Four Pillars of Document Management: Part 2 - Policy and Standardization

By Brock Philp, President and CEO, Doc.It
Policy and standardization, the development of a consistent firm-wide process around workflow and document management, make up the second of four pillars we will explore in this document management article series. 
Policy – the rules regulating how a firm handles work and work processes – is a necessity and unique to every firm. Standardizing a process for multiple workflows within an accounting firm, with the ultimate goal of allocating resources more effectively, has become today's practice management keynote among thought leaders. 
Policy varies depending on such factors as firm size, in-house expertise, area of practice, and technology being used. In Doc.It's 2013 white paper, How a Document Management Suite Transforms an Accounting Firm, Darren Root, CPA, CITP, CGMA, comments about written policies enabling firms to grow efficiently and effectively.
Randy Johnston, president of Network Management Group Inc., also weighs in, cautioning firms to watch for noncompliance to ensure the cost of supporting partner preferences is allocated to the engagement and considered against partner compensation.
Technology blogger Dave McClure writes about the development of consistent firm-wide processes around workflow. McClure terms this development the workflow revolution, which he suggests began two decades ago with the concept of a "paperless office." According to McClure, the workflow revolution is about defining a process which becomes policy, the result of successfully blending multiple workflows from tax, audit, payroll, bookkeeping, etc., in order to eliminate unnecessary steps and resources. 
Without a written and agreed-upon policy, differences in how partners and staff handle work and processes can create inconsistencies in what is being done for clients. Policy goes beyond client work; it impacts every aspect of a firm – from business management to how value-based engagements are handled and analyzed to the on-boarding of new employees, and it goes as far as every aspect of document management. Even though a firm may have a written policy, policy compliance may not come easy. According to Gail Perry, CPA, when everyone adheres to policy, all will benefit from efficiencies and confidence. Essentially, all partners must be on board with the written policy. 
Partner discussions around policy should be based on determining the best, most efficient way to do things. Technology can impact policy. According to Root, "Any given process, no matter how advanced, is only one technology cycle away from becoming irrelevant."
Much like tax teams holding annual tax debriefings, Johnston suggests policy meetings should be routine, and the firm should also plan an annual workflow and document management debriefing. An outcome of these meetings is a written policy that results in standardization. 
Standardization is the firm-wide adoption of systematic processes and workflow. Standardization becomes the by-product of leveraging technology to develop processes that result in lower operational costs and consistency across the practice (e.g., files naming, file organization and the retention, storage and delivery of documents). Standardization is impacted by technology and unique for each firm, based on workflow rooted in industry best practices and regulatory compliance. 
Standardization does not end when work is complete. According to Mike Sabbatis, a thirty-year accounting technology veteran and Doc.It board member, storing documents as portable document format (PDF) files ensures they are independent of application software, hardware, and operating systems as an open source that is easy to share. Ultimately, standardization in storage through the use of PDFs ensures easy collaboration with a firm and its clients. 
Note: To learn more about policy and standardization, download How a Document Management Suite Transforms an Accounting Firm
Watch for part three of this four-article series for a discussion of the economics of storage in document management.
Related article:
About the author:
Brock Philp serves as president and CEO of Doc.It. Doc.It delivers a powerful scalable full suite of document management products to Accounting firms across North America. Brock believes that in order to deliver true value-added products and services, a software firm must have deep industry knowledge in the markets they serve and employ a "customer first culture." He has held the title of president/CEO of a number of software companies, including Jonas Software, Versa Systems, and Irondata Solutions.


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