Digital automation requires firms to have the right foundations

Digital automation requires firms to have the right foundations

Digital automation is transforming accountancy, but firms need to put the right foundations in place first writes Mike Mulholland, Head of Services and Solutions at Brother UK.

Digital automation requires firms to have the right foundations

A tech revolution is happening in accountancy, which is disrupting ways of working at every level of the profession. Increasing automation is shifting the emphasis of the typical accountant’s role away from process-led number crunching towards more complex problem solving, strategic thinking and customer service-oriented tasks.

At the same time, high-street accountants are under fire from cloud-based consumer services, causing them to focus on the standard of customer service they provide as a means of staying competitive.

Despite this, a common theme to emerge from our discussions with accountants is that a disconnect exists between the cutting-edge digital technology at the forefront of the industry, and the reality of current ways of working.

To realise the maximum benefits in terms of productivity and efficiency, firms need to take a step back and consider their entire technology infrastructure. How they handle the integration of digital and paper-based systems is a good place to start.

Getting the fundamentals right

The vision of the paperless accountant is still a long way off, as practices need to work in line with their clients’ preferences, and progress towards digitisation has been slow.

But, with the right print and scan solutions in place, firms can still benefit from cutting-edge automation. The only effect on the client experience will be the provision of a more efficient, effective service.

The latest print and scan solutions can deliver seamless integration between paper-based and digital information, making it easier for accountants that have yet to go fully digital to benefit from some of the latest digital innovations mentioned above.

Systems that scan documents efficiently and in high volumes can allow those practices that still receive a lot of client information in hard-copy form, to harness the power of digital document management and automation.

There are many benefits to doing this, long before you get to the most advanced functionality of implementing AI-powered number-crunching packages.

Simply by making information searchable and accessible remotely, significant savings can be made in employee time, and staff can work more flexibly.

If regular working from home is encouraged, this can save on costly office floor-space while also helping employees find a better work-life balance – something that has become a significant advantage in recruiting the most talented people.

Digital enterprise planning and collaboration tools also become available once information is digitised, enabling people to share information and work more efficiently on projects than could ever be achieved with paper-based systems.

GDPR compliance is a further benefit of going digital. Ensuring data is only kept for the permitted length of time where paper archives are concerned can be an unwieldy and time-consuming task. With the right digital archive, this can be done automatically, and employees can even receive automated notifications ahead of key deletions to ensure they stay on top of what is and isn’t stored in the archive.

Print automation

The need to work with the documentation formats being used by clients also means that printing is set to be an essential function for accountants for the foreseeable future, so finding an efficient and reliable solution can play a part in maximising staff time and keeping costs down.

Implementing a managed print service (MPS) can achieve this by outsourcing hardware management and servicing, freeing up staff to focus on billable tasks.

After conducting an in-depth audit of print requirements, an MPS provider can design a sustainable, optimised, customisable solution, which ensures the right printers are in the right place throughout the business.

Firms can regain control of their print expenditure by agreeing a cost-per-page upfront, and will receive regular reports on usage to help identify further potential efficiency gains.

Printing can’t be completely automated, but the need for human intervention can be significantly reduced – to the point where printers order their own replacement toners when needed, and they automatically arrive in the post.

Another critical benefit is the affordable future-proofing that MPS can offer. Because the print infrastructure is acquired as a service, it is much simpler and more cost-effective to keep pace with the changing needs of the business and the evolution of new technology. It means a company can stay at the forefront of hardware technology, benefitting from the highest quality and most efficient printing without having to re-invest regularly in new physical assets.

For those with ageing printer and scan networks, this can also bring benefits in terms of security compliance, something that has taken on even greater importance in the past five or ten years as a result of the growing risk of cyber-security breaches.

Any networked device, which of course includes computers and servers, but which also extends to printers and scanners, represents a potential way-in for hackers and must therefore be kept up to date with the latest security technology. Many new printers offer features such as password protection and end-to-end data encryption to ensure they cannot be used to access the network for those without the right clearance.

Ultimately, the potential of digital automation to transform accountancy is clear – indeed, the process is already underway. But, for many accountants a process of digital transformation is needed in order to unlock the benefits. The first step should be putting the right integrated hardware and software solutions in place to marry up paper-based and digital systems.

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