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The paper chased Featured

10:05am EDT January 26, 2005
Kathy Monteverde jokes that there are still a few "paperholics" in the offices of KFMR Katz Ferraro McMurtry, after the firm's conversion to a paperless office.

"I would say the biggest hurdle for us was getting everybody to accept it and embrace it," says Monteverde, KFMR's manager of accounting software solutions, of the accounting firm's changeover.

KFMR has made the transition from paper to electronic documents successfully enough to earn a practice innovation award from Practical Accountant magazine, but Monteverde's quip suggests how hard it can be to break old habits. KFMR eased the shift through careful planning, thorough training and a commitment by the firm's principals to make the change and virtually eliminate all paper from their operations. Not surprisingly, the technology barriers weren't as hard to get over as were the old work patterns.

Critical in implementing the paperless office, says Monteverde, was the commitment of the firm's five partners. Without their consensus, she says, the process would have been much more difficult.

Discussions about going paperless began at KFMR in early 2003, and two members of the firm were appointed to begin due diligence on the various software products available. Engagement by ProSystem fx was ultimately selected, with all of the partners buying into integrating the technology into the firm's standard work procedures.

The next step was to form an engagement team consisting of representatives from key levels and departments, including a partner, an audit manager, an IT software specialist who served as the team leader and facilitator and hardware/networking specialist, senior and staff accountants and administrative support personnel. The team met every two weeks, and all members were assigned tasks related to the project at the end of each meeting.

The team interviewed people at other firms that had previously implemented the software, reviewed hardware requirements and established an IT budget. They designed all templates and established new workflow procedures and protocols, and created an in-house user manual.

The firm began to roll out the implementation in August 2003, and by January 2004, paperless tax and audit engagements went live with virtually no downtime or major glitches. Additional training on Microsoft Excel, Word and Adobe Acrobat was provided. The firm's employee benefits plan administration and business valuation services went paperless last summer, completing the enterprisewide conversion to electronic documentation.

All client files are now in one location. Documents can be e-mailed to clients, and KFMR employees can download files to their laptops in preparation for an engagement with a client. And even if a file is checked out by one employee, it is still available to others who may need to access it.

"I don't have to leave my desk and hope that someone else doesn't have the file," says Monteverde.

Other key advantages to the paperless system are no lost files, uniformity of standards, procedures and work product, immediate record retrieval and filing of documents from the desktop.

Monteverde estimates a 20 percent increase in productivity and an anticipated $500,000 savings in office and storage space. Two rooms formerly used for document storage have been freed up for use as office space.

And while eliminating paper costs is a benefit of the change, the real cost savings come in increased productivity and improved service to clients.

Says Monteverde: "If you're going to use more of people's time just to save paper, then you're not being any more efficient."

How to reach: KFMR Katz Ferraro McMurtry, www.kfmr.com