Clifford Roberts

A home grown document management system will only take you so far, as this practice discovered when it outgrew a simple scan and file strategy.

From its offices in Northampton and Wellingborough, Clifford Roberts offers accountancy, taxation and business services to individuals and firms operating in a wide range of business sectors.

With five partners and around 40 staff, the firm’s personal service and individual expertise are backed by an ongoing investment in office and information technology.

We’ve been using scanners in the practice for over ten years. By combining them with some simple scanning software and Microsoft Windows Explorer we were able to put together a reasonable document archive and retrieval system. There’s a limit to how far you can go with a system like that, though. Eventually it reaches a critical mass where it can’t provide the control you need and that’s when we started to look at dedicated document management software.

Because we use IRIS for all our other software, we began by looking at the two systems they recommend – Invu and Easy. CCH Document Management is purpose-built for the accountancy profession and has a long track record with accountants in the United States. Together with better email support this was the deciding factor for us.

In fact, we’d identified email as being our biggest area of risk. It was easy enough to control physical documents entering and leaving the building – our home-grown scanning system would deal with these – but it was much harder to control what was being sent and received by email. More and more clients were dealing with us by email so this was a growing area of concern.

Our other main driver was efficiency. Although we’d been scanning documents for years and had softcopies securely stored on the network, it was getting to the point where people could no longer find what they were looking for. We needed to impose some structure on it and we needed better ways to search and find the information that we were storing. With the old system only one or two staff really knew where the documents were and how to find them but now they all have access, so it’s a lot more efficient.

It’s not just retrieval that’s easier with CCH Document Management; standalone scanning involved a lot of manual intervention but the process is now integrated into the system so filing is automatic. Incoming post goes through our front desk for scanning then automatically flows through to the correct client.

We decided not to scan archive material. If you think about the number of times you need to refer to older documents it’s difficult to justify the cost of scanning and shredding them. Eventually we’ll be able to eliminate the archive and when that happens we’ll make some significant space savings, but we don’t need to free up lots of space in the short term in order to justify our investment in a document management system.

For us, part of that investment has been in extra hardware. We wanted quick searching and fast access so we’re running Microsoft SQL on a separate server to support document management. A document management system can be part of a business continuity plan, but only if you’ve got a bullet proof backup system, so that’s another thing we’ve invested in.

The more we use CCH Document Management, the more we find out about its capabilities. The next step will be enabling the CCH Portal system so that we can exchange documents securely with our clients, which is something we’re going to be looking at early next year.

Julian Payne

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