by Roger Russell

Internet research providers have added greatly increased content and functionality as tax research over the Internet continues its evolution from a novelty to a necessity. Meanwhile, the advent of the online CPA Exam, slated for next April, promises that future generations of CPAs will hit the ground running with mature Internet tax research skills.

“Internet research tools are becoming more full-bodied,” said consultant Tom Davis, CPA, of Valdosta, Ga.-based Davis, Nichols and Associates LLP. “It’s becoming more integrated with more tools.”

For example, he said, “In the old days of paper services, RIA had a textual, analytical approach, CCH had a code-section approach, and you used BNA when you wanted to take a topic and beat it to death. In the Internet world, various vendors have developed stables of writers who go into each topic in great detail, so single tools are getting much more robust.”

Both Riverwoods, Ill.-based CCH and New York-based RIA, a Thomson business, have added content while fine-tuning the functionality of their offerings, particularly in CCH’s Client Relate and RIA’s Tax Alerts. Client Relate and Tax Alerts are compliance/research tools that identify clients affected by a tax development through their tax return data, and provide customized communications to inform the client.

“We’re improving the mail-merge capability, as well as increasing the customer’s ability to customize the interface,” said Marci Suelzer, product manager for CCH’s Federal and State Tax. “There are more options to set up folders, and we’re expanding Client Relate functionality into the state line.”

Client Relate is enhancing its ability to compare multiple years and multiple jurisdictions for individuals, according to Suelzer, and is adding integrated work sheets and spread sheets.

“We’re always trying to think of the next iteration,” she said. “For example, we added Link Express, a tool that allows the user to e-mail a link to a document in the research product. This is in the Tax Research Network product, so it’s available throughout the platform. It’s exciting because it makes it possible to work at different sites or offices. It’s very helpful for sharing research.”

The platform now has the ability to launch Excel spread-sheets from within a service, so the user can substitute his own numbers in a text example and it will compute figures for his own situation. “For example,” said Suelzer, “it can kick in the user’s figures for inventory adjustment, or increasing participation in a retirement plan. It gives the cost benefit analysis of the most efficient thing to do.”

“There’s always something new. As the market matures, users expect more from pro-viders,” said Ron Burkert, director of product management for RIA’s Checkpoint. “The biggest thing is integrated solutions for practitioners.”

“We now have an agreement with the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation to provide country-to-country tax treaties outside of the U.S.,” he said. “For example, a researcher could find the tax treaty between the U.K. and Thailand, or Australia and Denmark.”

“We also have a regional tax treatise product coming,” said Burkert. “It will provide analysis of tax systems of different countries. And, in June, we’ll launch 10 PPC titles on Checkpoint, including the Tax Desk books.”

Other providers have placed their former paper and CD ROM-based services on the Internet. BNA, located in Washington, provides all of its tax resources in an integrated Tax Management Library. The Library includes BNA’s practitioner-authored portfolios, as well as primary sources, productivity tools, journals and special reports.

Arlington, Va.-based Tax Analysts offers its Federal Tax Research Library, with access to full-text documents including statutes, regulations, Internal Revenue Service rulings and other documents, and court decisions. It includes TaxPractice Magazine on the Web, and its Federal Tax Baedeker, a one-volume explanation of federal tax law.

Rockville, Md.-based Kleinrock’s TaxExpert Online contains Kleinrock’s explanations of federal tax law with links to primary source documents, including the Tax Code and Treasury regulations, Tax Court and other federal cases, and IRS materials. TaxExpert Online users also get access to Kleinrock’s Daily Tax Bulletin.

For those who typically use more than one service, Dayton, Ohio-based LexisNexis offers a “one-search logic” through its Tax Practice Area Page. The LexisNexis page allows users access to services from Tax Analysts, BNA, CCH, Kleinrock and Matthew Bender, as well as full-text IRS decisions, rulings, procedures and state administrative documents.

Major tax dailies and weeklies - including Tax Analysts’ Tax Notes Today, BNA Daily Tax Reporter and CCH Federal Tax Day - are also available on LexisNexis.

“LexisNexis has everything together in one spot,” said product manager Beth Seall. “It’s a way for researchers to access everything they need without subscribing to every service.”

Davis sees products such as Client Relate and Tax Alerts as the future of tax research. “It’s the next step up in automation,” he said. “You can get information tailored to specific clients, not fluff, and you get information that makes it easy to communicate to the client.”

Although Internet research has advantages over paper in terms of power, content and convenience, paper research may be around for awhile longer, according to Jill Senso, a researcher and technical writer at the Appleton, Wis.-based National Association of Tax Professionals. “Only a few of us keep up the filing on our paper services,” said Senso. “But sometimes it’s easier to thumb pages than to scroll down a screen.”

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