As content explodes, the need for integration increases.
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By Robert W. Scott
Maybe it’s time to stop talking about tax research or accounting research products and talk about research platforms. True, tax practitioners still turn to mainstays, such as RIA and CCH, in large numbers for tax research tools. But vendors are increasingly offering Web-based platforms that deliver accounting research, tax research, guidance, practice aids, and compliance products from the same entry point.
Just look at CCH’s www.tax.cch.com. That page of tax and accounting research has a button that lets subscribers “Log In to research products.” Kleinrock Publishing no longer has just a tab for its TaxExpert Research. It has added tabs for Kleinrock Bulletins, a Compliance Library, and CPE.
And although tax research has been the place where much of the action has been, this year, some of the most important content to hit the Web was accounting research material. RIA added SEC Plus, which provides access to some SEC filings, as part of the WG&L Financial Reporting and Management product line. “What we’ve been introducing is a direct result of Sarbanes-Oxley,” notes Ron Burkert, director of product management for RIA’s Checkpoint.
About the same time, rival CCH moved the Accounting Research Manager, acquired from the former Andersen by Aspen Publishers in 2002, into the CCH-branded line of research products. ARM grants access to the references from an alphabet soup of institutions—FASB, the AICPA, the SEC, the EITF, GASB, the PCAOB, and the IASB. And, oh by the way, besides putting all this in one spot, it is increasingly necessary to tie content together.
“It’s no longer going to be acceptable to just aggregate products in the same platform,” says Kevin Robert, president of CCH Tax and Accounting.
Vendors are trying to make all this content easier to get to, including lessening the need for practitioners to exit desktop applications such as Word, Excel, and Outlook in order to launch research tools. They are tuning email systems to provide users with more customized content and delivery that fit the users’ schedule.
A CCH Face Lift
CCH has performed a major overhaul of the appearance of its Tax Research Network, which a company demo describes as having less clutter, improved navigation, and faster access to material. In fact, the company says there were only two screens that weren’t touched.
The improvements are welcomed by Michael Fredlender, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based CPA with a staff of eight, who says changes to the news services have been particularly beneficial. “The new format has made it easier. It’s a lot quicker. It’s more efficient,” he says.
|Tax Research Vendors|
“The first thing that comes up is your favorite research pub. So instead of clicking another tab, I can run research from right there,” he says.
A big contributor to the improvement is a navigation bar at the top of the Web page. Users can choose from three buttons under the search template—Find by Citation, Check Citator, and Search Tools. Using the Quick Link tool, users can enter a citation in the template and go directly to the document. That’s another feature that Fredlender appreciates. “It’s very easy now to check the citations in the document,” he says. “If I want to check a citation, I highlight ‘Check Citator.’ Once you are into the case, it will check the citation for the case you are in.”
The template itself has been enlarged to let the subscriber see the entire search expression, while tabs for research libraries have been enlarged, and library screens have more white space and fewer graphics. There are new areas to sign up for newsletters, download software tools, and post to a message board.
The Web page has also been designed to making logging in easier. CCH has added the TRN Express toolbar, which sits on top of the user’s browser.
CCH is also making it easier to work in the Office 2003 versions of Word and Excel, and still be able to access the research tools. That involves the use of the Research Task Pane, a feature in Word.
“We are providing a set of research tools in that task pane,” said Jeff Margulis, platform director for TRN. When a user is working on Word documents, such as engagement letters, “They can click and select a CCH service and pull in content without having to open a browser or log in.” Via this Word feature, users will be able to save documents, and insert a law, regulation, or explanation in the document, “without having to go back and forth,” he notes.
RIA Revamps News
RIA improved navigation and readability in last year’s version of its Checkpoint research system, so this year it was on to fine tuning. “When we launched Checkpoint 5.0, with the new interface, a lot of our navigation issues went away,” notes RIA’s Burkert.
Among the most important additions this year was its revamping of the news page. Both In Brief and Tax News Arranged by State are now on the newsstand tab. They had been accessed previously via other links.
The In Brief feature, which reports tax developments arranged in code section order, has been around since the print days. “When we had a print newsletter, that was a very popular feature,” Burkert continues. “When we went online, we had a link that said, ‘In Brief.’” That was fine for those who remember the print product, but since In Brief went onto Checkpoint in1997, fewer online subscribers knew what the link meant. To make it clearer, the feature was renamed “In Brief — Federal Tax Updates Arranged by Code Section.” In Brief content was also added to the Estate Planning and Pension & Benefits newsletters
|Microsoft Does Research|
Since Microsoft Office applications are the standard on the business desktop, the Research Task Pane, new to Office 2003, is likely to draw interest from tax and accounting professionals, especially as vendors like CCH start to utilize the ability to provide service through Office.
The pane, displayed on the right side of the application screen, provides a standard research library in the 2003 versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Publisher. Available data sources include MSN Money Stock Quotes and the Encarta Encyclopedia, along with third-party services that include Factiva News Search, Amazon.com, and WordLingo Translation. Developers can use Extensible Markup Language to develop specialized research sources.
The research library can draw on customized corporate data source and third-party services, such as the CCH Tax Research Network. CCH will enable users to log into TRN while working in Microsoft Word or Excel. “Every thing that is in the TRN can be accessed,” notes Kevin Robert, president of CCH Tax and Accounting. Before the product’s launch this month, it had been shown to the top 10 accounting firms. “Some have said this is a good reason to adopt Office 2003,” Robert continues.
News content has been changed so news articles are seen only on the day they are published, with prior days’ news accessed via a drop-down menu. In the past, the articles were presented every day. News items will also be presented to users only for practice areas to which they subscribe.
Last year was a big year for the addition of content, with RIA getting the AICPA library and IBFD. This year, it has added the Practising Law Institute, which publishes professional continuing education material; Worldtrade Executive, which offers periodicals on international taxation and finance; and Salary.com, which compiles reports on executive salary and cash compensation.
The company also made its RIA Tax Alerts available on Checkpoint, which lets users apply Checkpoint’s search capabilities that include a thesaurus and spell check. Searches can be conducted within results, from the table of contents or the federal practice area integrated libraries, and can be scheduled to run weekly or monthly.
Kleinrock spent the year enlarging the number of products offered so that it’s not a one-product shop any more, as it adds features that push its research capabilities beyond just the basics.