Date posted: 16/01/2019 8 mins. min read

Why sharing files via email is dumb

A business-grade file sharing system can improve an accounting practice’s productivity and security – and avoid the pitfalls of email attachments.

In Brief

  • Relying on email to safely share large attachments is outdated and inefficient.
  • The true benefits of cloud storage and file sharing is improved collaboration and streamlined workflows.
  • Mastering granular access permissions is important as it means you can share some documents with clients and others just internally.
By Adam Turner

Accountants can spend their days wading through spreadsheets then sharing them with colleagues or clients. But relying on email to do this is inefficient – and outmoded. Business-grade file sharing and cloud storage avoid large email attachments and offer a host of other tools and benefits.Jessica Farthing, the director of indirect tax with accounting firm Grant Thornton Australia, says accounting and other professional services firms need much more than online storage for large files.

“You need to think about the big picture in terms of productivity,” she says. “The true benefits of cloud storage and file sharing revolve around improved collaboration and streamlined workflows.”

Nicholas Wong, Thomson Reuters’ director of product management for tax and accounting, Australia and New Zealand, says an over-reliance on email internally can hamper a practice’s productivity, especially when you’re managing important documents within a dispersed team.

“When it comes to accounting workflows you certainly don’t want to be sending large files like spreadsheets back and forth across the business, all day, as email attachments,” he says.

“The focus should be on finding ways to work more effectively as a team.”
Jessica Farthing, Grant Thornton

“Things can fall through the gaps when they’re lost in an overflowing inbox, plus every time you create a new copy you lose control of these documents in terms of version control and security.”

There are many file sharing services which simply let users upload a document to the cloud and then send someone a link to download it, but that is just a fraction of the cloud-based collaboration tools available.

And accounting firms shouldn’t view file sharing services in isolation, Wong says, but as part of a wider collaboration strategy. It’s important for firms to assess their requirements and find tools which fit their needs, rather than trying to reshape a business to fit the tools.

“If you’re coming to this new, or stepping up from a basic file sharing service, then it’s important to appreciate the big picture in terms of collaboration or you risk missing out on some of the major benefits,” Wong says.

“Also keep in mind that to make the most of it, you really want to be all in, rather than taking a piecemeal approach which still leaves unmanaged documents scattered across your organisation.”

How Huddle took Grant Thornton’s file sharing to the cloud

Jessica FarthingJessica Farthing, director of indirect tax with accounting firm Grant Thornton Australia.

Grant Thornton used to handle document sharing via an in-house network drive, but a lack of specific access control and advanced workflow features made it difficult to collaborate between departments and with external parties.

In 2015, the company moved to secure document collaboration service Huddle, which creates private workspaces for staff to collaborate, along with separate client workspaces for sharing selective documents externally.

Huddle integrates with cloud storage services such as SharePoint, Google Drive, Box and Dropbox, allowing documents to be edited using Microsoft Office or Google Apps for Work, with automatic version control. It also has communication and collaboration tools such as task management, document approvals and internal messaging.

The change meant Grant Thornton reduced its reliance on email when collaborating across departments. It also eliminated issues with document version control, and made it easier for staff to securely access documents on mobile devices or computers when they were away from the office.

With the rise of mobility and flexible work arrangements, it’s even more important to manage workflows, stay on top of version control and establish a digital paper trail in terms of accountability, says Farthing.

Rather than having multiple copies of important documents living independently on different devices, it’s more practical to establish a central management point with Grant Thornton and then set access controls for different stakeholders, she explains.

“With Huddle we can check out documents, edit them and then sync them back. All the changes are tracked so you never have worries over version control when different people are working on the same file.”

But it’s also important to leverage the advanced collaboration features to create workflows and boost productivity, says Farthing. “The focus should be on finding ways to work more effectively as a team.

“Using Huddle we can comment within documents, tag people so they’re notified of issues that need their attention and even sign off on documents – reducing turnaround times when you’re working with a dispersed team.”

Why mastering access permissions changes the game

Business-grade file sharing also lets an accounting firm and its clients safely exchange and share documents within specific workspaces, rather than rely on email attachments. This simplifies storing of tax records, which must be retained for up to seven years, and gives transparency around who is accessing the files and when.

That’s one of the reasons why you should take the time to master the granular access permissions, Farthing says. These make it easy to share some documents with clients while others are kept internal, and allow you to revoke access should stakeholders change roles or leave the organisation.

But it’s vital that you understand those permissions and apply them correctly – or you can be in danger of oversharing, she warns.

“When working with a client you might store all the required documentation in a team space for your people to access, while only posting the final tax return in the client space. They don’t need to see your inner workings and everybody’s comments throughout the process.

“If there’s a tax liability, you don’t want the client looking at those figures before you’ve had the opportunity to explain it to them,” she emphasises.

“Just as you wouldn’t want them looking over your shoulder while you’re working, you don’t want to grant them too much access to what’s happening behind the scenes.”