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Organisation of Practice computer records

Organisation of Practice computer records

I'm expecting to officially take over our practice in the next few months with a shiny new practising certificate and knowing that, at some point, the dreaded Quality Check Visit is likely to happen (but should not be feared) I am planning ahead.....

The current organisation and systems in the office work but I know without a doubt that things should be improved as whilst we know where things are stored etc in the "run over by a bus" scenario then the fresh face picking up the pieces would not necessarily instantly follow the logic.

I know we could invest in the complete Iris package but it is prohibitively expensive for us at present.

Step one then... better organise the data files on the server better - we have a system that has grown organically since the mid 90s and it's time for an overhaul.

We are a small firm with around 300 clients at present so the initial plan is to have two main folders - Client Records and Practice Records.

Each client folder would then contain sub-folders - Permanent (money laundering docs, Letter of engagement, Company Statutory Docs etc), Accounts, Bookkeeping, Tax Returns, Correspondence, and then where applicable PAYE, VAT and Sundry.

So firstly are any obvious folder titles missing? The worse scenario is set up 300 client folders on the server and then discover we have forgotten one sub-folder ...

Next, emails. I have read that this is now a common point picked up on visits but how do you all manage this?

Do you just use sub-folders in Outlook or physically open and save them in, say, the client correspondence sub-folder.

Advice from those that have done it and been quality controlled / wrist slapped and quality repaired would be appreciated!


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By paul.k2
01st Sep 2011 21:38

If I had a £

Youngloch I have gone through this with accountants in the past and I am not sure there is a silver bullet answer.

Email is the one area that bothers me. In the past when accountants generated or received correspondence, it all found its way to a client file. E-mail is almost too convenient and you have to contend with client communications being spread over several Inbox s’. Let’s not even think about clients who correspond by text message.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with someone in a Civil Service department that is responsible for sourcing solutions and I asked how they deal with filing e-mails. I assumed they would have an answer. I was told to call him when I found a product and he’d buy it !!!!!!!!!

In terms of actual solutions, if you are about to buy a new server, can I suggest that you look for a basic document management tool. I don’t mean scanning, but something that is capable of building indexes for you.

You will find there are quite a lot out there and many of them are now built around MS Sharepoint. Many MS applications now seem to be SharePoint ‘aware’ and you might find that some companies can offer you solutions based around this at a reasonable cost. I believe Sharepoint is part of Outlook 2010.

I have looked at these systems in general and the idea is to get away from folders as such and simply reference the file / message in some way. Regardless of where the document is stored, the system should track the location. So when you need to look at file ABC123, the document system knows all of the files to retrieve and from where.

I am afraid I cannot give you anything more specific or even a budget, but you are in an ideal starting place and it might be worth the effort to look around.

If its not a cheeky question, if the Standards bodies pick up accountants e-mail filing procedures, presumably they have issued guidance on how best to do it, or sought assistance from organisations such as Microsoft.

Food for thought anyway.





Thanks (1)
02nd Sep 2011 06:44


Windows filing structures soon get unwieldy - and searching in folders ie inefficient - echo the comments about putting a document management system in. See a Practical Guide to implementing document management available on AccountingWeb as a starting point..... 

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02nd Sep 2011 08:46


Just a tip, this is a utility that makes the locating, and opening, of folders a doddle, and it isn't expensive.

Note: I am not linked with these people, or on commission. I am just a happy user of the software.

EDIT: we also use MessageSave (from the same supplier) to file emails in client folders (outside Outlook). It works together with Quickjump to make filing easy, and it retains the original dates, and also records the sender & recipient.

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By Flash Gordon
02nd Sep 2011 08:48


I just print my emails to PDF and save them to my client files the same as I do with all correspondence. Piece of cake and I then have the same logic (or lack of) across all client 'stuff'.

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02nd Sep 2011 09:38

Lucion Filecenter

This product will give you a filing structure within which you can decide on appropriate templates. It also meshes with Outlook so that you can save emails and their attachments to the Filecenter with one click from Outlook.

It is also a pdf writing/editing tool so you can produce accounts in whatever product you use, generate a pdf and then add notes to aid client review.

The very best bit, however, is that it is only an add on to windows explorer so you can revert to explorer at any point and all your files are there in their normal format in the familiar file structure.

OK, it is American but apart from the spelling of the product you won't know!






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02nd Sep 2011 10:01

Structure seems fine, but a few other points for consideration


Creating a 'DIY' electronic filing system, can be fine when dealing with small scale requirements, but true Document Management products take care of a lot of things that will otherwise need a fair bit of thought. (I've described a few below)

Having said that - your proposed folder layout sounds reasonable to me.  You might want to consider a distinct folder for billing & credit-control though.

I would certainly try to avoid keeping emails in Outlook - this just scatters your correspondence over multiple inboxes and makes it a nightmare to track everything going on with the client.

Saving each email to a PDF in the main filing structure is clearly the right way to go. For PDF creating - I use PDFCreator (which includes the 'Print to PDF' facility mentioned in an earlier post)

There are quite a few tools like this around, but this one has always worked well for me.


However - a word of caution (particularly if your main concern is ensuring you get a 'clean bill of health' on a quality check visit).

If you intend to use this filing structure as your PRIMARY filing system (i.e. no paper copy) then you MUST take steps to protect those files from accidental alteration or deletion.

We all know how easy it is to accidentally drag folders into other folders, or even delete stuff if you aren't paying attention. If you don't protect your electronic files, there is a risk that they will not be considered to have the necessary degree of legal admissibility to be acceptable in a court case.

A 'proper' Document Management system handles this sort of thing automatically, but if you are just using network folders, then you have to deal with this manually

Try to establish clear separation between 'draft' and 'final' (so everybody knows when a document actually went to the client, and when it hasn't)Use your network security settings to limit rights in the client filing.  Only permit a few individuals the rights to delete/rename/move documents.Consider activating the auditing facilities in Windows, so you can track back to find out who deleted/renamed/moved a document, and where it went.Don't use templates that auto-create dates on documents (if the date changes every time you open the document, you don't have a true copy of the original any more).

Another handy tool to help you with working on folder structures like this... QuickView Plus gives you the ability to quickly browse through all the files in a folder without having to open each one.  It can make a huge difference


Finally - you haven't mentioned how to intend to handle incoming paper - will you keep this in paper form? or do you want to scan it?

Just as a suggestion - I've had a lot of success with 'ScanToPDF' - which can be set up to operate with almost any scanner and automatically save documents as PDF files with minimal mucking about.

You can also get a very nice one-stop scanning package from Fujitsu - scanner and software all bundled up for 'one-click' scanning of documents.


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02nd Sep 2011 10:44

Paper free office...... I wish

Alas long ago we came to the conclusion that a paper free office if a nice idea in theory but in practice unlikely to ever happen - plus it is of course nice having the physical papers in hand.

Therefore the physical files will continue but I am just aware that the computer filing system could be improved and the advice provided already is incredibly useful and has already given excellent food for thought.

Other than arranging things better I am acutely aware of the data risks (hard copy and IT based) and we have a server with 7 hard drives which ghost each other so if 1 died the other 6 continue. We take a physical back up on average once a fortnight (should be weekly ideally) and copy that to a computer off site. We also have a nightly online backup.

Twice in the last four years we have seen the need for the online backup. Once because our old server with one hard drive died - within 6 hours we were back up and running with the online backup restored and all we had lost were the few files that had been worked on and saved that morning (all current open files were of course fine and saved locally). It was a heart stopping moment because it was the first REAL test but I now swear by it and in fact am even thinking of having two online backups running JUST IN CASE!!!

The second time was when my own terminal died and I lost my emails and desktop contents but, again, the online backup came to the rescue.

Overall though regarding IT file management I have decided that if we are going to redesign the systems then lets do it right so we only have to do it once.


In terms of the risk of hard copy loss e.g. fire, then that is the less likely but more devastating risk. With that in mind it would be interesting to know how many of you scan incoming post as a backup to the hard copy and maintain that on computer as well. It's obviously not practical to do that to client's original accounts documentation.

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By Flash Gordon
02nd Sep 2011 11:14

Paperless office

I'm completely paperless - I scan & save everything that comes in and most of what goes out is email anyway. Admittedly I'm a small practice and it would take a lot longer with more clients but then I'd have staff so..... I save everything I do / create / receive to a back up hard drive at the same time and that is stored in a fireproof / waterproof safe. I'm also planning (when I get my finger out) to do a weekly backup to a 2nd back up drive just for belt & braces. It's not the most technological approach but as a sole practitioner it (appears to) meet my needs and doesn't cost the earth.

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02nd Sep 2011 13:36

Does anyone use Microsoft Office 365

I have been told that Microsoft Office 365 will solve the problem - is anyone using that?

Having all the data up in the cloud is, I'm sure, the way to go but, crazy as it sounds, there's something comforting about having a physical hard drive close by that could die at any moment....

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02nd Sep 2011 13:57

Carbonite ...

provide 'almost' real time on-line back up of your files at a very reasonable cost. Not sure why you decided to keep the paper files ... paperless is very achievable. I have two filing cabinets full to overflowing and now just have to wait 6 years to hire an industrial shredder!

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05th Sep 2011 09:16

PaperLess Accounting Practice

Your question has prompted some interesting points about going PaperLess in an accounting practice.

Practices that go down this route may also find that they can offer extra services to their clients that means they can go PaperLess too, this means less non billable hours for you and an opportunity to reduce costs for your work.

Documentation requires management, which therefore takes up time and money and it seems that you have an opportunity to re-organise matters so that this is done efficiently.

But a standard windows file structure, or folders in outlook will fail to give you a holistic approach to secure management of your documentation, and that of your clients, you may find that you are spending more time trying to get different systems to work together, and wondering who deleted that file you really wanted.

PaperLess integrates with your accounting solution and enables you to organise all your documentation for you and your clients, reduce manual data entry by using automatic invoice recognition, share data with your clients giving them secure login for their transactions and documentation, and create efficent workflows.


-- Accounting the PaperLess way™


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05th Sep 2011 09:57

Paperless Office Discussion Group

Can I just also remind all interested parties that AW has a specific discussion group on Paperless Office issues - There have been quite a few conversations on these topics over there.


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06th Sep 2011 11:31

Some great posts

Before you start I would suggest that you consider the following:

1  Download some software such as the Lucion File Centre Pro and use it for a few weeks.  This will help you decide what you need and want to achieve.  THen go back to original question.

2  THere are many pieces of saftware that allow you to save emails outside outlook.  I suggest that you do not convert them to pdfs as enclosures have to become detached.  Look at Mail to file at for ideas.

3 As others have said if you scan to paperless office this is good practice, albeit good backup is essential.  Consider workflow.  What I mean is if a document is scanned or received electronically and needs a response that there should be some automatic system to diarise or prioritise it.  Dont rely on outlook

4 Finally outlook - consider having accounts with a microsoft exchange and in the cloud.  We use  Outlook is avaialble using your desktop outlook and through any broweser and the two sysnc but even more importantly all emails are stored elsewhere thereby protecting you and the client so that if you need to have a look at the past you can download.


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