What's the best approach to tax research? Go with a one-stop shop? Or maybe it's like going to the doctor, you often need a second opinion? It can be like that when practitioners choose tax research services. Despite the effort of some vendors to load up on features in applications, a second view is often desirable.
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"Many offices use one main research package, but want a secondary source for research so they can get a different perspective or more clarity on an issue," says Paula McCosh, manager of national tax in charge of tax compliance efficiencies and software for Bloomington, Minn.-based RSM McGladrey and McGladrey & Pullen.
The firm has more than 7,000 employees and 135 offices and uses a variety of tax research products throughout its offices. The most widely used product is the CCH Tax Research Network. RIA Checkpoint with treatises and BNA Portfolios are also used by many offices, while LexisNexis is used in a few.
Users want a lot from their tax research products. A recent survey of McGladrey's tax practice found they wanted ease of use and training, quick access to the products, keyword searching, the ability to save research and in-depth analysis of issues. It doesn't take a survey to know the firms want all that at an affordable price.
One way to give them what they want with content is the ability to access it from a variety of vendors on their chosen platforms. That's the approach taken by Washington, D.C.-based BNA Tax Management.
"This year, BNA has worked to ensure that customers who want BNA content can now access it from the platform of their choice, whether that platform is BNA, CCH, RIA, or LexisNexis," says Holly Flater, BNA Tax Management product manager.
For example, tax and accounting professionals subscribing to New York-based Thomson RIA's Checkpoint can access BNA tax content, including BNA Portfolios that include transactional analysis on topics such as income, estate, state, and international taxation. The portfolios also integrate with Checkpoint's content and tools, including RIA's Federal Tax Coordinator, Warren Gorham & Lamont treatises, and primary source material.
Making One Stop
While some users may want a choice of different opinions, some vendors emphasize their view of the importance of sticking with a single supplier.
"People who have tried the Internet are beginning to understand the value of analysis and are coming back to research products. We see an increasing focus on one-stop shopping," says Ken Crutchfield, general manager of Rockville, Md.-based Kleinrock Publishing. "Our users want tax research databases, compliance (how-to) information, printed quick references, forms, and CPE, all in one package."
That's why Kleinrock has expanded its services over the last two years, because customers "want it all and they want what they want in the right media," says Crutchfield.
Tax Research Vendors|
San Ramon, Calif.
THOMSON TAX & ACCOUNTING
But despite all the changes and the move to the Internet, the basic task of tax research hasn't changed no matter how many options companies such as Kleinrock provide.
"Tax research continues to be about the content. How can I sift through piles of information and get the answer I need?" says Crutchfield. "Kleinrock's TaxExpert analysis summarizes thousands of topics and directs practitioners to the answers they need."
The Federal TaxExpert costs $400. In addition, Kleinrock offers the Total Kleinrock Office, a bundle that includes services ranging from global research to year-round CPE for $600. The Complete Tax Library provides compliance and how-to answers for a tax practice concentrating on individual and business returns. The library is priced at $250 for an electronic-only version or $400 for seven printed books. Finally, 1040 Essentials provides a basic bundle of printed references for a 1040-only practice for $110.
This year, the company has introduced Kleinrock's State Archive Library, which includes more than 100,000 documents, including prior-year forms, publications, and forms instructions dating back to 1999.
"We will continue to expand features that allow greater personalization and customization this year. For example, the ability to save or annotate search results, the ability to receive software updates from the Web, and the ability to look up tax compliance information by entering a tax form and line number," adds Crutchfield.
Similarly, Thomson is emphasizing the one-stop shop model, reflected in the recent reorganization of Thomson Tax & Accounting, particularly with the creation of the Research and Guidance business.
This new segment brings together the RIA Information/Online and Practitioners Publishing Company and their products, including Checkpoint, WG&L, PPC's Accounting Auditing and Tax Library, PPC CPE course material, QuickFinder, and PPC's electronic tools.
Users can access PPC's guides on Checkpoint; PPC's electronic tools, including Microsoft and Excel versions of PPC's practice aids; and Creative Solutions Accounting software.
"The trends haven't changed all that much. Users want greater alignment between software and content. With the Thomson Tax & Accounting platform, all content is one place," says Ron Burkert, director of product management for Checkpoint.
Last year, RIA increased the capabilities of Tax Alerts, its information service, for keeping tax professionals appraised of the latest tax developments that impact them as well as their clients. The improvements include the Form/Line Finder and the ability to search tax alerts to determine the impact of development on individual clients.
This year, Tax Alerts is being integrated with both TTA's GoSystem RS and UltraTax tax preparation products, creating a bridge between research and tax compliance.
While vendors may care about providing a single platform, it's not what is at the top of the users' checklist, says Cathey Wolfe, vice president publishing for Riverwoods, Ill.-based CCH.
"The Internet levels the playing field, but it's less about the platform and more about content, intelligence, and tools. Platform is not the point of competition it was five years ago," she says. "We hear more from our customers about best of breed versus one platform. One platform can be too much of a compromise for them."
Still, for CCH and its parent Wolters Kluwer, platform obviously is important, and in the global scheme, the company is rolling out a platform that will eventually provide a single log-on for all of its online research products. But while that platform started rolling out overseas, it will be a while before implementation is complete in this country.
Addressing Research Needs|
LexisNexis provides a wide variety of tax research tools. But it found its users wanted to not only have it all, but to be able to find it without searching every service individually.
So last month, it introduced the LexisNexis Tax Center to help ensure tax researchers don't miss any critical information.
"The Tax Center was created based on feedback from tax professionals who said they needed a new way for us to serve them. Tax professionals are accustomed to dedicated tax products that address their research needs, and a dedicated tax product ensures that the professional is comfortable with their research processes and results, and that they don't miss anything essential when providing client service," says Charlie Ter Bush, vice president and managing director for tax and accounting for the Dayton, Ohio-based company.
TerBush says the need has been heightened by the current regulatory climate, with tax one of the financial functions under increased scrutiny as a result of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation and increased IRS audit activity in general.
The Tax Center allows users to search and navigate across the broad array of tax information that LexisNexis provides. This information includes analytical materials from Matthew Bender, CCH, and Tax Analysts, as well as primary source material such as federal and state tax laws, regulations, administrative material, and case law.
Main features of the Tax Center include analytical materials, such as CCH reports, Tax Analysts Tax Notes, and tax resources of Matthew Bender, including publications such as Federal Income Taxation of Corporations Filing Consolidated Returns; Rhoades & Langer, U.S. International Taxation and Tax Treaties and the navigational technology allows for linking among primary and secondary content, including cases, codes, and treatises. In addition, it includes Shepard's Citation Services to ensure that users are relying on current law.
A variety of Tax Center packages will be available, each specifically designed for different tax practices. Base packages include federal and state information. Add-ons for specialized practice areas such as estate planning and international taxation are also available.