Al Hewitt Inc./Hewitt Financial Group (HFG), headquartered in Palmdale, CA, is a combination fee-only Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) and tax preparation firm serving 6,000 clients between its two offices in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.
During tax season, staff regularly doubles from 15 to 30, owing to the sheer volume of work—and paperwork—associated with tax preparation. But as HFG’s businesses steadily grew, the firm had also steadily outgrown what Chief Operating Officer Ali Mroue calls its “Stone Age document management system.”
In 2004, the firm had implemented the proprietary and non-SQL based system, which was an add-on module for the firm’s Intuit Lacerte tax preparation software, “purely for storage,” he says. Data transfer to PDF was difficult and error-prone, and “we were essentially scanning to create a back-up for the actual physical file. But that was unreliable—we lost data once, and it had no security or audit trail of any sort.”
From just paperless to purposeful: An ECM vision takes shape
By 2010, HFG files containing 10 years of data were simply too big to manage and too hard to find. “We’d already added a scanning clerk and a designated file clerk, but it was quickly becoming an operational nightmare, with more staff to manage and more documents getting misplaced,” Mroue remembers.
The irony is that when the firm’s search for a proper enterprise content management (ECM) solution brought Mroue to Laserfiche, it was not the first time. “We first looked into Laserfiche in 2006, but back then, we weren’t looking at ECM in terms of business process automation or any bigger-picture operational improvements,” he says. “We just wanted to get rid of the paper.”
Working with Patrick Welsch of Laserfiche reseller Cities Digital, Mroue began to see how integral ECM deployment was to not only keep up with, but also anticipate, Hewitt’s projected growth. “We looked at a few solutions, and they all did things in their own way. Only Laserfiche offered the flexibility to develop our own folder structures and templates—and we’d be able to change them depending on requirements without calling in a consultant,” Mroue says.
“Plus, we required that Laserfiche integrate with our Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Intuit Lacerte tax software, as well as send Microsoft Office documents directly to Laserfiche. We wanted everything to mesh together. Other systems either didn’t integrate, or if they did, it was going be complicated and expensive.”
Ease and familiarity of use speeds an already speedy deployment
HFG purchased a 15-user Laserfiche Avante system with Laserfiche Web Access (for deployment to its Ventura County office) and Laserfiche Audit Trail in December of 2010. With April 15 on the horizon, initial deployment focused on the tax preparation side of HFG’s business, beginning with a substantial backlog conversion of paper files. “Considering the holidays, it took around 30 days to deploy, customize and integrate the system. We had one day of training for full-time staff. And it took me 30 minutes to train the part time staff on how they’d be using Laserfiche,” Mroue recalls. The ease of deployment was significant, he adds—based in no small part on Laserfiche’s ability to mirror the firm’s familiar paper filing structures. Tax worksheets are automatically sent to Laserfiche with a single click from Microsoft Office programs, while all forms from the Intuit Lacerte system are sent to Laserfiche using Snapshot.
“We were able to mimic our exact process in the Laserfiche system. Nothing changed for staff; I told them, ‘The client file doesn’t exist—it’s now a client folder.’ That made it easy for the employees to understand the change. Instead of people getting up and moving files from cabinets, it ‘jumps’ by itself,” Mroue says.
Laserfiche Workflow makes a $20,000/1,000 hour difference
The jumping-by-itself, Mroue continues, is the result of implementing Laserfiche Workflow. “A file used to jump between seven sets of hands, from client meeting to the client delivery,” he begins. “File clerk/ front desk staff/preparer/checker/scanner/processor/mail clerk, and back to the file clerk.”
“Now, using Laserfiche Workflow, the front desk sets up the appointment and creates the file for the preparer, and it’s just ‘click’ the field, ‘approve,’ ‘approve,’ ‘approve,’ all the way through the process. If something isn’t approved, it is sent back automatically with a ‘sticky note’ on the document in Laserfiche. Nobody has to leave their desk, and I can monitor the whole process and see where everything is so I know what’s getting done. It just raises the level of efficiency and accountability,” he adds.
“Operationally, we had the best tax season ever, especially for me since I could monitor every detail of the business and everyone’s performance from my screen,” Mroue says. “We delivered content on a CD instead of paper, so we used five boxes of paper instead of 50, plus we saved a lot on postage. We also saved the cost of our part time clerks—which is about $20,000 a year. We made our ROI in the first year alone. But the biggest savings was the preparers’ time—at least 10 minutes for every hour. When you add that up, that’s literally a thousand hours our staff can spend working with more clients.”
Coincidentally, the firm’s Laserfiche installation and training took place right around the time of the annual Laserfiche Empower Conference in January, inspiring an even quicker adoption. “Everyone from our office agreed the Conference was pretty amazing in the amount of knowledge provided,” Mroue adds. “I was actually able to continue writing the Workflow automations for our tax preparation process at the Conference.”
Expanding deployment, saving more clicks with image-enablement integration
As of June 2011, the firm has extended scanning to Al Hewitt, Inc., its RIA firm. “Our goal is to eliminate all the files in our office by the end of August—which will free up a big space,” Mroue says.
For next tax season, Mroue says HFG will utilize Cities Digital’s Unfetterfiche to image-enable their Lacerte system with a single hot key. Deployment for the Al Hewitt, Inc./RIA side of the business is also being mapped out. “Each client file has about six folders, so that transition will be immensely beneficial,” he says.
“We’re taking things step by step,” Mroue adds. “One thing we’ve learned from this process is that in order for the transition to a totally paperless environment to be successful, users have to accept it and want to use it. Laserfiche has the flexibility to make that happen.”
For his part, however, Mroue is very satisfied. “From an IT standpoint, Laserfiche is easy to maneuver and to develop and change.You’re not going back and asking the VAR for help all the time, so it won’t cost you money down the road,” he says. “We’re already thinking about upgrading the system and adding more users.”