.