By Michael Giardina

Robert and Mary Smith run a tax practice. They have 10 employees, and usually hire up to three part time tax professionals during tax season. Their office will process about 1300 tax returns a year. While some of their clients are individual tax payers and they only see them once a year many of their clients are small businesses and the Smiths provide other business services for them, including accounting, payroll and sales tax services.

Although most government correspondence is handle directly by the Smiths, clients who are not seen regularly receive government correspondence in the mail. They will typically contact the Smiths office seeking assistance after receiving a notice. Per the Smiths instructions, they will fax the notice their office. Multiple times a day their office receives faxed Internal Revenue Service notices for their clients.

One day Mary asked Thomas, one of their employees, to look into a particular notice. Their client, Charlene Jones, had received an IRS notice that her 1040 Tax return was filed after April 15th and no Extension had been filed. Thomas called the client to assure them he would take care of the issue. Then he began researching the issue, pulling the client file and finding out that the returns in question had been filed on time. Next he called the IRS to reconcile the issue. After a long time on hold he discussed the issue with the IRS and found out that the issue had been resolved several months earlier. He then called the client to assure them that it had been taken care of. When reviewing the client file further he found the original faxed notice and notes from William, a former employee, who had taken care of the first issue. William had inadvertently misfiled the information.

Thomas decided that it was time to discuss this situation with the Smiths. Too often he had spent hours attempting to resolve a client issue only to find out that the issue had been resolved earlier. In addition clients would re fax notices two or three times and could have different staff trying to resolve the same issue. When the Smiths heard Thomas’ complaint they quickly realized that it was time for a solution. It was determined that the firm was losing an estimated 5 hours a week costing the firm almost $300 a week.

With key staff, they discussed the issues and determined that having to review the clients paper file was time consuming and thing being filed incorrectly were difficult to manage. They quickly found that new policies or procedures would not be sufficient and decided a paperless solution would make more sense. New technologies were needed.

They began looking into Scanners and Document management software solutions. They determined five specific parameters for selecting software. One, It must be simple and easy to use. As a small office they did not have the resources to spend months implementing new software. Also, learning the software must be easy process. Two, to manage their time a scanner with a speed of 45ppm or faster would be necessary. Three, they did not want to invest in a solution that would limit their future choices. Thus, they wanted the data stored in PDF or Tiff and not in a proprietary format or database. This would allow them native access and not lock them out of their data if they choose to change software vendors. Four, the office wanted software that was integrated into other software or functions of the office. Having the documents a part the daily work flow and contact management of the office could be a helpful time saver for the staff. In addition since they bill for time spent on special projects integration into the time and billing system could be a plus. Five, it must be affordable.

The Smiths asked Thomas to search and review the market for software and hardware options that meet their needs. Thomas found many choices which he narrowed down to the best group and present them to the Smiths.

Thomas found many document management packages which offered similar functionality. However, he found that systems which filed images and documents in a folder/tree structures seemed cumbersome to use. Exploring for files in deep rooted tree structures seemed to take a lot of time. Even with a search feature you could find your self hunting for files after each search. Most systems required the user to setup a folder structure which proved fatal when errors where later found out after data had been stored wrong. Thomas did find one system that not only meet their needs but exceeded them. He found a product called Office Tools Pro by North40 Systems a software company in Lancaster California. Here is how Office Tools Pro met and exceeded the Smiths needs.

Office Tools Pro is simple to use. They offer On-site, Web training as well as training CD’s. They work with any twain scanner and can be configured to use network scanners/copiers. All files are accessible thru Windows Explorer as well as thru the Document Management interface in either PDF or TIFF file formats. Office Tools Pro offers a completely integrated Contact Manager which includes Notes, To-Do, Scheduling, Call Tracking and Instant Messaging. It also offers a Project, Due Date management system and a complete Time and Billing system. Imagine all that information in one place. As an added bonus, Office Tools Pro stores all data in system created folders. No more typo and filing errors. It uses the same name you filed your client under as the folder name and it can create additional folders by Project and Category if desired. Simply type in a client name and you have all Office Tools Pro features at your finger tips including every client document. The 10 user Professional Suite from Office Tools Pro was affordable costing $1700 with an annual renewal of $595 which includes unlimited tech support and all upgrades. This is what became the Smiths’ solution for managing IRS notices and they ended up with other benefits too.

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