Technology has spurred a revolution in the tax and accounting practices of most firms. What were once rather mundane practice areas of Internal Revenue Service forms and findings and Financial Accounting Standards Board releases has exploded into a content-rich, profit-generating segment of the industry. And nowhere is that more evident than in the emergence over the past decade of strong Web-based research sites and resources to make accountants more efficient and their advice more pertinent to the needs of their clients.
For 2010, we have looked at the top seven research platforms - all of them online offerings. It is clear from the trends that while tomes of bound-paper Tax Codes or CD/DVD research offerings are still around, demand for them is declining. The need for work-anywhere, access-all-the-time research is making these products obsolete. The online research platform is here, and it is the future.
The best of these platforms - BNA, the CCH Accounting Research Manager, and Checkpoint - have redefined how research is done in the accounting industry, and are driving a new generation of practice management tools that will spur the industry into new growth in the 21st century.
Smaller accounting firms that may not have the funds to invest in these best-of-class services are not left behind, either. Free services offering access to tax codes, regulations and advice abound on the Internet, with Drake's 1040.com and AccountantsWorld two worth looking at. Intuit offers a low-cost research product powered by BNA, plus a free tax practice wiki that is worth joining.
Overall, a roundup of the best accounting and tax research tools of 2010 finds an industry more robust, more interesting, more precise and more economical than ever before. And while there are plenty of entries at the high end of the marketplace, there appears to be room for more economical and targeted services for smaller accounting firms to emerge.
BNA Tax and Accounting Center
BNA Tax and Accounting
Bureau of National Affairs Inc.
Pricing: Contact vendor.
The BNA Tax and Accounting Center is a Web resource that integrates BNA's best content - Portfolios, the Daily Tax Report, practice tools, source documents and commentary - in a single location. Its key features are advanced search capabilities, customization features, simplified navigation and fast access from any computer.
BNA was formed in 1929 to explain the increasingly complicated workings of the federal government and their impact on the country. Its strong focus on tax and accounting came during the Eisenhower administration, when the Tax Code underwent a major revamp. Today, BNA offers more than 350 daily, weekly, monthly and up-to-the-minute news services, and for tax and accounting alone offers more than 500 "Portfolios" - in-depth analyses and guidance written by practitioners for practitioners. BNA Portfolios are available in printed form, on DVD or via the Web.
Each Portfolio is divided into three sections. A detailed analysis of the topic or issue with citations and references covers opportunities, approaches, alternatives, probable IRS positions, code provisions, IRS rulings and tax cases - including common pitfalls to avoid. The second section for working papers includes all of the relevant forms, documents and background tools, such as checklists and sample language. The third section is a bibliography that documents all sources, official and unofficial, including statutes, regulations, rulings, congressional committee reports, and tax articles in professional journals.
Content in the Tax and Accounting Center includes the Accounting Policy and Practice Series; Compensation Planning Portfolios; Country Portfolios covering 40 other countries; Estate, Gifts and Trusts Portfolios; Foreign Income Portfolios; IRS Practice Advisor; Premier International Tax Library; Real Estate Portfolios; Sales and Use Tax Portfolios; State Tax Portfolios; Tax-Exempt Organizations Portfolios; Transfer Pricing Portfolios; Tax Practice Library; Transfer Pricing Premier Library; and U.S. Income Portfolios Library.
At presstime, BNA was adding another feature - the Premier State Tax Library. The new library features more than 80 Portfolios and a state-by-state Sales and Use Tax Navigator.
The site offers multiple ways to navigate the content, via tabbed sections at the top of the page, indexes, saved favorites, and by content type. It offers the ability to create a customized home page, offers helpful links to other Web sites, provides links to primary sources, and has a simple but powerful search box at the top of the index page.
Its clean interface, simple navigation and depth of content make the BNA Tax and Accounting Center one of the most powerful research tools on the market today, and a strong contender among Web-based systems that can level the playing field for smaller and specialized accounting firms.
CCH Accounting Research Manager
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
Pricing: Ranges from $500 to $4,600, with charges for additional features.
The CCH Accounting Research Manager is a Web-based research tool that offers a comprehensive collection of resources and practice tools for accounting, auditing, governmental, SEC and internal controls standards, the Codification issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board, FASB Codification Topic 740 (FIN 48), Sarbanes-Oxley and other pertinent topics.
The core of the system is the ability to access authoritative and proposed literature from U.S. and international sources, combined with links to CCH interpretations, guidance and FASB Codification standards. Sources referenced include FASB statements, interpretations, staff positions, technical bulletins and staff implementation guides, together with historical accounting research bulletins and APB opinions; American Institute of CPAs professional standards, statements of position, audit and accounting guides, practice bulletins, accounting interpretations and issues papers; Securities and Exchange Commission financial reporting-related rules and regulations, staff accounting bulletins, financial reporting releases, staff legal bulletins, staff speeches and more; Emerging Issues Task Force abstracts, minutes and issues summaries; Public Company Accounting Oversight Board rules and releases (proposed and final), disciplinary proceedings, staff questions and answers, PCAOB-related SEC orders, proposals and FAQs; International Accounting Standards Board International Accounting Standards/International Financial Reporting Standards and Standing Interpretations Committee/IFRS interpretations; Governmental Accounting Standards Board statements, interpretations, technical bulletins, staff implementation guides and related proposal-stage literature; Government Accountability Office government auditing standards and Financial Audit Manual; OMB circulars and compliance supplements; COSO internal control framework and guidance; and IIT reports and SOX 404 Guide.
It offers direct integration with ProSystem fx Engagement within the ProSystem fx Office suite of software, as well as with ProSystem fx Knowledge Coach, CCH's digital audit manager.
An Internal Controls Library is offered as an add-on or stand-alone product to explain the fundamental concepts and analysis of internal controls, including FASB Codification standards, SOX knowledge, and guidance on Section 404 compliance. It also includes CCH Explanations, interpretive guidance, practice aids and checklists to help increase productivity and ensure accuracy in compliance.
The CCH Accounting Research Manager is a comprehensive accounting and auditing research tool that features a collection of industry-leading interpretations and analysis, and unique functionality such as a "combine topic" feature for the FASB Codification. It's a valuable tool for keeping current with the accounting profession through its effective-date checklist, "What's new?" checklists, daily and weekly mailings of hot topics, and frequent new additions to the database.
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
Pricing: Varies; starts at $200.
IntelliConnect is the first commercial implementation of the Wolters Kluwer Global Access online content delivery and publishing platform. It provides access to the content available from CCH and other sources for more effective management of resources and research.
It offers a Web-based platform from which to access appropriate related content by linking directly from documents to additional information such as the Internal Revenue Code, CCH Explanations, regulations and more. It also offers the ability to navigate via a Browse Tree and favorites linked to the homepage; a fast and intuitive search filter system; the ability to print any portion of a document in one step; the ability to view a searchable, alphabetical list of all publications subscribed to; and the ability to search selected practice areas, and to search up to eight different topics at any time.
IntelliConnect not only enables the accountant to conduct searches in myriad ways - browse/menu walk for specific content, search selected content by keyword, search all of your content by keyword, search by citation - but integrates smoothly with ProSystem fx Tax and CCH@Hand. CCH@Hand increases the efficiency of searches through a console that permits one-click access to content, enabling fast, multiple searches of Google, the desktop, the full CCH subscription and key industry Web sites simultaneously without leaving the current document.
CCH@Hand also provides integration with Microsoft Office documents, with one-click access from Office programs - Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook - to research answers in IntelliConnect. It also offers convenient access to Tax Tracker News and other key functions - with no login required.
CCH IntelliConnect is less a research platform than a content management platform. But for accounting professionals who subscribe to multiple content sources - CCH, BNA, trade publications, etc. - it provides an invaluable way to organize, manage, search and use that content efficiently. Priced starting at just $200, it is an indispensable piece of webware.
Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting
Pricing: Varies; starts around $1,000.
Checkpoint, Thomson Reuters' venerable and innovative Web-based research platform, offers fast and effective access to a variety of content from Thomson Reuters' RIA, WG&L and PPC brands, along with that of BNA, the AICPA, the SEC, FASB, GASB, the IASB and other regulatory agencies, as well as case studies and best practices, with additional practice development tools such as calculators, sales tax lookups and client letters. The system also provides firm management utilities, including built-in time-tracking.
Beyond its core features of database management, search, information organization and practice management, Checkpoint offers such unique capabilities as a charting program to create and compare tabulations such as state and local taxes, e-filing for tax returns, international tax rates and SECPlus financial fundamentals. A State Search wizard reduces the complexity of multi-state searches, allowing searches by specific tax types and tax documents in a single search. StateNet legislation and regulation databases provide the full text of approved and pending legislation, as well as adopted and proposed regulation. And the Sales and Use Tax Rate Lookup gives access to more than 41,000 sales and use tax rates from over 6,500 jurisdictions, by zip code, city or county.
Checkpoint thoroughly integrates both tax and accounting information, melding content with Thomson Reuters' compliance software, including onesource, Ultra Tax CS and e-Form RS, as well as the Thomson Reuters' CPE platform, Checkpoint Learning. Checkpoint also integrates with Microsoft Office for output.
Content recently added to Checkpoint includes DoneDeals, with over 8,800 unique mid-market transactions for private and public companies sold, with approximately half the deals under $15 million and half over $15 million, and approximately 79 percent of the selling companies being privately owned; EBIA's Health Care Reform for Employers and Advisors, designed to help employers and their advisors (including third-party administrators, brokers, lawyers and accountants) comply with health care reform; and PPC's Guide to Health Care Reform, which explains the key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.
Content being added at presstime included new WorldTrade Executive titles, International Tax Management Expert Plus and enhanced International Tax Management Expert (Advanced Tax Planning Calculator and Optimizer), WG&L's Analysis of IAS 12, Income Taxes, and more.
Easily navigated and featuring excellent search capabilities, Checkpoint easily holds its own against competitors with its breadth of content, practice management and CPE aids, and flexibility in customization. Any accounting firm contemplating a move to a more dynamic and powerful content management system needs to put Checkpoint on its short list of candidates.
Federal Research Library
Tax Analysts Inc.
Pricing: Contact vendor.
With its range of publications and products, it would be easy to confuse Tax Analysts as just another small tax research company.
But it is not.
Formed in 1970 by former Treasury lawyer and tax expert Thomas F. Field, Tax Analysts is a nonprofit engaged in tax research, lobbying, litigation and publishing. By the end of its first decade, however, Tax Analysts had become the nation's leading provider of unbiased tax information, its publications serving as a forum for evenhanded debate of contentious policy issues. The organization has assumed a prominent role in the tax policy process, offering congressional testimony, publishing newspaper opinion articles, and preparing analyses of key policy issues.
Tax Analysts has evolved today into a global publisher of tax information, with correspondents in more than 125 countries, more than $20 million in annual revenue, and a full-time headquarters staff of almost 200 employees - and, not coincidentally, a publisher of online content and expert analysis serving more than 150,000 tax professionals in law and accounting firms, corporations, and government agencies with in-depth federal, state and international content each day.
That content includes the news and analysis publications Federal Tax Notes, Tax Notes Today, State Tax Notes and State Tax Notes Today, Tax Notes International and Worldwide Tax Daily, The Exempt Organization and EO Tax Today, and the Insurance Tax Review.
Its online tax research products include a Federal Research Library, Worldwide Tax Treaties, the Tax Directory of professionals, and comprehensive global withholding tax dates in Withholding Worldwide.
As with most specialized tax publication and database vendors, Tax Analysts has its own unique take on taxes and tax policy. But for many accounting firms, and particularly large firms or departments of corporations, this information may be critical and well worth the investment.
Intuit Proline Tax Research
Intuit Proline Tax Research
Pricing: $849 per year.
Intuit Proline Tax Research is a Web-based applicationthatis integrated with the Intuit ProSeries and Lacerte Tax programs, and provides some practical guidance from BNA.
Proline Tax Research provides access to over 1.5 million sections, articles, charts, letters and documents from federal and state expert summaries, including codes, regulations, publications and rulings. In addition, it provides the ability to append research to client returns and document the audit trail; easy navigation through information sources; and the ability to integrate citesand sources into client letters.
Intuit's offering into tax research should be of note to smaller practices, for two reasons. First, it providesusers of ProSeries and Lacerte Tax programs an integrated, customized interface for research. Second is the pricingof the product. In addition to a relatively lowunlimited-use price, Intuit is offering a per-use price of only $19.95.
For the semi-retired professional or a tax office withonly modest research needs, this pricing model is significant. It's also noteworthy that Intuit operates TaxAlmanac.org,a wiki-style user site that allows tax professionals toaccess some primary source documents and provide input andinsights on tax matters. Users are able to conduct researchonline, share knowledge with one another, and provide solutionsto tax issues. While this is no substitute for a taxresearch system, it is a unique - and free - resource that is invaluable to practitioners in firms of every size.
LexisNexis Tax Center
Pricing: Varies; contact vendor.
The LexisNexis Tax Center was introduced in mid-2006 as a departure from the traditional LexisNexis products, combining codes, regulations and case documents with analytical materials from BNA, CCH, Tax Analysts and Kleinrock.
Available in a version specific to corporate and professional tax practitioners, the LexisNexis Tax Center combines cases, codes, regulations, tax analysis, commentary, and tax news to provide a wide array of primary, analytical and current awareness information on a single platform - including exclusive expert analysis and practical insights from leading practitioners.
Key features include one-search access to multiple resources that include LexisNexis, BNA, Tax Analysts, Matthew Bender, the American Bar Association Section of Tax, and more; the LexisNexis Tax Advisor, federal tax reporter services that tie together expert analysis and insight with related Tax Code sections and tax topics; LexisNexis State Tax Practice Insights, practical analysis of state tax codes and regulations from the top tax professionals practicing at leading firms, plus their useful tips, traps, alerts, and drafting suggestions; the Matthew Bender tax treatise collection written by respected authorities in their field and frequently cited by the IRS and tax courts; and the exclusive Shepard's Signal indicators to quickly determine whether relevant laws and IRS administrative rulings are still valid.
Navigation is primarily through a tabbed, customizable home page, and has improved considerably since the product was first introduced.
The Tax Center aimed at corporate and accounting tax professionals is part of a diversification strategy for LexisNexis, and while its offerings are somewhat less polished that more established tax research platforms, it does offer an impressive array of products, competent search and document management capabilities, and the promise of expanding practice management capabilities in the future.
Dave McClure is the president of Kent Associates, in Alexandria, Va., an independent testing laboratory and evaluation service.
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