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New tools to fight the paper war

I gave up long ago on the dream of a totally paperless office. The predictions weren’t worth the paper they were printed, scanned, filed and archived offsite on. It’s simply a bridge too far for service industries like accounting and legal.

Well, we’re one step closer.

The relentless march of technology has struck another blow in the endless paper war.

I’ve used electronic signatures for a while now – mostly for keynote presentation agreements – and they tick all the boxes: safe, secure, simple, efficient, easy.

Now we’re seeing electronic signatures move into the ‘real’ world – people’s financials. It’s a brave new world… and an exciting (and definitely more efficient) one.

So imagine my excitement (any non-accountants reading this will definitely have to imagine it) when electronic signatures are brought into the online client collaboration realm.

Platforms such as this enable secure cloud-based collaboration between parties – in this case, accountant and client. Gone are the days of posting or couriering documents for clients to sign, with the inevitable several day delay between sending and receiving. Now, it can happen immediately. That’s pretty powerful.

I was invited by MYOB to take a look at their MYOB Portal, an online collaboration platform for the accounting industry, which hit a number of milestones in September 2015: 500 users, 5,000 portals created and 10,000 documents shared since it launched in April.

My first thought: simple. (And for a guy who has trouble turning on his computer, that’s a really important factor for me. I’m actually a great test case – if I can use it, anyone can.)

Importantly for someone like me who is out on the road a lot, it works seamlessly with other devices (phone, tablet) – a huge tick.

It’s also easy for non-MYOB users to access the system, so it’s not limited to existing MYOB clients.

Another benefit over other systems I’ve seen is that it’s built into the MYOB system – so you don’t need to sync it with other systems, thereby minimising a world of trouble.

MYOB point out their platform is not a document storage system – it’s not set up to store, sort and manage multiple documents. Its primary focus is to share documents and manage tasks. (I don’t necessarily mind this – there are certain clients I’d prefer couldn’t fling their latest financials off to the bank on a whim… I want them to check with me before buying stuff!)

There’s also no ability to filter, which might make managing multiple documents a challenge for clients with several entities – but again, this is a feature for document management systems, not an online collaboration platform.

All in all, I was impressed with the MYOB Portal.

SMEs today – and particularly accounting firms – need to evolve or dissolve. Either you embrace it, or face it – you’re on borrowed time. Us accountants have been through a heap of significant change over the last few years, and the world of online collaboration is yet another great opportunity wrapped in a choice that many of us aren’t in a rush to make. But we need to be proactive… or be left behind.