Imagine yourself working at a desk, about to retrieve a paper document from the file cabinet. Would the document be in the right place? Would you find it? Once it hit your desk, would you remember to re-file it? What if someone else needed it while you had it at your desk?
Years ago, confronting exactly this type of situation, Stuart Rosenberg had the idea of creating a paperless storage system for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs).
Later, as a partner at Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra, LLP (MBAF), the largest independent accounting firm in Florida, Rosenberg developed the software that became PaperSave®. One in a full range of technology services offered by MBAF, PaperSave® automates the process of imaging, sorting and storing documents.
Regional firms often outsource their technology work, telling their smaller clients, “I know someone who does this on the side,” Rosenberg told AccountingWEB. MBAF, by contrast, made the commitment to dedicate the money, time and expertise to create a full-blown IT affiliate, Solutions@MBA. Rosenberg serves as president.
MBAF has gone far beyond traditional accounting services, to creating the technology improving operations at small and medium-sized businesses. PaperSave® is certified by Microsoft, which gives clients the assurance that the software will work smoothly as an add-on to Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006. Solutions@MBA is also a Gold Certified Partner with Microsoft—a designation awarded to only 400 of about 35,000 independent software vendors—which allows for direct access to Microsoft technical and marketing staff.
MBAF, with offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Boulder, Colo., is intensely aware of the losses caused by hurricanes, floods, fires or other disasters. PaperSave® stores source documents, rent invoices for example, integrates them into the accounting system and routes them through the organization. It also solves security problems. With PaperSave®, documents are maintained online for immediate access and safely stored offsite in the event of a disaster.
Rosenberg acknowledges that automation can meet with resistance. After all, there’s some comfort in holding a tangible document in your hands. Most companies that adopt PaperSave®, use it from that point forward.
“There’s initial skepticism, then they say, ‘Wow, we should have done this a long time ago,’ ” Rosenberg said. When companies start scanning in their old files, “it’s the ultimate test to us that it’s working.”
Most of the PaperSave® clients are not accounting firms. The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, for example, is automating 40-plus years of records.
A small doctor’s office, with an entire wall devoted to storing medical records, can also benefit from the system. The service helps businesses looking for a way to save space and free employees from time-consuming clerical tasks. “The opportunity is there. It’s not black magic, it’s not only for a big business, they [SMBs] need it as much as anyone,” Rosenberg said.
MBAF stands out among accounting firms by providing experts in a diversity of fields. Rosenberg is the technology expert. The firm’s 22 other partners have deep knowledge in estate planning, tax, assurance, real estate and non-for-profits. This expertise allows the firm to take a holistic approach, rather than offering broadbrush accounting services.
The firm acts in partnership with client companies to help them succeed, not only improving financial operations, but looking at the "big picture" to see how the distinct company fits into their industry as a whole and how the bottom line can improve. For instance, how many accounting firms offer experts in elder care, not only providing financial services but also acting as “the eyes and ears of absent family members” to monitor care? The firm is nationally known for its expertise in the auto industry, as well, conducting more than 50 audits of automotive dealerships annually.
MBAF's commitment to technology among the firm's add-on services, seems to be bucking a trend.
Ron Eagle, president of Information Technology Alliance, a consortium of many of the top technology consulting practices and software vendors in the accounting field, told AccountingWEB he believes firms are moving away from tech consulting. It is no longer viewed as an important service closely tied in with core accounting work, as it was in the 1990s,. (See A Conversation With...Ron Eagle.
Today, most firms are focusing on the attest-related services required by Sarbanes-Oxley, according to Eagle.
“Firms are doing a good job of building practices around that because that’s compliance work and something that clients have to do," Eagle explained. "Firms are embracing this intellectually in a way they could not for IT.”
In contrast, MBAF has stuck with its original technology services vision, introduced in the 1990s, and expanded upon it. Initially focused on networking and communications, as well as accounting and information systems, Rosenberg reports that custom programming turned out to be a bigger part of the business than ever imagined. Some of MBAF's clients aren’t comfortable with the usual offerings in the marketplace, because their business is so highly specialized. “For many of our clients, we are their IT department,” Rosenberg explains.
Along the way, the firm decided to add more technology services. In this post-Sarbanes-Oxley atmosphere, with its requirements to ensure strong internal controls, this service has been well received and an eye-opener for many companies, he said.
“We walk into every audit we do with an IT person now,” Rosenberg said.
Combining technology services with traditional accounting has resulted in a thriving technology consultancy at MBAF. In fact, Rosenberg was "shocked" to discover that instead of serving mainly the firm’s existing accounting clients, as he and his partners expected, many new clients were drawn to the technology first, then became accounting clients second.