Three ways to make your office truly digital
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2. Software Solution
Judith Slawsky, an independent CPA and certified financial planner, didn’t choose her own path to the paperless office. As a securities licensed representative, she’s subject to strict SEC and FINRA rules regarding record keeping. One of those rules is that electronic records must be kept in an inalterable format. And, although there are dozens of document-management systems on the market, almost all of them work by creating PDFs, a type of file that can be altered by anyone with Adobe Acrobat. Other companies, including Profitability of Hawaii, say their files, saved in a WORM (write once, read many times) format, are also SEC compliant. But only one system, a popular program called LaserFiche, was acceptable to Slawsky’s broker/dealer, First Allied Securities. “Our legal department said it was LaserFiche or nothing,” she says.
Like many who contemplate going paperless, Slawsky was attracted to the environmental advantages. But she also had practical motives. “I was in a smaller space then,” she says, “and I was running out of filing room. I was creeping out into the hallway with files. And space is expensive in Hawaii.” Even so, the software’s cost made her put off the purchase for several years. In the end, it was a move to a new location – and the prospect of moving all those files – that made her decide. “The upfront cost was expensive. How much did I pay? I think it was about six grand. Plus, you pay $600 to $800 a year for on-going support.”
Still, for Slawsky, the convenience of electronic files is worth it. “I love it because of not having to search for old records and files,” she says. With Optical Character Recognition and advanced seek-and-search features, LaserFiche makes finding almost any file, even one you’ve forgotten the name of, a matter of moments. Now, when a client calls asking for a file, Slawsky can pull the file at once instead of telling the client, “I’ll get back to you.” She also notes, “I now have maybe 16 drawers of file space that are nearly empty.” Maybe another advantage for Slawsky was that the LaserFiche agent on Oahu was a friend and fellow CPA and certified financial planner, James Michishima.
Michishima originally came to LaserFiche as a user, like Slawsky, drawn to the program because it was SEC and FINRA compliant. But, like anyone making the move to electronic files, Michishima faced the question, “What to scan?” “When we started,” he says, “I made the internal decision to back-scan everything. I think that’s probably the best decision that I made. Now, we know that everything’s in our database, so that’s where we look.” Clearly, going completely paperless increases the firm’s efficiency, allowing staff to find client documents almost instantly and to effortlessly share files or work remotely. But it’s a costly strategy initially in time and resources.
CPA James Michishima says going paperless pays off quickly.
“Accounting and financial planning are really paper heavy,” Michishima says. “When we started, we had maybe 100 boxes of files. It took us six full months to scan everything. And when we started, we only had one scanner. Everyone had to work at least one day a week scanning.”
But Michishima is confident that the efficiencies inherent in a paperless office more than offset the cost and complications of conversion. “Some people think it’s too expensive,” he says, “but they just don’t understand the cost savings. In 2002, we had three full-timers and myself in the office. Today, we still have three full-timers and myself. But we’ve doubled the volume of our revenue. That’s primarily due to the efficiencies of LaserFiche.”
3. MacGyver It
Going digital need not cost thousands of dollars. In fact, one of the ironies of the paperless office is that you may already have all the tools. Nancy Grekin, an attorney with McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon, makes do with a desktop scanner, Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Office and PaperPort, a simple document-management program that comes free with many scanners. Paperless is a matter of knowing how to use these basic tools, she says.
PaperPort, for example, allows her to scan documents directly as PDFs. Drag an icon to Word and PaperPort automatically uses Optical Character Recognition to create a nearly flawless text file. Drag the PDF to Outlook to attach it to an e-mail. If, like Grekin, you subscribe to an inexpensive Internet fax service like Maximail, you can drag and drop to send a fax as well. Of course, the main function of PaperPort is to organize and manage all kinds of files – Word documents, PDFs, e-mail, faxes, Excel spreadsheets, etc. – in one, easy-to-understand system. All paperlessly.
Attorney Nancy Grekin does it all herself with some basic tools.
For Grekin, the key to going paperless is simply not to use paper. “I just don’t print stuff,” she says. “I just save it on my computer. I don’t save or send any mail; I really use e-mail. I deliver all my legal work by e-mail – 100 percent. I don’t mail documents to people ever. If somebody’s somewhere and they’ve got to sign something, I e-mail it to them and they print it off and sign it.
“Also, I don’t print my e-mails,” she says. Instead, she uses the filter features in Outlook to sort them, noting, “If you’re not going to print them, then you’ve got to organize them.” Similarly, Grekin considers herself an expert in the “so-called power features of Word,” using techniques like automatic paragraph numbering and cross-reference codes so that she can quickly change legal documents herself. “Other people don’t use these features,” she says. “So, they have to have secretaries who spend their day reading documents and making sure the cross-references are right and renumbering paragraphs when the lawyer wants to take one out.” “But I don’t need a secretary,” she says, “because I don’t need anyone to do that stuff for me. I let my computer do it.”
“See,” she adds, “all this is really more about being efficient than it is strictly about being paperless.”
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