By Roman H. Kepczyk
Quantum of Paperless: Technology Guide & Checklist
For the next few years it is anticipated that accounting firm clients will continue to deliver a significant amount of their organizers and supporting tax documents to the firm in a physical format. To utilize this information in a paperless environment, it must be effectively scanned and managed at the lowest possible cost.
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Early paperless adopters scanned the tax return and the supporting documents at the back end of the process when a return was complete. This is still usually the first step when firms transition from a completely manual environment.
By doing back-end scanning first, the firm can get used to working with digital files and naming conventions, prior to forcing changes in the preparation and review processes, which can then be transitioned to front-end scanning.
As far back as 2009, the AAA (now CPAFMA) survey found “86% of firms were scanning client supplied information and 81% were primarily utilizing administrative personnel to do scanning.”
Scanning should be done primarily by administrative personnel to promote adherence to firm standards and so it is done at a lower cost. Having a tax senior available to answer any questions from the scanning person will help build quality control into the process at the front end. Firms have found that having a dedicated scanner attached to a workstation is the most effective method of capturing these images.
According to the 2020 CPAFMA IT survey, the top-rated scanners selected by CPA firms are the Fujitsu fi (64%) and Canon DR series (25%). Images should be scanned at a standard 300dpi in black-and-white format. To minimize the amount of rescanning because of scan errors, firms should implement automatic correction software integrated with their scanner such as Kofax VRS, which does contrast resolution, despeckling and straightening on each image individually.
Once a firm has effectively implemented back-end scanning, triple and oversize monitors, and a workflow tool, the firm can then consider mid-level or preferably front-end scanning. Mid-level scanning integrates the traditional manual preparation process with files being scanned prior to review. The advantage to this process is that the onscreen tax review can be done anywhere and at any time the reviewer has digital access to the files.
“76% of firms used digital tools to organize/bookmark scanned source documents and 56% are utilizing intelligent scanning tools that input data from the source document to the actual return.” – CPAFMA 2019 Survey
The other, preferred option is to go directly to front-end scanning, where there are significant advantages for capturing and organizing information and eventually automatically inputting this data into the return.
Front-end scanning can be optimized with a standard bookmarking application that takes the information provided by clients and electronically organizes it in a firm standard format. The resulting image file is in a standard PDF format, which the preparer would have on one screen with the tax input application on the other. Tools such as WoltersKluwer/CCH Scan, SurePrep 1040Scan, Thomson Source Document Scanning and Drake Gruntworx can usually identify and organize between 50 percent and 75 percent of the client source documents.
Therefore, the preparer would only have to move the remaining unidentified documents. The 2020 CPAFMA IT Survey also identified that 88 percent of firms utilized centralized scanners managed by administrative personnel, which was a 4 percent increase over 2018.
Consequently the number of firms utilizing distributed (57%) or individual (51%) scanners both dropped 21 percent and 4 percent respectively since 2018.
For marking up these documents, many firms use Adobe Acrobat tools that can be somewhat cumbersome to use. More commonly firms use tools such as WoltersKluwer/CCH PDFlyer, cPaperless TicTie Calculate and XCM Solution’s Toolbar, which are robust PDF annotation tools designed for accountants to add tic marks and calculator tapes (as well as using the Moffsoft Calculator for this purpose).
We believe ALL firms will standardize upon front-end scanning processes within the next few years as they are the precursor to automatic input technologies utilizing optical character recognition. Today’s scanning applications recognize many of the client’s source documents for bookmarking along with the specific data fields from recognized forms. The application will place the data in the appropriate place on the tax return, which WoltersKluwer/CCH refers to as AutoFlow and eThomson Reuters calls Source Document Processing. Other successful providers include SurePrep TaxCaddy and Drake Gruntworx.
Additional features of the software include determining the level of accuracy of the scanned information and whether it is in the correct location. If an error is detected, the application will change the color to highlight a possible error. This process will not only save time on the return preparation but also on the firm’s review processes, which are often the most expensive bottleneck in the firm’s tax production process.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Purchase adequate production scanner and implement scanning applications to organize and optimize the importing of tax information.