The perception that Web-based tax research is a mature market hasn't slowed the furious pace at which publishers have added to their Internet products.For Heather Depe, CPA, of Minneapolis-based Simma Flottemesch & Orenstein Ltd., Internet tax research presents tremendous advantages. "I use it almost exclusively in my research," she said.
Although she finds Web-based research to be quicker and easier, she still prints out her findings for the client file. "I like to use the Web-based platform to start out with, and then print out different portions so I can go through and highlight what I want to refer to later," she said. "But as far as the actual research goes, it's much easier and quicker to do on the Internet."
Riverwoods, Ill.-based CCH and New York-based RIA have continued to add content, features and functionality to their research platforms. Washington-based BNA has added over 40 new and revised Portfolios to its content, along with navigation tools for easier access.
Arlington, Va.-based Tax Analysts has enhanced its offerings across a wide array of products, while Rockville, Md.-based ATX Kleinrock continues to nip at the heels of the "bigger guys" by offering its Total Kleinrock Office economically bundled with its ATX tax prep software. And for those who need to attack tax research from different angles, LexisNexis offers multiple services from a single platform.
"There's still a lot going on," observed CCH vice president for tax and accounting publishing Cathy Wolfe.
"Adding to functionality is one of the most exciting aspects," she said. "For example, CCH Enhanced expands functionality by bringing the Tax Research Network directly to the user's desktop. For example, the researcher might view a term or topic on the IRS Web site, and search CCH's analysis or pull up a document directly from the toolbar."
"CCH@Hand makes CCH content at hand whenever you need it," she said. "A user in Microsoft Office can pull up a task pane and do research within CCH without ever leaving the document."
"The overall theme is trying to help customers be more productive, and make the research easier to do," she added. "It's easy for someone to walk into the Library of Congress, but there's so much there that most people don't know what to do. The challenge is to help people interact with the content."
CCH also enhanced Client Relate, a tool bridging tax research and compliance. "Client Relate has two functions," she said. "It helps users grow their practice by identifying new areas, and runs searches against the ProSystem fx database identifying specific clients for particular opportunities."
A Checkpoint check-up
RIA has increased both content and functionality on its Checkpoint platform.
"We're always working on improving both the functionality and content of Checkpoint," said product manager Mark Sheiner. "Our goal is to help the practitioner get an accurate answer in a timely fashion."
For example, Speedlink gives quick access to six areas of Checkpoint, as well as other RIA Web sites.
Tax Alerts, RIA's tax research and compliance bridging tool, is now on the Checkpoint platform, according to Sheiner. "The migration brought the benefits of Tax Alerts and combined it with the power of the Checkpoint platform," he said.
Tax Alerts allows the practitioner to search all tax returns to find which are affected by a particular development or can use a particular client service. New enhancements allow the converse - you can now take a client's return and match it against Tax Alerts Developments and Client Services to see which developments or services could affect that client's return.
"We're also in the process of migrating PPC's accounting and tax titles to the Checkpoint platform," said Ron Burkert, director of product management for Checkpoint. Practitioners Publishing Co., RIA's Fort Worth, Texas-based sister company, is a major publisher of tax and accounting titles.
Listening to the market
Washington-based BNA's own market research has driven its development over the past year, according to Gretchen Zekiel, product manager for BNA Tax Management.
"The trends that we focused on are maintaining quality content, staying relevant and increasing users' effectiveness," she said. "Some of the trends we see in tax research products - such as integration for integration's sake - don't reflect this market feedback orientation."
For example, a planned enhancement was to embed estate tax calculators in BNA's Estate Portfolios. "The market research told us that practitioners simply don't use calculators while reading analysis, and that the proposed integration was irrelevant," she said.
The Tax Management library currently features nearly 400 portfolios, with 43 added or completely revised over the past year. BNA's Tax Practice Series, written in less depth than the Portfolios, added or revised 30 chapters during the past year.
Hitting the smaller end
ATX Kleinrock's TKO, or Total Kleinrock Office, contains its All States TaxExpert, Federal TaxExpert and Employment TaxExpert, as well as its Zillion Forms product. It comes in both an online and a CD version, both for the price of one.
"A practitioner can access the Internet version from wherever he wants, and if he needs it, he can carry the CD on his lap-top or take it to the client's office," said executive tax publisher Alistair Nevius.
Kleinrock's strategy is to concentrate on the smaller practitioners in the low-to-middle market, according to Nevius.
"Our customer base is smaller practitioners, smaller law firms and some boutique law firms that are doing specialty tax research," he said.
Some 14 new products were added over the past year, and are now included in TKO, according to Nevius. In addition to the TaxExpert series and a Total Tax Guide, TKO now includes Quick Answers Library, and the Complete Tax Library, which together provide quick-reference information on a broad range of tax topics.
A broader reach
Tax Analysts has a wide array of products that it offers to different niches in all markets - from small to large - according to Lucia Smeal, executive vice president for product development.
"Our publications are targeted at different markets," she noted. "The journals and weeklies are high end, and get into tax policy and planning. The disc products are more for basic research for small and solo practitioners to medium-sized accounting firms. The worldwide tax treaties database on the Web is used by high-level international tax practitioners."
Financial Reporting Watch, a new online publication introduced this year, covers the tax and financial reporting requirements imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley. A streamlined, simplified e-mail update service provides fewer options with more content, according to Smeal.
"Our results from polling small focus groups has revealed that more accountants are using e-mail updates delivered through technology like Blackberrys to skim headlines and make a quick decision on whether they need to read the whole document," she said.
Bringing it all together
For those who can't have too much of a good thing, LexisNexis includes analytical content from BNA, CCH, Tax Analysts, Matthew Bender and Kleinrock on its new Tax Research Task Page, according to Gerry Vondenbrink, segment director for corporate tax and accounting. The page also includes LexisNexis Interactive Tax Forms, a collection of more than 10,000 official federal, state and local tax forms with embedded tolls for interactivity.
"The page offers the ability to pull all tax content onto a single Web page," he said. "Most users are on a flat-rate plan, but they can buy the content they feel they want and the rest is available to them on a transactional basis."
Although the Dayton, Ohio-based LexisNexis has long been thought of primarily as a big-ticket item for large law and accounting firms, Vondenbrink said that he is very much interested in the smaller market.
"It's absolutely a goal of ours - it's an open market for us," he said. "We don't have a whole lot of those accounts and it's a golden opportunity for us."
"I wouldn't say any one service is better than another," said Minnesota CPA Depe, who has used them all. "They all have primary sources, analysis and tools. It just depends what you become used to."
"Becoming familiar with how a program is set up is the hardest thing," she said. "Once you're past that hurdle, the research is easy."
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