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Steps to help our practice become paperless

I need suggestions of products to use which will make our firm more agile

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I am a director of a 3 office accountancy firm. We generate and have too much paper. We would like to move towards being paperless and recognise we need to become more agile. What products/ tools have other firms  used to facilitate this please ? What helped you on your journey? What was a waste of money ?

We have office 365 and use Digita AP/CT/PM and C tax. We use IRIS FAR. I would be interested in learning more about virtual cabinet and other products out there as well as other tools that readers use . Thanks

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By Duggimon
21st Oct 2020 09:05

We're a practice running entirely on IRIS. I have no advice on going paperless, though I believe IRIS can help with that, I'm just commenting because of all the IRIS products to go with, it's hilarious to me that IRIS FAR is the one you have, it's an absolute dog's dinner and riddled with errors.

IRIS Openspace is good and free to a point, it's used for secure online document transfer and approvals. It works well for us because everything we do and our entire client database is in IRIS and Openspace is integrated, there might be a similar but better solution if you don't have a complete client list in IRIS already.

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By Mr_awol
21st Oct 2020 09:19

I agree. The only thing IRIS FAR has over an excel spreadsheet is its integration into the tax products for Capital Allowances purposes. If you arent using those, then why the hell would you pay for a FAR product (and presumably have to maintain two client bases, one in IRIS the other in Digita).

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Replying to Mr_awol:
By Duggimon
21st Oct 2020 09:27

Mr_awol wrote:

The only thing IRIS FAR has over an excel spreadsheet is its integration into the tax products for Capital Allowances purposes.

Excel does have the advantage of being able to round depreciation amounts to the nearest pound though, a feature we've been requesting from IRIS for about twenty years. I'd say it's a close thing as to which is actually more efficient and we're only using it out of historical inertia.

There's also the issue that it regularly makes mistakes bringing forward, or forgets the opening balances and refuses to load anything, or, maddeningly, inserts a random penny somewhere and makes you go back through three years redoing the bring forward/review asset values/carry forward to get rid of it.

edit: sorry, I'm hijacking the thread, this is all irrelevant but I'm scarred and needed to vent, it's very cathartic.

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By RSJ
21st Oct 2020 09:40

I totally agree with you. IRIS FAR was the worst bit of IRIS - many times we have commented internally that we have kept the worst bit of IRIS

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By Mr_awol
21st Oct 2020 09:50

First thing you need to do is stop putting new clients on it. I appreciate there may be historical data you want to keep but if you keep loading more onto it youll be using it forever.

We have a working paper program which is largely excel based and includes a FAR. It's a little clunky but as most clients records are either in excel, or export to excel, it seems the best option for us.

I cant remember how well IRIS FAR did/didnt copy/paste or export to Excel etc, but you could consider moving away from it slowly with the easiest/smallest FARs being migrated first - assuming you want to keep all the detailed data. It's also a good prompt for reviewing the list with the client and disposing of seven printers, two mobile phones, a fax machine and a flatbed scanner that were sent to the tip years ago.

Alternatively you could move to spreadsheet with a single line for 'per IRIS FAR' and keep a scan of the last IRIS list on the server to refer to. That will be a bit of a pain when some assets are fully depreciated, or some are disposed of over time, etc. Unless you do a one-liner for all the really old worthless crap and only import the detail of the higher value stuff. It would mean your dep'n on the pool would probably be a bit out, but by such a modest amount it wouldnt be that important.

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By Mr_awol
21st Oct 2020 09:50

Edit: double posting removed

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By Mr_awol
21st Oct 2020 09:35

RSJ wrote:

I am a director of a 3 office accountancy firm.

First, do you (and/or staff) move between offices, or do you operate rather like three separate firms?

I dont have any experience of the former, although understand some others do work like that. Ive had some minor experience of sharing staff - but that's really only for the tax specialists or for emergency cover.

The reason it's important is that it may be worth migrating one office at a time. We are still fairly paper reliant, but have moved certain functions/departments into full paperless. The main reason we are able to do this is that the paperless partners/staff dont ever swap around, so you can do it one office at a time. That enables you to learn from the transition and if necessary reverse some elements of it before it goes firm-wide.

Others of course may say that's stupid and you need a holistic approach from day one. Generally those people will be software salesmen/women (think of when Xero first came to see you - they will have been obsessed with selling you hundreds of licences and pressurising you into migrating your entire client base even though two thirds of it might have been better on their existing system).

The other benefit of doing it slowly is that you are protected from the inefficiencies of paperless working. Yes that's right. Inefficiencies. It is a lot harder, particularly at the outset, to review (or even self review) a paperless file. Staff will take longer, or miss bits, or both. You wont pick up on all of it and will spend some time correcting work (and some errors will slip through the gaps). Once your mindset evolves to it you get better, although i believe it is still 'better' in terms of speed and accuracy to have a paper working file. The efficiency savings you do get are instant access to files, including archived files (although that probably take years to achieve depending on how you move over). Homeworking during Covid is obviously easier, although the chances are that whilst you may have a separate study many of the staff wont so in the event of a lockdown or self-isolation they may well be working at the kitchen table with pets and kids running round them.

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By James Green
21st Oct 2020 09:47

We went paperless years ago.

We started with this guide: Going Paperless https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0903854295/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_1u.JFbF8WG2S8

At the time Kevin Salter from 2020 Group was publishing loads about how to do it and we pretty much followed that.

I’d suggest the guide and a couple of hours on google.

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Replying to James Green:
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By RSJ
21st Oct 2020 09:56

Thank you - Book ordered.

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By Mr_awol
21st Oct 2020 11:08

What kind of size practice did you migrate James? Number of offices, partners, staff, etc - or if a sole trade then confirmation.

I only ask because whilst many of the methods and challenges may be similar for all sizes of firm, many obviously wont. I tend to find (or have a preconception perhaps) that 'totally paperless' offices are usually either very small or very large. I recall an AWebber (one of the Pauls i think) saying many times how he was completely paperless, it was the only/best way etc and then one day mentioned that he was a one-man-band with about thirty clients.

There's nothing wrong with that of course but it did make me realise the reason why some of his views on paperless working seemed completely unrealistic to me.

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Replying to Mr_awol:
By James Green
21st Oct 2020 12:56

At the time we were 3 partners, 2 offices, about 30 staff and about £1.5m in fees

Today we are the same 3 partners, 1 office, 35 staff and £2.2m in fees.

In answer to the next question asked, there are upfront costs, but overall it’s cheaper and more efficient to be paperless.

Just take rent, we went from 2 offices with 9,000 sq ft to one with 3.5k sq ft

This was done by eliminating files, file storage and desk draws.

Our stationery went from circa £30k pa to under £7k pa

Turnaround times dropped from circa 15 weeks to circa 9 weeks

You learn to work differently across the firm and you will (eventually) reengineer everything you do.

And everything was seamless this year when we went 100% WFH from March to June.

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By JD
21st Oct 2020 11:16

James - Out of interest, having gone paperless sometime ago, in your humble view has it improved your efficiency and reduced costs or has it resulted in additional costs (scanning, Admin employment and document software) and increased error rate due to loss of context.

I partly mention, because the firm Kevin is partner at (whilst very professional) is shall we say at the expensive end of the scale for the cost of its services to its clients.

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Replying to James Green:
By coops456
22nd Oct 2020 10:52

The irony of the Going Paperless guide not being available on Kindle etc!

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By Maslins
21st Oct 2020 12:36

I'd come at it from the other angle, of considering where you currently use paper, what can you change.

Eg incoming post...you can't realistically stop this coming in, but you can scan and save PDFs, then shred.

Do you currently print working papers into a hard folder? Can you instead just leave "soft" files in a Windows folder (or cloud based/whatever), and have staff rely on those for manager reviews etc? If so, great, stop printing those. Then perhaps as a gradual step you can shred the old ones (either simply when they get to 6-7 years old, or when you're happy anything critical from them has been scanned).

Do you currently print final accounts/CT returns for clients to hand-sign? Look at e-signature software.

You don't need to suddenly go paperless, but you can look at which areas are creating a lot of paper and change those bit by bit.

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By Mr_awol
21st Oct 2020 12:33

It also depends on whether you want to stop creating paper, or stop storing/relying on paper.

We realised that we had paper copies of files, that we were paying to store, for which all of the electronic records were held on the server. Ultimately we could shred the files and re-print them if needed (assuming we could read old SAGE backups, access Xero, staff had updated the excel working papers, and no handwritten notes, original documents, or photocopied invoices etc were on the paper files - at which point it became clear we couldn't just shred the files after all, or certainly not without checking).

Now, where we still use paper (some offices still do) the WP files are scanned on completion and destroyed. We therefore can view a proper 'paper' file on screen if we need to (or even print it if we really wanted). We therefore aren't storing the paper and are getting ease of access to old files etc - but we still create just as much as before.

You can get archive storage where they keep the old files for you. If yo9u want to retrieve one they scan it, upload it, and then shred the original. Every six months or so you review the list and they shred any you don't think youll ever need. The beauty is that you pay modest warehousing, average shredding, and only pay a premium (£7.50 per file I believe) for the files you actually want to look at. The bad side is that if you think something might be in a file but aren't sure which year, you may pay £30 plus shredding for four files and then they don't have what you are looking for anyway.

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By fiona_howells
21st Oct 2020 12:33

we use Virtual cabinet - it will automatically save all incoming/outgoing emails. you can save all letters out to clients and also scan all post to the system too. its a good document management system

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Replying to fiona_howells:
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By 1796971
21st Oct 2020 16:57

fiona_howells wrote:

we use Virtual cabinet - it will automatically save all incoming/outgoing emails. you can save all letters out to clients and also scan all post to the system too. its a good document management system

We were with Virtual Cabinet up till recently (been with them for 7 years)
Decided we wanted cloud solution that could do much more so just moved to FYI DOCS.
Not going to miss VC crashes/on phone to support/desktop environment/prices !!

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By RSJ
22nd Oct 2020 13:29

Does FYI docs work if you are not totally Xero ? We use Q Books for our in house book keeeping and Receipt Bank. I have heard of Virtual Cabinet so interesting that you were not that enamoured with it.

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By RSJ
22nd Oct 2020 13:30

Does FYI docs work if you are not totally Xero ? We use Q Books for our in house book keeeping and Receipt Bank. I have heard of Virtual Cabinet so interesting that you were not that enamoured with it.

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ALISK
By atleastisoundknowledgable...
21st Oct 2020 23:36

(1 partner, 3 staff, £200k)
We’re virtually paperless - WPs have always been on Excel, but I now review direct from SharePoint rather than hard copies. 1 member of staff likes to print out a hard file for a self review, but I still review the soft copy, hard copy is shredded when a/cs sent to client. I do still sometime print something if I need to concentrate on reading/cross checking it (eg a SPA) or if anyone needs to do a bank tick if not in Excel, but day-to-day our printer has virtually no use. All post is scanned using pdf scanners on our phones (FastScanner). All accounts etc e-signed (using Signable as it integrates with TaxCalc), we use PracticeIgnition for e-engagement letters.

We do have a load of paper files from 3-5 years ago, which we need to decide what to do with. Suspect I’ll hold onto them until we get a new trainee and they can spend a fun few weeks scanning them in!

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By LAMBERTCLERICAL
22nd Oct 2020 10:52

(Semi-retired Sole Practitioner, no staff, adequate turnover) I've been paperless for several years now. My most important change was moving to a multi-screen setup. This makes ALISK's cross-checking a doddle, and bank ticking almost as easy. My single screen became 2, then 3, and now I run a 6-screen array. (I know, I'm a geek) but I can have multiple client files open simultaneously as well as emailer, browser, and time-recording at a click of the mouse - all the old desk clutter has disappeared - and is now, er, screen clutter . . . . It works for me, though!

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Replying to LAMBERTCLERICAL:
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By Zarozinia
22nd Oct 2020 12:56

Yes having at least dual screen is a distinct advantage

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ALISK
By atleastisoundknowledgable...
21st Oct 2020 23:40

We did have VirtualCabinet cabinet for 1 year, but I hated it and had so many complaints that (somehow) they let me out of my 3 year contract with no penalty. One of the things that I didn’t know about was that if you saved any password protected docs to it, it just saved a blank sheet of paper. I spent literally 3 entire days working on a spreadsheet & report for a court case which had been password protected prior to me receiving it. I didn’t know that this was an issue until the day after saving it to VC when I opened it to carry on with my work.

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By Zarozinia
22nd Oct 2020 12:54

I use both Quickbooks online and Xero and encourage e-invoicing in both directions. These electronic documents attach to the individual transaction and being online anyone with access immediately has access to the original document.
I have folder in my email (webmail) for different categories of document where I move the original email after processing. I also store a copy of each document on a sever or NAS device depending on the company I'm working for and again these can be logged into remotely and have facilitated not only a paper free office but the working from home experience which now translates to work anywhere with internet access.

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By SimonLever
22nd Oct 2020 13:15

I am a sole trader with 3 members of staff and I took the decision to go paperless 2 months ago after deciding to give up my serviced office and for all staff to work from home.
We were already partially working from home using a hosted desktop so when lockdown happened we were already set up for home working.
As we would have no permanent office going paperless was an essential part of the process.
We decided to use Docusoft and started with them last week.
At the moment there are teething issues but these will be sorted.
We will end up paying for the software by stopping using other providers. Previously we had 2 different software solutions with portals but we will move to using just the portal from Docusoft saving enough to pay for the new software.
Overall savings will be substantial as no office overheads.

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By RSJ
22nd Oct 2020 13:32

Thank you will look at Docusoft also.

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By Tomazaan
22nd Oct 2020 14:03

I work on my own with occasional admin support. I am not paperless but have cut down markedly on my use and storage of paper.

Just a few comments to add to the above: I use a pdf program (Foxit Phantom Professional) that lets me write and annotate pdf documents. I store nearly everything as a pdf so that I can write comments easily, stamp documents with a received date and make sure that the copies of working papers have tick marks to show that they have been reviewed. It also means that my virtual client files are complete and I don't have to go back to particular programs (eg TaxCalc, QBO) in order to look at client data.

I have three screens and need them to enable me to work efficiently without paper.

I only keep three years' of minimal paper files and after that shred them. The contents of the paper files will have already been scanned as I scan as I work.

One advantage of electronic files is that it is easy to file the same document twice in different, but relevant, folders. For eg when I write an advice letter I put one copy in the correspondence file and then a duplicate in the permenant file. This means that I can find all the advice given to a client in one place but can also find the letter in chronological order in the correspondence file.

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