As accounting companies respond to client pressures around new technologies and operating models, their role as trusted advisors has arguably never been more vital – or valued. They are, nevertheless, facing pressing challenges.
Staffing, succession planning, tax reform, cybersecurity, merger mania, commoditization of core services, the demand for more CPAs, and the search for relevance — these have all been cited as key concerns of accounting firm executives. But which concerns and issues affecting this sector rise to the top?
Minimizing Risk and Protecting Reputation
There’s much more at stake for professional services companies in managing compliance and security risks than fines from regulatory bodies. Their reputations are at stake. A damaged reputation can be the death knell for these firms. These organizations can protect their reputation and lower risk with a few key considerations:
Airtight data security measures
Along with an immense amount of confidential information comes the huge responsibility of data security. Dynamic document permissions capabilities and encrypted, secure information should be the cornerstone of an accounting firm’s information strategy to ensure that sensitive data does not end up in the wrong hands.
Accounting firms have data strewn in multiple, disconnected systems — ERP, CRM, laptops, network folders. A multi-repository information ecosystem increases risk, as it compounds the challenge of ensuring that information doesn’t leak out or fall into the wrong hands. Firms need an information management ecosystem where they have constant visibility and control over information.
Tighter compliance and audit procedures
When auditors come calling, it helps to be able to produce the required documentation in minutes rather than weeks. More important than the productivity gains from quicker time-to-audit, the information must be accurate.
Strategic Growth: Winning and Retaining Business
The most important driver for any business lies in their ability to win and retain business. For accounting firms, their ability to create operational efficiencies serve as differentiators that propel them in the marketplace.
Improving the Customer Experience
Enhancing the customer experience is critical to winning and retaining business and document management is the secret sauce. Customers these days have no patience for lengthy, cumbersome document and paper processes. They expect quick and convenient services using the latest technology. Every customer touch point involves documents. When winning business, there are engagement letters, RFIs/ RFPs, contracts and other document-centric processes. Efficiently creating and getting these items to customers contributes to a good customer experience. In the case of retaining existing business, document management related to the engagement is key. Staffers and clients should be able to find and access information quickly, no matter where it might be stored, and a central information management platform delivers on that expectation.
Increasing Billable Work
One of the best barometers for productivity and revenue in this sector is utilization rate and increasing it has a huge and immediate impact on the bottom line. Normally, a professional services organization should aim for an overall utilization rate of 75%. Yet valuable billable hours are squandered on administrative tasks and other non-billable work, get lost in flawed timekeeping, and get written off with engagement overruns. While professional services firms will always have to forgo a few billable hours for non-billable work, resolving these issues goes a long way in increasing utilization rates:
Too much time spent on administrative tasks
From timesheets to engagement paperwork and other administrative functions, employees can quickly get tied up in tedious, time-consuming tasks, especially if these are manual tasks. Add in the time spent searching for needed documents in various repositories and the situation compounds. Ultimately, this administrative work distracts workers from serving the customer best. Removing obstacles is key to winning and retaining business.
Employees don’t meet their full billable potential
According to SPI Research, about 90% of professional services costs are people-related — meaning employees can make or break a firm. A firm spends enormous resources finding top talent that expects an efficient workplace to maximize their productivity. An efficient client engagement process also allows the scalability for workers to manage more clients
How M-Files Intelligent Information Management Addresses These Issues
The three aforementioned challenges may be omnipresent and always top-of-mind for accounting execs. But there are two overarching concerns that are somewhat newer and dominate mindshare based on current trends: the impact of new technologies, and ability to adapt to the fast pace of change. In fact, in an Accounting Today survey of accounting industry leaders, those two concerns were most commonly cited as the greatest challenges facing the profession — affecting various subsidiary challenges like minimizing risk, increasing billable hours and differentiating the organization. How can an accounting firm answer the call and solve some of their challenges? One answer might lie in a better information management strategy — enabled by a platform like M-Files.
Risk and Reputation
To meet security requirements, accounting firms need a flexible information management environment like M-Files that not only adapts to ever-changing regulatory demands, but also can be configured to meet the security demands for each customer.
Companies need systems and procedures in place to ensure that information-access permissions are only given to relevant people with zero-chance of information leak. From an IT perspective, these systems must be easy to maintain, update, and adapt as changes occur — at either the user-permission level (a person leaves the company and permissions need to be changed) or the regulatory level (the regulation changes requiring fundamental changes to the system).
M-Files provides robust dynamic permissions capabilities, which ensures that information is available to the people who need it, and inaccessible and invisible to those who don’t need it or aren’t authorized to access it. Access permissions can be controlled by user, group, role, as well as any metadata property. This provides the ability to support advanced access control policies without scripting, and the flexibility to address even unforeseen needs that arise in the future.
M-Files can store customer data according to safety and security standards. In regard to internal and external threats, sharing information over email comes with huge risk. If something is sent to the wrong person, it’s critical that a firm can quickly see what was sent and to whom.
Furthermore, M-Files offers the ability to manage information on premise, in the cloud, or both providing significant advantages when it comes to meeting both customer and possible regulatory expectations for how data is secured, managed.
Productivity Gains = Business Growth
In managing accounting for their clients, firms traditionally encounter several repetitive, manual tasks — from data-entry to document filing and everything in between. If a firm can automate many of these tasks with information management technology like M-Files, they can free up time and resources to focus on strategic services and increase margins within fixed price, managed services, or subscription services.
Opportunities to automate can also be found in standard business processes, like contract management. By enabling workflows with technology, contracts can be managed efficiently from drafting to signature. M-Files enables automation that can also help streamline back-office processes like employee onboarding, accounts payable and other otherwise mundane (and manual) office functions.
According to research, 46% of workers say it’s challenging and time-consuming to find needed information. Why? Files can be mislabeled, misplaced, or scattered across multiple repositories. M-Files drastically reduces the time spent searching for documents by providing a 360-degree view of needed information across disparate repositories — no more archaic folder structures. It doesn’t matter where the information is; it only matters what it is. And “what it is” underpins the metadata-driven architecture. By describing documents with metadata, M-Files adds structure to unstructured information — making it easily classified and searchable
Enabling Key Differentiators
Earlier, we mentioned three ways accounting firms are seeking to differentiate themselves. M-Files information management has a heavy impact on all three.
Attracting top talent with a modernized workplace
M-Files can serve workforce expectations completely. First, with M-Files, workers can access their information no matter where they are or where their information is, offering workers complete mobility. Second, through various collaboration features like co-authoring and version control, working with colleagues across the enterprise is easy. Lastly, automation features like workflows and intelligent services reduce manual task work, enabling works to focus on things that matter most now.
Improving operational efficiency
The key to efficient operations within accounting firms can often be traced back to smooth processes and workflows. With M-Files, managers can review and redesign every step of a process and verify that it is correctly executed. M-Files can also automate tedious and manual work involving, for example, contract management or proposal management, utilizing templates and workflows to ensure that this businesscritical documentation is automatically processed in a timely manner and with minimal error. Furthermore, by having information consolidated in one system, M-Files can easily archive and transfer knowledge, while keeping documentation secured for only relevant personnel
Enhancing the customer experience
To be successful, companies must reexamine their operations to:
- Eliminate and obstacles that prevent workers from serving the customer best. This could be in areas like project or contract management.
- Reduce operation costs and eliminate waste to improve agility and invest in products or services that satisfy current customer expectations.
M-Files can enable both efforts. As the single point of access for customers and other company data, M-Files can streamline and automate document-intensive work, freeing up staff’s time and removing obstacles to better customer service. Also, M-Files can efficiently manage documentation for customer-related processes like contracts and projects, thereby enhancing customer service.
The Bottom Line
Every organization is on a digital transformation journey. Will it be an opportunity to excel or will it be their demise? Disruption is happening within the accounting services industry and organizations will need to act. Whether it’s M-Files or another solution, solid information management strategy should be a top priority for accounting firms.various collaboration features like co-authoring and version control, working with colleagues across the enterprise is easy. Lastly, automation features like workflows and intelligent services reduce manual task work, enabling works to focus on things that matter most now.
M-Files provides a next-generation intelligent information management platform that improves business performance by helping people find and use information more effectively. Unlike traditional enterprise content management (ECM) systems or content services platforms, M-Files unifies systems, data and content across the organization without disturbing existing systems and processes or requiring data migration. Using artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in its unique Intelligent Metadata Layer, M-Files breaks down silos by delivering an in-context experience for accessing and leveraging information that resides in any system and repository, including network folders, SharePoint, file sharing services, ECM systems, CRM, ERP and other business systems and repositories. Thousands of organizations in more than 100 countries use M-Files for managing their business information and processes, including NBC Universal, OMV, Rovio, SAS Institute and thyssenkrupp.