Schneider Downs & Co., Inc

“The great attraction of IRIS Star Practice Management is that it was built specifically for CPAs, so you’re not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.”
Jack Wolford, Chief Information Officer
Solutions Used

IRIS Star Practice Management

Firm Profile

Schneider Downs & Co., Inc. has been providing accounting, tax and business advisory services to clients since 1956 when James T. Schneider and Paul Downs opened their first office together in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Working with large and small businesses, both public and private, as well as non-profit organizations, government entities, service firms and professional associations, Schneider Downs has since grown to become one of the 60 largest public accounting firms in the United States.

The firm helps clients reach their goals through a combination of big thinking with a personal focus, and believes its commitment to the personal connections made with each and every client has played a huge part in its continued success and growth. In 1989 Schneider Downs opened a second office in Columbus, Ohio which now provides the base for more than 90 of the organization’s 500+ employees. More recently, the firm has continued its geographic expansion with the opening of a third location in Washington, D.C.

These offices, in combination with its membership of PrimeGlobal, one of the largest associations of independent public accounting firms in the world, ensure that Schneider Downs is able to provide national and international-level expertise to serve the global business needs of all its clients.

A broad range of services are offered through the firm’s different Practice Groups. Its Business Advisory and Technology Services Groups provide services such as business valuations, litigation support and due diligence, cybersecurity consulting and accounting software selection.  

Challenge

As Schneider Downs has expanded into new services and locations, the priority has always been to offer clients the very highest levels of satisfaction.

In 2015, the firm therefore decided to search for a new practice management software solution that would provide the support required to continue to fulfill this commitment to both existing and future clients.

Approach

The search began with an information gathering process in which the key business requirements were identified.

Next, a formal selection process began during which five different software solutions were reviewed over a six-month period. This led to IRIS Star Practice Management, along with one other software solution, being shortlisted and a deeper dive into both potential solutions began.

As part of this process, Schneider Downs talked to other PrimeGlobal members about their use of IRIS Star Practice Management and also visited a Top 20 CPA firm, Plante Moran in Detroit, for further due diligence before choosing Star in March 2016.

Commenting on the selection process, Jack Wolford, CIO, Schneider Downs explains: “Visiting Plante Moran proved to be extremely useful for helping us to understand the resources needed for supporting the product and to enable us to see how another CPA firm was using Star on a day to day basis. It really opened our eyes to the possibilities.

“The Elite system we had been using was coming to its end of life and we were going to have to move to the web-based version or take the opportunity to change. Elite was built for legal firms and we knew that we were paying for functionality that we would never need or use.

“The great attraction of IRIS Star Practice Management is that it was built specifically for CPAs, so you’re not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.”

Solutions

As the Star solution uses a flexible, modular approach, Schneider Downs was able to select only the modules most relevant to its business, starting with the Star Time & Billing and Star Scheduling, integrated with Dynamics 365 (formerly Microsoft Dynamics NAV) which handles all of the firm’s GL and AP requirements.

Jack continues: “The implementation proved to be pretty straight forward with the Star team working closely with us to keep us on schedule and to ensure we only went offline for the one week that we had anticipated during the changeover when the Elite data was migrated to Star.

“A major concern was the potential for a dip in cashflow as users adapted to working with the new system, but this proved to be unfounded. However, we made sure we had a huge billing push in advance to help guard against this and ensure all of our billing was as up-to-date as possible.”

Another key factor to preventing any temporary cashflow issues was the extensive training which Schneider Downs put in place prior to going live. Jack explains, “There were people who had been using Elite for 17 years so were naturally going to find the change difficult, but this was something we had anticipated. We offered one-on-one training and made sure we always had IRIS Star Practice Management advocates readily available for any hand holding to accommodate the users.”

Results

Users can access the IRIS Star Practice Management software remotely through a highly secure VPN using multi-factor authentication and can enter their time via their mobile devices.

Jack says, “The roll out of mobile time entry was a big win for us. The phone app allows people to enter time no matter where they are. Getting people to hand their time in is always a challenge in this industry but the phone app makes it as easy as possible for them.”

Continuing on how IRIS Star Practice Management has benefited the organization, Susan Behme, Revenue Cycle Manager at Schneider Downs says: 

“IRIS Star Practice Management software has not only meant a real improvement in our processes but has given us a whole new way of approaching things. For instance, we definitely look at billing differently now.

“The ability for individuals to be able to instantly see things they couldn’t see before, such as outstanding WIP, makes you think differently,” Susan continues. “Seeing everything in real time means that we’re now able to identify billing opportunities much more easily. Star e-Billing means the moment someone approves their time we can bill it, thereby reducing lock-up and improving cashflow.

“We’ve also seen huge time savings regarding the rollover process. Being able to rollover a job, the budget and a schedule is a definite benefit.”

Jack adds, “The Credit Collections module within Star is amazing. All of our management have access to it. The information we can put in now when we do our billing, and how we can access it all electronically, is fantastic. The information we can put in now when we do our billing, and how we can access it all electronically, is fantastic. It enables each of them to have a totally transparent view of Accounts Receivable (AR) and what they are responsible for which means that AR turnover is now so much quicker. We simply couldn’t see this type of information before.

“Partners were taking home reams of paper and marking up bills manually before giving them back. This has led to a big culture change with IRIS Star Practice Management giving our people more control and independence over their billing.

“We don’t want people to be held back having to wait for information from others. They want to be able to monitor their own jobs by looking at and transferring WIP or charging their bills themselves.

“IRIS Star Practice Management has definitely given us more visibility into areas we need to tend to. The additional insight that Star has given us into our lock-up days has enabled us to actually use lock-up as a KPI and a measure for how we are doing. We can now look at lock-up from the moment an engagement is entered into to the day the AR is collected. Knowing exactly where we are with lock-up means we know when we need to chase people to bill their WIP or collect their AR.

“From a client relationship perspective, the client knows exactly what work has just been completed and billed. We make the payment process as easy as possible them, including using a third-party payment system to enable them to pay an invoice on the click of a button.

“Using IRIS Star Practice Management means that we now review our processes on a regular basis and try to identify how we can further improve our efficiency and productivity. We’re using more data more frequently, which is helping us produce more reports, compare different departments and put the information that people should be looking at directly in front of them. It has made us aware that our processes weren’t as defined as they could be in certain areas, or people weren’t following them properly, so now we are always working to improve them in an ever-evolving process.”  

Schneider Downs is continuing to see how the firm can use IRIS Star Practice Management in new ways in the future.

Jack comments: “Just six months ago, we implemented the PTO module for managing accrued holiday time and have found it easy to configure, easy to get up and running and easy to use. We will be looking at Star’s web version for certain modules in the next couple of years, probably for Star Scheduling first, and look forward to seeing more benefits for both our people and our clients.”

 

Case Study first published January 2020.