Document management can be a critical process for your business. At the simplest level, it is an easy way for you to store and retrieve documents easily. You can expand the process to include things like records compliance, document security, reducing the amount of paper you are storing (a “paperless office”), improving communications between employees, improving customer service, and much more. Let’s take a look at one of the best Document Management systems that I’ve worked with, SmartVault.
This article was updated on 9/11/2012
Intuit has been playing around with document management for several years now (see my brief history of QuickBooks Document Management), and they’ve settled on providing a very minimal system in QuickBooks (the “Doc Center”). You can attach documents to transactions and list records in QuickBooks for free (starting with QuickBooks 2012), but the documents are just saved in a publicly accessible folder that is stored adjacent to your QuickBooks company file. I don’t recommend that you use this unless you are a one-person company, or if you are a very small company that is just storing documents for casual retrieval (and you aren’t storing documents that includes sensitive information like Social Security Numbers).
Going beyond the feature provided in QuickBooks by Intuit, there are generally two kinds of products available: Those that store your documents locally (see my older review of PaperSave Plus as an example) and those that store documents in a remote “Cloud” server, such as SmartVault. Local storage usually has the advantage of costing less – you purchase the product and install it on your computer. Cloud based systems can provide many more features that can significantly expand the usefulness and accessibility of your document management system, but they are subscription based services that you usually pay a monthly fee to use.
If you are going to make a major investment in Document Management in your business you don’t want to have to deal with different systems for different aspects of your business. You need this to be a part of every critical business process that you perform, so that the documents are available at every step and that there is a single repository for your documents. You don’t want to have to learn different document protocols depending on what you are doing. This is a big reason to consider SmartVault, because they have done an excellent job in providing one document management system that works with all aspects of your desktop (in Windows), on the web, as well as having a close integration with a variety business-critical programs.
Storing Documents with SmartVault
Let’s start with the basics. You want to store documents so that you can retrieve them as needed, and you are working with QuickBooks.
SmartVault adds an icon bar to the right side of QuickBooks once it is installed. There are three icons: A paperclip that you use to attach documents, a folder that opens to show you the attachments, and a notepad that you can use to attach notes.
There are several ways that you can attach a document to a transaction or list record. The simplest way is to open the QuickBooks record you want to work with and just drag the document to the bar on the right. The document immediately shows in the folder icon. This is a simpler process than the drag/drop feature in the QuickBooks Doc Center, where you have to open the special attachment window first before being able to drop the document.
Another way to attach a document is to click on the paperclip icon, which opens a window that lets you choose the source for the document.
From here you can add a document from a scanner, your “inbox” (from the web server), or by browsing to a local document. This all works very smoothly. For scanners you can use any TWAIN compliant scanner, as well as the Fujitsu ScanSnap line (which I’ll be reviewing in another article).
If you have a document in your Inbox, either from a client who has sent you a file or from an employee who has added the document through the web portal or their desktop, you can move that document to a particular QuickBooks transaction.
One of the features that I find very useful is the ability to add Notes to your transactions. Click on the note icon, and you get a window that lets you enter your notes.
The icon bar shows what each transaction or list record has attached.
Web Based Access
Integration with QuickBooks and your desktop is important, and SmartVault handles this very well. However, all this could be done just as well with a desktop product. Why do we need a product that has Cloud based storage? Here are two common processes that can be provided by a web based system:
- You can access your documents from anywhere, as long as you have Internet access. For example, while visiting a client, you may want to retrieve a particular document that you are discussing. Likewise, you can add documents to your Inbox from anywhere.
- Not only will you want to be able to access documents yourself, you may want to provide your customers or clients with a way to submit documents to you, or for you to be able to transfer documents to them.
While there are many ways to accomplish this using a variety of tools, it can save you time (and money) if you have one tool provides you with these features AND that does it in a very secure way (see Doug Sleeter’s article on safeguarding information when sharing files with others). SmartVault can provide both of these functions, with excellent security.
SmartVault includes a web portal that provides you with easy access to your documents. You can organize your account into multiple folders, and you can control who has access to each of the folders. The following screen is from the web-accessible portal; you can see that there are multiple folders arranged, set up with different users, with client files organized beneath. You have a great deal of flexibility in how you can set up your folder structure.
If you want to allow customers or clients to be able add or retrieve documents you can specify what folders they can see, and what actions they can perform. You’ll also note in the screenshot above that you can “brand” your portal with your own name and logo.
You can add users and control what they have access to easily. Permissions can be set by folder, so that you can allow some users (or employees) to work with only the folders that they should be able to access.
Uploading a file from the web portal is simple.
Additional SmartVault Features
SmartVault provides a large number of additional features that go beyond just simple document management. I find the variety of access methods and features to be very impressive. Here is what you see if you open the SmartVault Launchpad, which is a desktop application.
In addition to the Portal and Inbox I’ve talked about, you can also access your SmartVault documents by using a local “drive” feature that is very similar to what you get with DropBox. You will see a drive in Windows Explorer that you can use just like any other drive. You can easily save documents and other files here. There is a limit of 2 GB per file, but the total amount of storage depends on your account (you can purchase additional space if you need more).
This feature solves one of the problems I had when I first looked at SmartVault a couple of years ago – by being able to access your documents directly through Windows Explorer this way (if you have proper permissions), you can very easily make a backup of your document data just by copying the files to your local storage device.
Another very interesting feature is the ability to make backup copies of your QuickBooks company file, which you can do through the Launchpad.
Integration with Other Programs
In his article on connecting the pieces Doug Sleeter talks about how important it is to find products that will work together. No longer will we find one monolithic computer program that does all of the tasks that we need – we are going to have to find products that can work with each other and exchange information. SmartVault provides an excellent example of this in how it integrates with an ever-expanding list of applications. Key applications that your business needs to use.
Some of this integration is provided by SmartVault themselves. For example, they provide, at no additional cost, an excellent Microsoft Outlook plugin that lets you send documents along with an email, or to send a request to a customer to have them send a file back to you. The file actually goes through the SmartVault web portal in a secure fashion, rather than being an unsecure attachment to the email message itself.
In addition, SmartVault is partnering with a number of other software vendors to integrate their document management system to provide you with uniform access to your documents from multiple products. These are products that by themselves can be mission critical, and being able to use the same document management tool across them all is a major benefit:
- SpringAhead (time tracking, a 2010 Awesome Add-on winner under their original name, Virtual Software)
- Results (CRM, a 2009 Awesome Add-on winner)
- Method CRM (CRM, Method is a 2010 Awesome Add-on winner)
- Fujitsu ScanSnap (advanced scanning integration, a 2012 Awesome Add-on winner)
As you can see, SmartVault is partnering with a lot of products that The Sleeter Group also likes.
Available on Hosted Platforms
These days there are multiple ways to access the QuickBooks desktop product remotely. A significant number of businesses are moving to Hosted QuickBooks to allow remote access to their accounting software. One of the drawbacks to this, in some cases, is the availability of QuickBooks add-on products in these hosted environments. You can’t always get the add-on that you want!
SmartVault is addressing this, and currently their product is available on:
- Right Networks
Is It Perfect?
If you have read my reviews in the past you know that I am very picky about how I want software to work in a QuickBooks environment. Is SmartVault perfect? Well, no, but I think that they do the best that can be done. QuickBooks isn’t very easy to work with when you are trying to create an add-on product, so what sometimes seems like a flaw in the add-on may actually be the fault of how QuickBooks lets people access their data. And we all know how easy Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office are to work with…
Backups: While I like the availability of a company file backup feature, SmartVault can’t be the only backup method that you’ll use. It is going to be one component of a comprehensive backup process. The main hang-up is that all users have to be logged out of the QuickBooks company file before a backup can occur. That is a hard issue for any outside product to get around, so you can’t fault SmartVault – but I want to make sure that you understand the limitations.
Response time: When I’m working on my desktop computer I tend to be an extremely impatient person. I want my computer software to respond to me quickly, without hesitation. Being a web based application, when working with SmartVault you may notice some delays or “hesitations” before you see a response. I may click on something and not see it open immediately, a file might not be saved instantaneously, a screen might pause to refresh. At first there were times when I clicked a button several times because I didn’t see an immediate response. After you realize that there may be some small delays this ends up not being a problem, but when I first started working with the program it was a bit annoying. This is going to be inherent in any web based application working with QuickBooks on the desktop, though, because access to the Internet is (for most of us) NOT instantaneous. You have to wait for the program to send the information out and get it authorized, and wait for the response, and communications with QuickBooks can be slow (due to Intuit’s limitations). Local storage would be less likely to show this kind of delay, but I feel that it is a small price to pay for all of the benefits you get.
Errors: Because we are working with a software product that has to get several disparate processes to work together (QuickBooks, Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office and the Internet), sometimes errors occur. I did run into a problem (I didn’t get a screen shot of it, sorry) while working with the program – where I had left my QuickBooks file open for a long time and then tried to add a note. An error message popped up that clearly explained that there was a connection problem, and I was given the opportunity to report the problem. Normally I don’t take the time to report problems in this fashion, it rarely provides me with any benefit.
However, in this case, it was very worthwhile to send in the report. Yes, it is bad that I ran into an error. However, within a very short time after clicking on the button to report the error, I received an automated email from SmartVault that clearly explained how to resolve the problem. This was very impressive!
I Like It!
This is a quick overview of the important features of SmartVault, there are more features here than I have room to cover. I’ve been watching this product for several years now (I wrote my first review in 2009) and they have continued to innovate and add features. When QuickBooks first added their QuickBooks Document Management system in QuickBooks 2010 I thought that this would be a severe problem for them, but here we are with QuickBooks 2012 and Intuit has abandoned the web based document management arena while SmartVault continues to innovate.
I’m particularly impressed by the way that they are working with other software vendors to connect products, so that you can work with one document management system in a variety software products.
SmartVault has a range of pricing structures that work for small businesses to large, and have a number of features that are aimed at working with accounting professionals. In addition, a special program is available for members of The Sleeter Group Consultants Network. SmartVault will also be an exhibitor at the 2012 Accounting Solutions Conference.
Note: See more about SmartVault in my article on the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 scanner.
A Note about QuickBooks 2013
Update on 9/11/2012
I’m adding an addendum to this article to talk about an engagement with SmartVault technical support that just occurred.
I installed the first release of QuickBooks 2013 on my computer system. A copy was available to me before SmartVault could get their hands on it, since Intuit releases these products to ProAdvisor before they make it available to add-on product developers.
The first time I ran QuickBooks 2013 after installing it, I got an error message from SmartVault that there was a problem. There is a button that you can click that will send a report of the problem to the SmartVault people, so I sent in the report.
In probably less than 30 minutes after sending in that report I got a phone call from the SmartVault technical support staff, who had me make a minor adjustment to my system, and the problem was fixed within minutes. That is one of the most fantastic tech support responses that I’ve ever received from a software company!