Tax & Accounting Blog

The Last Frontier of the Digital Accounting Firm: How Technology is—Finally—Transforming Practice Management

CS Professional Suite Firm & Workflow Management Solutions July 15, 2013

“It’s old, but it gets the job done.” It’s a phrase that has kept countless time and billing systems limping along after they’re well past their expiration dates. Even as firms roll out shiny new client-side technology, practice management often creeps along in a parallel universe of carbonless copies and sticky notes.

This has made practice management something of a “last frontier” at many firms, one of the last places that remains largely untouched by digital workflow and the cloud. But as firms see the benefits of their client-side technology investments, many are asking themselves whether hanging on to old internal systems is a wise choice.

That was certainly the case for Matt Pyle and the DD Pyle Company in 2012. The company’s old practice management system, which had been cobbled together over the years from a variety of software systems, was becoming a major bottleneck, with too much paper and too little transparency. Still, the company was hesitant to change.

“Like a lot of accountants, we’re creatures of habit,” he said. “And we’re so busy that any change that’s not absolutely necessary can be very difficult. But we realized that the risk of doing nothing was greater than the risk of making a change.”

They decided to move forward in late 2012, choosing Practice CS and FileCabinet CS from Thomson Reuters. They implemented the system over a two-week period and worked with a Thomson Reuters consultant to train their employees and tailor the system to their workflow. The new system integrates time, billing, workload management, and a variety of other functions into a single, cohesive workflow that integrates with the firm’s other applications.

The results were dramatic: a pronounced improvement in cash flow due to improved collections, more billable hours, less time spent deciphering hastily scribbled notes, and better access to archived info. The new system has led to better client relations as well, since it provides clients with detailed bills that outline exactly what they’re paying for.

“I can’t believe we didn’t do this five years ago,” Pyle said of the switch. “It has totally transformed our cash flow because we’re able to bill and collect much faster. It has also enabled us to bill for things that we used to miss, like phone calls and unexpected client drop-ins. It was only after we made the switch that we realized how much it was costing us to stick with our old system.”

Pyle said the new system is paying dividends in file management as well, dramatically reducing the amount of paper in the office and reducing the amount of time spent searching for documents. “We used to spend a huge amount of time organizing and filing paper documents,” he said. “And if you need to find something again after it’s filed, that takes more time. With Practice CS and FileCabinet CS, everything is in the right place. And in addition to saving time, we’re able to use that info to make more informed management decisions.”

Integrated practice management systems hold new possibilities in mobile practice management as well. Some systems, including Practice CS, offer mobile apps that enable firm principals to see WIP, A/R, and other key firm info on mobile devices, and even provide remote time tracking and expense entry.

With that in mind, now may be the time to ask yourself whether your practice management system is really getting the job done. Moving into the realm of digital practice management could be a powerful new way to shore up client relationships and put real money in your pocket.

In addition to sapping productivity, hanging on to an outdated practice management system can expose your firm to significant liability. So it may be wise to ask yourself some tough questions about your time, billing, and management systems, including:

  • Is your system a “black box?” It’s common for practice management systems to morph into an increasingly complex web of antiquated systems; a “black box” that only one or two people in the firm can navigate. What happens if that person leaves the firm?
  • How are you entering time? If you’re using an Excel spreadsheet or a paper-based system, it’s likely that you’re missing billable hours. It’s also likely that you’re wasting valuable time at the end of the month trying to determine whether posted time is accurate.
  • Is your billing process holding up your cash flow? How long does it take your system to bill the client after services are rendered? Long lag times can be a serious impediment to cash flow.
  • How do you access your archived data? Your archives are a valuable source of data that you can use to make future predictions and manage more effectively. But if that data is difficult to find and use, it’s a lost opportunity.
  • Is your software supported? If the manufacturer of your software has stopped supporting your application, or worse, gone out of business, even a minor technical glitch can get expensive in a hurry.