28 February 2024

Many firms using Audit Assistant also have specific document management systems for their wider document management and cloud storage requirements. Users have asked us what we support, and what we suggest that they use.

A recent survey of our users found an almost even split of Microsoft SharePoint, Google Workspace, FYI, Dropbox and OneDrive, with some users still just using their local server (presumably backed up). We have also noticed an upsurge in interest in SuiteFiles. Following is a quick comparison and assessment of what is out there for SME-type audit firms:

The basic tools

Many will be familiar with SharePoint. It is Microsoft’s document management and storage system. The version we generally talk about – SharePoint Online – bundles with their 365 Platform. SharePoint has been around in the cloud version of Office 365 since 2012, so it was one of the early options for storage and document management. It can be purchased for $8.10NZ /user/month and includes OneDrive file storage. Or for a little more (NZ$20.20/user/month) Microsoft 365 Business Basic also includes desktop versions of all the normal Microsoft applications plus SharePoint and Teams. Most CA firms already likely have this subscription.

While SharePoint is predominantly an online document management system and communication site, OneDrive is another Microsoft product that is commonly used for seamless online backup. Its Mac equivalent is iCloud Drive. Files saved on your OneDrive or iCloud Drive are saved both on your device and seamlessly backed up in the cloud. This is very useful if you are accessing files from more than one device and takes the drama out of remembering to do backups. As predominantly Mac users we utilise iCloud for our general document backups.

Google Workspace evolved out of Gmail, and Google’s Chrome browser which added a suite of free add-ons for document storage and collaboration. The heart of document storage and exchange was Google Drive, launched in 2012. which was then rolled in with Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Meet, and other products to first form G-Suite now renamed Google Workspace. There are free versions – but the basic paid version ($9.00NZ/user/month) actually provides quite a lot. We use Workspace for our email management and online video meetings.

Dropbox is the go-to for large file exchange. When we were looking for something to share raw video footage with our team, we added Dropbox to our toolkit. In many ways like Google Drive, its basic plans are all about storing and exchanging large files simply.

It is worth mentioning Adobe Acrobat as an option for managing PDFs. Their digital signing and PDF manipulation tools are easy to use and industry standard. It also easily integrates with the solutions above. Cloud storage is also included. Many firms use it for annotating PDFs before attaching to Audit Assistant, and for converting PDFs to Word or Excel files if required. It starts at $30.30AU/month

Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive or OneDrive are suited to smaller businesses with limited complexity and offer simple workflows for processing day-to-day jobs. What if you need more than just storage and want to move to document and workflow management that is more specific for a professional firm?

Document management systems for Accountants

Specific document management tools aimed at Accountants and other professional firms include SuiteFiles, FYI Docs and Karbon. These all integrate with Microsoft 365. SuiteFiles and FYI Docs both also require a Microsoft Business subscription, which starts at $20.20NZ/user/month.

SuiteFiles, like Audit Assistant, is a NZ-based company. The product is designed for small and medium businesses and includes document management, a client portal, task and email management, digital signing, and full-text search for locating documents. They say that “What separates SuiteFiles from SharePoint is our easy-to-navigate interface and in-built features such as digital signing, client portals, and PDF functionality which cut out extra software subscriptions.” SuiteFiles starts at $25NZ/user/month for file storage, PDF annotation, and email integration. A downside is that there is a minimum requirement of 10 users – unnecessarily large for many small firms. The “Super Suite” includes full PDF merging and manipulation, a client portal, and digital signing. It costs $45NZ/user/month and has a minimum sign-up of 5 users. So for a smaller firm, the larger plan has more useful features and represents better value.

FYI Docs is an Australian-based document management system that also includes a practice management platform. It seems to be more client-focused – more like a CRM tool. It integrates with Xero (and requires a Xero subscription). Subscriptions start at $30NZ/user/month. The Pro version, at $50NZ/user/month, includes collaboration tools, timesheets into Xero, and some custom automation. Their Elite version, at $70NZ/user/month, includes time and billing, employee management, automatic time tracking, capacity planning and reports. All plans have a minimum of 5 users. The Elite version seems to provide a comprehensive practice management system but is marked as “coming soon” – so not available as yet.

Karbon is also worth considering. Also originating in Australasia, it is an even more comprehensive offering. It seeks to be a full practice management solution and includes a phone app. Instead of being restricted to Microsoft and Xero, it integrates with a wider variety of platforms. It contains most of the features of the tools above however it costs a bit more – $59NZ/user/month for the basic “team” plan, and $89NZ/user/month for the “business” plan.

What fits best with Audit Assistant?

Many of the features offered in these packages in terms of client collaboration and document exchange are already covered in Audit Assistant. Clients may upload documents and add information by way of shared pages and requests. This is being updated to a full client portal in our new platform currently under development.

In terms of PDF annotation, this is also currently under development and will soon be released within our existing platform. Digital signing is also in development within our new platform.

At present, some firms use our attachment link system to hyperlink from SharePoint, Google Workspace or similar so files are easily accessed during the audit work. Then at the end of the job, the files are bundled into a zip file and attached to the AA job. This will be unnecessary with the new platform where documents will be editable without downloading, utilising an integration between Audit Assistant and the firm’s Sharepoint. Our present platform can preview documents and spreadsheets, but the new version will also be able to open and update them seamlessley.

What about job management and time tracking? We currently can link our deadlines/milestones to an external calendar, which helps with managing workflow, but we do not have plans at this stage to add time tracking and budgeting tools. We have surveyed our users in the past, and this is not something that has been widely requested because of the use of standard practice management and billing systems in MYOB, Xero and similar.

In terms of team collaboration, this is already built into Audit Assistant. All work is carried out in real-time and follow-ups and review notes can be shared across the team, with instant notifications of changes. We do not add client emails to Audit Assistant because we encourage users to maintain all client interaction within the audit file by way of shared pages, requests, and documents, recognising that emails tend to be less secure. We will be developing this further in our new platform.

In addition, we will be adding more levels of reporting to show the progress of jobs by director/branch or staff member with various levels of filters. We will also be automating bulk client contacts – say sending out client information requests for a range of similar jobs.

In terms of integrations, we are working on single sign-on to simplify user management, and using Zapier to easily transfer data like contact details and milestones to and from other software, and also for pulling data from ledgers into Audit Assistant for analysis. And, as mentioned above, we will use a SharePoint integration for document editing. We are mindful however that an audit file must not have fuzzy boundaries – the final audit file must not be locked down and not able to be changed, so we keep very clear about what is inside and what is outside the audit file.

Our recommendations

Looking at external document management/practice management systems to complement Audit Assistant, we suggest that you consider the following:

  • Long-term storage – while we back up rolled-over files and attachments, our Terms of Use only guarantee three years of backups. We recommend that completed jobs are backed up onto your firm file storage system. Something like Dropbox, or even OneDrive would be fine for this purpose.
  • Word and Excel files used within your Audit Assistant file – Office 365/SharePoint will be our point of integration to enable live editing in our new platform. The completed file will then be automatically downloaded into the audit file upon completion of the job.
  • Other client documents and emails that are not part of the audit file – a client management system could be useful for this, for tracking client information and holding day-to-day interactions that are not specific to the audit documentation. Basic versions of FYI Docs or SuiteFiles would do this well.
  • Time tracking, budgeting, and billing – If you don’t already have this functionality then more advanced versions of FYI Docs, SuiteFiles, or Karbon would be suitable.

Please give us feedback on your experience with any of the products listed above, Which ones do you use? How do you find them?