Accounting DMS ticks all the boxes

Business Process Manager Kylie Grant says paperless processing is delivering dividends in Sydney for HLB Mann Judd, one of Australia’s leading accounting firms.

The Sydney operation of HLB Mann Judd implemented the fully fledged document management system, Autonomy WorkSite, in 2006. There are 10 member and representative firms across Australia and HLB International operates in over 100 countries. Each branch of the firm pursues an independent IT strategy, to support its operations that include corporate finance and auditing, tax consulting, business consulting, superannuation and financial planning.

Much of the firm’s interaction with clients and the Tax Office is paperless, as its APS accounting software accepts files directly from MYOB, and other financial packages used by mid-tier firms. However there are some clients who persist with manual paper-based processes.

Kylie Grant looks after the software systems that that underlie those processes. Kylie came into her role when the firm had already made a decision to acquire Autonomy (or at the time Interwoven).

She lists the reasons for acquiring WorkSite as a way to militate against risk and ensure easier retrieval of documents in the future. The firm did not undertake a major back-scanning program.

“Before we implemented WorkSite there was actually no integration between our filing system and our practice management system, so everything was just stored on Windows Explorer folders,” said Grant.

“Anybody could create a folder, and there was no standardisation for naming. At the highest level it was generally accepted that it was just the client name, but then what was created below that was just up to the individual’s discretion. So it was quite messy, and it could be quite difficult for people to find things. So if an auditor came to work in business services who didn’t know the file structure, it could be quite difficult to locate documents.

“In October last year we restructured the whole system and we changed to matter-centric, so now WorkSite is integrated with our practice management system, and as soon as a client is added to practice management, that client is created in Work Site.

“Also, now when the client is created and a matter is set up for the client, we have a standard XML template that recognises the matter type and sets up a folder structure of a specific layout, so for tax returns we’d have working papers and correspondence and email folder, and it’s exactly the same for every client who has that same matter.

“We have found just for the visual organisation of documents, our users really love it, so I think it’s been a fantastic change that they’ve gone back to that folder kind of structure rather than the flat filing space that they started out with.

“It did not require a lot of development; the functionality was all right there in the software, although the version that was available at the time, we did have to do a few little workarounds to make it work the way we wanted, although they’ve just released a new version, the latest version of Work Site 8.5.

“It now has a tick box, so you can just click the button and it ticks a box to say this is a matter-centric implementation and therefore a document must be placed into a folder. While there wasn’t a lot of development, it definitely was a very big planning process and required a lot of thought and user consultation about how things needed to be structured.”

The majority of documents that arrive are delivered electronically, and those that arrive on paper can come in a range of formats. HLB Mann Judd is working on transitioning to scanning all of the source documents that come from clients, and placing them into the client folders in Work Site. The WorkSite folders are only available to desktop users on the HLB Mann Judd intranet and extranet, and options for mobile access are being explored.

Another project on the To Do list is a client portal, which could potentially be implemented using the WorkSite Web product. This would allow the ability to tick a box to expose documents to clients via the Web.

“I think it could be quite useful to some clients to have instant access to things like their accounts, previous tax returns, trust deeds, company constitutions, etc. if they’re not inclined to manage their own copies of those documents,” said Grant.

“I envisage that if we were to implement a client portal, we’d probably wrap a workflow process around the exposure of documents to ensure only appropriate material gets exposed. Who it gets exposed to would potentially be quite a complex thing to determine for the larger client groups and we’d definitely want to put a lot of thought into that in the planning phase.

“Needless to say, at least part of the security would come from our practice management system to determine which individuals are part of the client group and which entities of the group one could access documents for.”

The firm is also beginning to redesign traditionally manual processes into a digital workflow, using a COTS BPM product (Orbis Task Centre).

The first process involving WorkSite documents that is being automated is the e-delivery of tax “Notice of Assessment” to clients, an estimate of payable or refundable tax.

“We receive these in paper and have traditionally mailed them to clients. We’re currently designing a process to scan them, scrape the data and insert to APS, save the PDF to WorkSite then email the PDF as well as the relevant scraped details to the client and save the email.

“The current paper-based process requires four different people to touch it. The new process will require only one person to touch it once (unless there’s a problem with the assessment which would require investigation).”

“There are dozens of document-dependent processes that we could automate. I suppose much of this could be done without a DMS but I certainly think it will make things easier having a filing structure that’s directly linked to the practice management system and also on a SQL database where there’s no question about whether it’s the right place to file it as long as the client ID and matter ID are known.”