The Tax Research Battle


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The war over content is hot, but how you use it counts too.

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?

Partner Insights

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.
"Price is a big factor," notes Alistair Nevius, Kleinrock's director of research. But the system does more than simply put two product lines together. It also integrates them. "If you are in Max and you are in a form, you can click on a button and it takes you to a spot in the Kleinrock Total Tax Guide that answers your question," notes Nevius.
The sister companies market two versions of Total Tax Office. The Plus version includes the Kleinrock Employment Tax Expert as well as the employment guide for both New York and California. Tax Expert is priced at $400 annually, Total Tax Office at $1,040, and the Plus Version at $1,040.
Nevius declined to discuss the number of Kleinrock and ATX users who have purchased the suite, but added, "we are very pleased with the number." Besides attracting upgrade customers, the suite is also luring "a lot of prospects who weren't looking at us before," he says.
Price was important to Karen Stinson of Augusta, Ga., who opened Karen D. Stinson Tax and Accounting this year, after years of working for H&R Block. Stinson, an Enrolled Agent, uses both the ATX tax software and the Kleinrock research material. She is familiar with other systems-Block uses RIA research, while she had CCH for personal use.
"I think the searches [in Kleinrock] are easier to do and it's easier to go from hit to hit on your query," she notes. Stinson, who primarily uses the CD versions, found RIA cumbersome. Kleinrock, she adds, "seems to have a wealth of information."
Quinton Hiebert, a CPA at Mann & Associates of Oklahoma City, Okla., also testifies to the impact of an integrated system. He picked up Kleinrock after signing on first to buy ATX's tax software. "Kleinrock was the whipped cream and the cherry," he noted. "I went from Intuit to ATX combined with Kleinrock. I got the ATX package with more stuff for about a third of the price I would have paid with Intuit."

LexisNexis, for example, prides itself on the depth of its content from other providers. “Our big message is ‘All the content you need is in one place,’” notes Dawn Koscik, market planning manager for the company’s tax and accounting market segment. She points to the availability of CCH, Kleinrock, and TaxAnalysts research material on the Web site of the Dayton, Ohio-based company, along with LexisNexis’ own material. Also important is the ability to search all these sources through a single log-in.

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

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