Internet tax research is becoming platform "agnostic," as a researcher can access, link to and search multiple sources from a single platform.BNA's Tax Management Portfolios are available across a wide array of platforms, including CCH's Tax Research Network, RIA's Checkpoint, and LexisNexis. CCH's TRN allows a search not only of CCH proprietary material, but also of key industry Web sites and, using Google, the entire Internet. Checkpoint now includes access to BNA, Practitioners Publishing Co. and Warren Gorham & Lamont titles. The newly launched LexisNexis Tax Center integrates material from CCH, Kleinrock and Tax Analysts, as well as sister company Matthew Bender. And Intuit's Tax Almanac provides a sounding board for practitioners to pool their knowledge to solve specific tax problems.
"We recognize the fact that our subscribers value being able to access our content on the platform of their choice," said Holly Flater, BNA Tax Management product manager for tax and accounting.
"It's all about content," added Gretchen Zekiel, product manager for corporate and legal at BNA. "It's a matter of giving the market what it wants, and the fact that our competitors are now also our collaborators demonstrates this."
BNA currently has more than 420 portfolios, covering the entire range of U.S. income, estate and gift, foreign income, and state taxation.
"This is the direction tax research is heading," said Ron Burkert, the product manager for RIA's Checkpoint. "Warren Gorham & Lamont, PPC and BNA are all on a single platform now, and they're all linked. A year ago you would need three separate URLs."
One of CCH's newest features, CCH@Hand, allows researchers to access the Tax Research Network from within Microsoft programs such as Word, Excel and Outlook, without having to leave the document. "We've added a topical index search and key industry Web sites," said Cathy Wolfe, vice president of tax and accounting publishing at CCH. Now a researcher can perform a search within TRN, as well as other industry sites and Google, all at the same time.
Riverwoods, Ill.-based CCH has just launched Phase Two of its Tax Research Consultant, which itself was a reworking of the Federal Tax Service. "It's more than a typical product enhancement," said Wolfe. "It's a total product rebuild."
"We've doubled the content, and added 60 new interactive tools," she said. Fundamental concept chapters introduce each of the 30-plus topics in a question-and-answer format. Among the interactive tools are decision trees and the ability to create multi-state "Smart Charts," as well as aids to applying the law to facts in the areas of NOLs, deducting rental income of vacation homes, capitalization versus expensing, identifying MACRS class life, computer software expenditures, and the cost-benefit analysis of cost-segregation studies.
CCH has beefed up its international coverage, particularly in the European Union countries, by leveraging its Wolters Kluwer knowledge base. It is also offering Global VAT Online, in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers. In keeping with the platform-neutral approach, its Global Transactions Library includes Tax Analysts' Tax Notes International.
Both CCH's Client Relate and RIA's Tax Alerts, tools that bridge tax research and tax compliance, have been enhanced and integrated with other content on their respective platforms.
The integration of tax and accounting products is a developing trend, according to RIA's Burkert. "We are seeing the alignment of tax and accounting products in a number of segments," he said. "Tax treatment has to be disclosed in security filings, so you have to rely on accounting rules as well. That's why we're putting references in our tax material to the appropriate accounting material."
Burkert said that Checkpoint was continuing a move to integrate third-party content to its platform, and was looking at opportunities to integrate with products like GoFileRoom and FileCabinet.
"We're looking for the right integration opportunities and building solutions for those opportunities," he said.
More scope and depth
Rockville, Md.-based Kleinrock, once aimed solely at the small practitioner, has broadened the scope and depth of its content. "In the last three years, we've gone from being positioned as a discount service to more of a full-service research service for the small tax professional and the small accounting firm market," said general manager Ken Crutchfield.
Although material is increasingly available over the Internet, Crutchfield said that its use depends on the practitioner's specific need: "If you're doing tax planning and not sure where to start, a research service is where to go. If you're
in the middle of a tax return and want something oriented around the form, you want a compliance-oriented product."
Kleinrock's Federal Tax Expert provides in-depth analysis and primary source materials, while its Tax Library products are compliance-oriented.
Dayton, Ohio-based LexisNexis has included tax research materials for years, but has now launched a new platform, Tax Center, including materials from CCH, Tax Analysts, Kleinrock, Matthew Bender and other sources. BNA is currently available on the primary LexisNexis platform, but not yet on Tax Center.
"Tax practice is under increased scrutiny not only from the Internal Revenue Service, but also from the Securities and Exchange Commission and state business regulators as a result of Sarbanes-Oxley," said Charles Ter Bush, vice president and managing director of tax and accounting at LexisNexis. "This heightened regulatory environment makes it more critical for tax professionals to cover all the bases in finding and documenting answers to tax questions."
The new platform offers enhanced navigational technology that allows easy linking among primary and secondary content, as well as its own exclusive insights and analysis.
Calling on your peers
For practitioners who need help on specific research problems, Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit's TaxAlmanac.org, launched last year, provides an alternative to traditional tax research. Users can network with peers and solicit advice on any tax topic. In addition, it contains Wiki-based articles that can be accessed and updated by anyone, while Web site administrators review the new or updated content for accuracy.
"It's open to any tax preparer, and it's also totally free. It's not part of a package," said TaxAlmanac moderator Tim Doyle. "An expert on one side of the country can jump in and help someone who's not an expert. We're bringing people together to form a community. The current solutions really lack that collaboration between professionals."
"Changes made to the site in a discussion forum or articles about areas of tax are available instantly to other viewers of information. Other than the code and regs, the content is fully editable by any other user," Doyle added.
The site has just passed 10,000 registered users, and Doyle estimates that about 150,000 preparers used the site during the past filing season. More than 8,300 articles are available on the site.
Burkert acknowledged the easy availability of primary-source research materials on the Internet, but said that people looking for reliable information will still need to turn to commercial information providers. "It's a proven entity that you can trust," he said. "Another benefit is you don't need to know 50 different ways to do research on a state Web site."
Commercial publishers add two important values, according to Ter Bush. "One is their imprimatur - the publisher makes sure everything is up to date and not missing," he said. "The second is the gathering of information, organization and integration. For example, Shepard's is still a necessary tool to make sure that a revenue ruling hasn't been overruled or criticized in a court decision."
One of the limiting factors in relying on blogs to aid research is confidentiality, noted Ter Bush. "Although they have some value, you can't get specific about a client problem - you just don't know who is out there," he observed. "The settings in which I've seen it used most are academic settings, and that trend will continue."
"The difficulty with online research is that you don't always get a black-and-white answer, or the answer will be a code section, but the code may be detailed and complicated," said Van Ballantyne, a Greenland, N.H.-based Fiducial franchisee. "As a small practitioner, I don't have the benefit of being able to walk down the hall and run a problem by my colleagues," he said. "So I refer my question to Fiducial's tax services to get a second opinion or a clarification. It can be very specific - here's my client, here's his situation, this is my view, what do you think?"
"It's hard to get this across on a blog or an online search," he said. "At the end of the day, it's about doing the best for your client."
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