Client Books & Records – The Next Big Thing?

We’re now at a point when most compliance packages have about as many bells & whistles as they need (and most people could want).   Everything that can be automated has been automated and the future of these packages is one of consolidation (with occasional flurries of activity for externally imposed events like iXBRL).

In the last few weeks, I’ve encountered TWO developing products that suggest to me that technology is at last ready to have a stab at the last bastion of manual faffing about – Client books & records.

Firstly, a new SaaS business called ‘LedgerScope‘ is preparing for launch.   This is genuinely new, and, if it all works as planned, could be a real time and hassle saver.

Ledgerscope will, in essense, automate the process of transferring client bookkeeping data files to the practice at year end – reducing the amount of work the client has to do, AND reducing the practice’s need to manage a wide variety of different bookkeeping products (multiple versions of Sage, etc) on their own systems.

From what I’ve gathered so far, the process works like this….

  1. The practice, via Ledgerscope’s website, sends a ‘Books In’ reminder email to their client.  This email gives the client a hyperlink to click, which walks them through a simple process for linking Ledgerscope’s systems to their Sage/Quickbooks/Xero data files.
  2. The client bookkeeping data file is uploaded to Ledgerscope (not to the practice)
  3. Ledgerscope does some analysis of the client’s data, and supplies the practice with some nice reports – highlighting possible issues for attention.
  4. The practice can use Ledgerscope’s web-site to work with the client data files (adjustments, etc).  You never need to bring the data file down to your own systems, and you don’t need to own a copy of Sage/Quickbooks on your own network.
  5. Ledgerscope can then deliver a data-extract for import into the practice’s Accounts Prep software.

I can’t even count the number of practice file-servers I’ve seen which are clogged up with client datasets, and when you add in the hassle of trying to keep up with endless different versions of Sage, etc, that accounts departments then have to juggle, you have a real ‘pain point’ for accounts departments up and down the land.

What a great idea.  Keep an eye on them.  ( ).

The second thing was for Personal Tax departments, for whom CCH are also on the verge of releasing something interesting.

A few months ago CCH started offering a product called ‘CCH Scan Management‘.   This was a utility to help organise and collate source documents for Personal Tax jobs.   You can scan stuff into the software, and the product then has a stab at identifying the document (based on the text on the face of the document) and moving into the correct file-section (Employment, Investments, Pensions, etc).

The idea was that, this eliminated much of the paper shuffling, and gave tax fee earners a paperless way of assembling and organising their source data before embarking on the job.

Jon Stokdyk did a review of this a while back…

Anyway – this product had a number of limitations: It really needed a copy of Adobe Writer (expensive) to work fully, and it worked in isolation from the rest of the CCH product range.  It was very cute, but not really going to set the world alight.
Now things have moved on a bit…

CCH are working towards a release of the software that not only identiifies the source document, but then extracts key data from that document and populates your CCH Tax software with that data.  This offers the potential, then, for eliminating manual data-entry for many routine tax jobs.

Some key things that struck me with the software were:-

  • It works not by looking at particular areas of the page, but by looking for close associations of text and data (The words ‘Gross Pay’ for example), so it should be tolerent of different P60 form layouts from different payroll packages.
  • A facility to ‘teach’ the software to recognise particular forms. (If it has trouble with a particularly idiosyncratic P60 layout, for example).
  • Automatic detection and removal of commas, pound signs, etc from the data.
  • An on-screen review process for the fee earner – who can compare the scanned image with the software’s efforts.  The fee earner can then deal with any corrections or additions.
  • Full integration with CCH Personal Tax (PerTAX.NET as was), so the data gets delivered to your software with a mouse click.
  • It doesn’t need Adobe Acrobat any more, as it can natively manipulate and create PDF output to store the scanned documents in your filing..

This is NOT an easy thing to do, and it’s inevitable that not every document will be sucessfully identified (even allowing for clients who send in hand-written stuff).  But even if it only works 70% of the time – that’s still a huge potential time saving on the dreary task of bashing data into PerTAX from a pile of client paperwork.

Both these examples are of products that are not yet available, but which are close enough to be of more than academic interest.  If they work as advertised, and the pricing is right, then it could be the start of a completely new product category.