With the consolidation and contraction of the tax prep software industry over the past decade, the fewer players in the market have continued their efforts to grow organically, through purchases, and, in some cases, by marketing directly to the taxpayer-consumer.

In addition to all of the bells and whistles added to their individual programs to make them more competitive, the surviving companies have increasingly turned to integrated suites to meet practitioners' needs.

"We've learned to take what we can learn from our customers and turn it into products that support their workflow," said Kevin Robert, president of CCH Tax and Accounting.

Carrollton, Tex.-based RIA, a Thomson business, has expanded the integration of its Web-based GoSystem RS by building compatibility with sister company Creative Solutions' Depreciation Solution. In addition to its own tax planning "what-if" scenario capability, GoSystem also exports to BNA's Income Tax Planner and Creative Solutions' Ultra Tax Planner.

New for this fall is Line Finder, which integrates with RIA's Checkpoint research platform. "A right mouse click in GoSystem on a particular line of a return will take the practitioner to instructions in Checkpoint," said product marketing manager Boyd Gackle. "Checkpoint wraps around all the analysis, code and regs and court cases that might impact a particular line on the return."

GoSystem Tax RS to Go, a new add-on module, allows the practitioner to work on a client's return while offline at the client's office. "It allows the GoSystem user to work at the taxpayer's site without an Internet connection," said Gackle. "This is important as firms become more security-conscious. The practitioner can download out of RS, work in a disconnected environment, and then upload back into the RS product."

Aggressive integration

Riverwoods, Ill.-based CCH has moved aggressively to add integrated capability to its ProSystem fx suite of tax and accounting software. Profit Driver, Practice Driver and Client Write-Up have all been introduced this year. The Client Write-Up module integrates tightly with other ProSystem fx modules, specifically Tax, Engagement and Trial Balance, according to product manager Jerry Connors.

CCH's ProSystem fx Profit Driver is a financial analysis tool that enables both accountants and financial advisors to turn historical financial data into tactical plans for profitability. ProSystem fx Practice Driver is a decision-support tool that leverages existing client information to uncover client, staff and performance data.

"We are in the process of building and adding integration," said Connors. "Profit Driver is business intelligence. It analyzes trial balance information for accountants and allows the accountant to provide a higher level of service than just doing trial balance or financial statements. It not only includes 'what if' scenarios, it does a health check, then queries 'what-ifs' across different data sets."

Profit Driver can be used as a stand-alone product, or integrated within ProSystem fx Engagement and other ProSystem fx Office products.

CCH said that it will further its suite offerings through an alliance with Best Software to provide complementary products and services to both companies' accountant customers. The first step is a new integration between CPA Practice Manager and ProSystem fx Tax, offering a seamless practice management and tax compliance solution for accountants.

CCH also has partnered with Palo Alto, Calif.-based PayCycle to provide payroll capability to ProSystem users. It integrates directly into CCH's ProSystem fx Write-Up, and all Write-Up users qualify for PayCycle's Wholesale Program for Accounting Professionals.

Wide-ranging

Intuit now has four levels of tax prep programs: its standard ProSeries Professional and higher-end Lacerte programs, plus two new niche programs - ProSeries Express, designed for tax professionals who prepare 50 or more bank product returns each season, and ProSeries Basic Edition, aimed at the 1040 tax preparer who is not an expert.

Plano, Texas-based Lacerte has spent the off-season solving for various pain points that customers have brought to its attention, according to senior product manager Jorge Olavarrieta. Attention to the tax return workflow process will make it easier to determine what returns are due in a given time frame, who has estimates due, who in the firm has the client's file, and the status of the return.

A new feature will allow the user to "lock" a return, to prevent inadvertent changes to already-finalized files, as well as allowing the customer to have a copy of the return exactly as it was filed. The program will now have the ability to export depreciation schedules to Excel.

And for customers who would like to begin offering tax planning services but who do not have the volume to warrant the purchase of a tax-planning product, Lacerte will be providing pay-per-plan access. For a $25 fee, the preparer will be able to create, modify, print and process a tax plan file.

Every year ProSeries aims at doing enhancements on top of the new tax laws, according to 1040 project manager Helen Welbourn. "One of the biggest complaints is that clients never bring in all the information needed," she said. "The typical process is the preparer writes out the missing information, and the client goes home and comes back two weeks later."

"What we've done is facilitate things for the preparer," she said. "Wherever there is missing information on the return, the preparer can right mouse click on that line and it will add it to an itemized list that can be printed out or e-mailed to the client. It links to fields on the form, so that when the preparer does receive the information, he can click on the list and it will take him back to the line on the form to enter the information."

A familiar hurdle for many preparers is dealing with a client who has moved during the year, or lives in one state and has a job or rental income in another state, Welbourn noted. "For next tax season, we've made the process simpler for the preparer," she said. "Now the preparer can put in as many states as necessary, and the information is placed on one 1040 worksheet instead of each state. When the return is complete the information will flow directly to the state return."

Flexibility

Dexter, Mich.-based Creative Solutions, a Thomson business, has added integration with RIA's Checkpoint research platform with Line Finder in the same way as sister company RIA's GoSystem.

"Last year, the practitioner could connect to Checkpoint, but only to the opening screen," said marketing vice president Jack LaRue. "Now, Line Finder determines where you are in the tax return and takes you to the appropriate place within Checkpoint."

UltraTax has increased its client organizer flexibility, with an optional condensed version of the client organizer and increased functionality in the Web-based client organizer at no extra cost. "These enhancements make the client organizer more accessible and easy to use, and will ultimately increase participation," said LaRue.

In addition, UltraTax has added e-filing for 5500 benefit plans and for Form 990PF.

All in one place

Drake Software, in Franklin, N.C., has been tinkering with its program for years. "Everything we do is integrated with our tax prep program, and is included for free," said executive vice president and chief operating officer Tim Hubbs.

"For example, we added a scheduling package several years ago," he said. "Rather than add a module we could charge separately for, we made it a part of our basic package. The same is true of e-filing for Forms 1065, 1120 and 1120S. We have one package that we sell - we want to provide everything a tax practice needs in order to do business, not five separate modules."

In addition to its own write-up program, Drake can import write-up data from QuickBooks and Creative Solutions. Drake also has enhanced its tax planning tools this year, particularly with regard to the alternative minimum tax. "It's now more automatic with regard to NOLs and certain passive activities," said Hubbs.

Hitting the web

Tracy, Calif.-based Petz Enterprises has developed an Internet-based product, V-Tax, joining RIA's GoSystem and CCH's ProSystem fx. "It's a Web-based application with a centralized database," said Craig Petz, vice president for tax software development. "It's for tax offices with multiple locations. It allows a preparer with more than one location to deal with management and control issues from a central location."

Petz's CrossLink software has a new interface. In the migration from DOS to Windows, users often lost speed, Petz noted. "We worked extensively to make sure that it didn't happen with this," he said. "We developed a proprietary technique to draw up data entry screens that look like government forms. We also expanded our PDF printing and redid client billing and client letters."

Going full-scale

Rome, Ga.-based Universal Tax Systems has added a number of integrated capabilities to its TaxWise product. "We're adding a trial balance and a fixed asset manager for next filing season," said marketing specialist Kathy Lyles.

In addition, the TaxWise line now includes Client Write-Up by PC Software Accounting. "We've put together special accounting packages based on these new items," she said. "We're becoming a full-scale suite."

Bridging distance

Bellevue, Wash.-based Orrtax will continue to support its DOS product (now named IntelliTax Classic), but now runs IntelliTax natively within Windows.

"The big news is IntelliManager, which we introduced in July," said Cindy Salazar, director of marketing communications. "IntelliManager allows the provider to coordinate geographically remote sites from a single location. It enables IntelliTax to be managed in a multi-office environment from a central location - bank, billing, software and tax preparation options can be configured in one place and sent to remote offices for downloading."

IntelliTax for Windows for next season has a new Report Center, with customizable reports and mailing lists, an Asset Center depreciation module that simplifies depreciation, and Client Profile Search capabilities, which provide a quick search for return finding.

Using feedback

Rockville, Md.-based Kleinrock's ATX has introduced a number of 2004 improvements that are based on suggestions from users, its own internal testing and user feedback received from Atxers.com, according to Mavash Atoufi, director of product design.

Max 2004 will now support an unlimited number of forms in an open return, and has over 6,000 form improvements ranging from cosmetic changes to adding more robust calculations. A revamped interface in the depreciation program simplifies the asset entry process and allows easier management of all activities in a single place. An enhanced payroll module in Total Accounting Office includes the transfer of payroll data to MAX for the completion of payroll tax returns.

More forms

Laser Systems, in Kaysville, Utah, has completed the addition of business forms for all states for TaxWorks, according to spokesman Allan Haacke. "Then we added new capabilities for printing, along with customizable letters." The program is an integrated suite, and includes an integrated asset manager as well as a scheduler.

Laser Systems produces a stripped-down version of TaxWorks that it private-labels "for companies not after our target market of sophisticated tax professionals," said Haacke. "These are the preparers that just prepare Forms 1040 EZ or 1040A."

More integration

Randolph, N.J.-based TaxSimple has further integrated its tax suite, with enhancements to its Tax Practice Management System, Client Management System and Client Organizer. Printing capabilities have been strengthened, with the ability to batch-print up to 100 returns at a time. It also offers duplex printing.

The automatic generation of forms feature automatically activates necessary forms upon exiting other related forms. For example, upon exiting the dividend input screen, the program automatically activates or updates the Schedule D.

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