The war over content is hot, but how you use it counts too.
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by Robert W. Scott
There’s still a race to see which publisher of tax research materials can cram more content into their CDs, onto the Web, and even onto their print materials. After all, more is better. Right?
But content vendors are going way beyond content, trying to establish their research materials as the foundation of tax and business consulting.
That’s certainly the goal of CCH, whose tools help turn the company’s compliance and research products from simple tax calculation to tax consulting, says Marci Suelzer, product manager for the Tax Research Network. “We are taking steps to start making that happen,” says Suelzer.
It’s also the goal of BNA, through its relatively new eFinancial Analyst. That BNA product “takes your client’s current financial statements and generates a report that tells you about the financial health of your client’s business,” notes Gretchen Zekiel.
It’s not just a matter of finding what ruling, annotation, or part of the code affects the tax client’s pay anymore, with companies like CCH and BNA talking about productivity tools. It’s also a matter of taking all the client information and helping them reduce the tax bill and run their businesses more efficiently. In fact, Blake Smith, senior director of product development at PPC, says that in some ways, the trend validates the approach his Fort Worth, Texas-based organization has always taken.
With the annotated services, “You are going to find the answer; we are going to tell what to do with it,” says Smith. PPC, he claims, goes beyond where information goes into forms and into, “Is there a planning issue? I put us at the top of the research pyramid with the level of guidance that we provide. We don’t necessarily provide 100 percent of every issue.”
Still, content remains a major part of the vendor battle, as publishers try to provide as much content as possible and make the content as easily searchable as possible. During the last year, major publishers- well, at least Thomson, which owns RIA and PPC-got possessive about content.
|Kleinrock Takes a Total Approach|
Kleinrock has always appealed to users based on price. While that's still true, in the last year, it has expanded its appeal by selling a package of tax research and tax preparation software. The combination, called Total Tax Office, comes through the purchase of ATX Forms by Kleinrock's parent, United Communications Group. Besides providing the Kleinrock Tax Expert library, the suite also offers ATX's Max forms and compliance software.
That ability doesn’t involve RIA products anymore, because in January, Thomson made RIA’s Checkpoint available exclusively to its RIA and West operations. LexisNexis also lost access to IBFD materials just over a year ago, when IBFD Publications BV made RIA its exclusive sales agent in the United States and Canada. LexisNexis replaced the IBFD material with Tax Analysts’ World Wide Tax Treaties, various CCH journals, and international materials from BNA, notes Koscik. Of course, it works the other way: LexisNexis has an exclusive distribution deal with TaxAnalysts.
But is the industry likely to become a little less friendly in terms of sharing content? BNA/Tax Management doesn’t plan on going in that direction, says Zekiel, product manager for the Washington, D.C.-based company.
“In terms of our philosophy, what we are most interested in is accommodating the needs of our customers,” says Zekiel. “We are media neutral. If you want the Web, we give you the Web. If you want print, we give you print. We are also platform neutral.”
With all the developments, CCH and Thomson’s RIA remain the monsters of the research midway, both claiming advantage in the market, both loading up on content and revising Web-based research.
RIA has also made two big additions to content this year. One is in making PPC’s DeskBooks available on version 5.4 of the Checkpoint research system. More recently, it licensed the library of the American Institute of CPAs, making a variety of AICPA material available, including statements of position and technical practice aids. “It will be cross-referenced and linked to Warren Gorham & Lamont where appropriate,” notes Ron Burkert, RIA’s marketing director for Checkpoint. Also, RIA added the previously mentioned IBFD materials, in December.
While adding content has been important in the current version, the major enhancement in Checkpoint 6.0 will be the addition of productivity tools. That includes document assembly, along with a variety of online calculators, including a basic tax calculator that can be used to estimate withholding. Practitioners have these tools in their offices “but they are often someplace else,” notes Burkert.
Also new is a chart wizard, which will enable users to see quickly how different states handle a variety of tax issues. For example, state positions on corporate income tax can be given in single chart, with hypertext links that will take users to more detailed discussions. Burkert says this feature will be particularly useful in training new staff.
More PPC content can also be expected to hit Checkpoint, notes Smith. The move benefits PPC by making its content more widely available, and helping reduce its reliance on the more costly print platform. And, says Smith, it benefits the many PPC users by making it far easier to access content they were already using.
Bringing It Together
Likewise, CCH’s parent Wolters Kluwer is bringing its content together, as it works out plans to add the Miller series (the former Harcourt Brace products) and the Accounting Research Manager (purchased from Andersen) to the Tax Research Network. Miller is already available and ARM materials are expected to be added by November 1, says Kevin Robert, CEO of the newly created Tax & Accounting Group.
Robert’s new organization reflects the efforts by Wolters Kluwer to integrate tax and accounting materials from CCH Federal and States Group, CCH Tax Compliance, and Aspen Publishers. Aspen has previously handled the ARM and Miller lines. “The next phase is integrating ARM with ProSystem fx Engagement,” notes Robert.
The company is moving towards a new platform for TRN that will probably be introduced by 2004, although Robert says it is too early to provide details.
Back and Forth