The proliferation of Tax Code changes, rules and regulations at the federal and state level has made the availability of services that can provide quick answers and extensive research to support a position on a tax return more necessary than ever. And thankfully for most researchers, flipping through - and filing - loose-leaf paper tax services is a thing of the past.
"Back in the day, we would get two-inch-thick updates from the major service providers every week," said Cindy Hockenberry, research coordinator for the Appleton, Wis.-based National Association of Tax Professionals. "Most of the replacement pages were for a page here and there, so it was very time-consuming. And once you got behind on your filing, it was nearly impossible to get up to date."
Hockenberry subscribes to content from BNA, CCH and Thomson Reuters, as well as Tax Notes from Tax Analysts. "They're all becoming more user-friendly as they add to their platforms," she said.
"Our research is nearly 95 percent online," she said. "We still have some desk books in print even though we also have them online. And a number of books that we used to have were bought by either CCH or Thomson Reuters, so we won't be getting them in paper."
Moreover, she noted, Web searches on Google or other free platforms can generate quick answers. "We'll do a search on one of these platforms particularly when it's some obscure issue that wouldn't be on one of our fee-based tax resources."
Meanwhile, the major publishers of Internet research products are adding content to their platforms, as well as enhancing the platforms themselves.
WORKING WELL WITH OTHERS
BNA makes its content available not only on its own platform, but also on CCH's IntelliConnect, RIA's Checkpoint, LexisNexis and Westlaw, according to Holly Flater, product manager for BNA Tax & Accounting: "In that respect, we're platform-balanced. We want to make sure that our content is available in the way that users prefer to do research."
"We're aware that people love our print portfolios, so for those moving from print to electronic research on our own platform, we've tried to make the electronic version of our portfolio searching as intuitive as possible," she added.
BNA launched its Premier International Tax Library on May 3, extending its coverage in the international area. "International tax has become a growing area of interest," Flater noted. "We've added additional content in this area, including a transfer-pricing forum."
The new Premier platform is geared to making it easier to browse, and will perform the typical key word search or more sophisticated Boolean searches, she explained.
Other product developments at BNA include its new State Tax Nexus evaluation tool that walks the user through a series of questions, comparing company activities to what the states reported as nexus-creating contacts based on answers users provide. And the new Green Incentives Navigator Library allows a practitioner to research green incentives at the federal and state level. In addition to tax incentives, it covers non-tax-related incentives such as grants and loans.
Thomson Reuters' Checkpoint has been adding enhancements and products under its Project Millennium, a multi-year program, according to Steve Zelman, senior vice president of content operations at the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters.
"We deliberately decided not to have a 'launch' or wholesale platform change," he said. "We know that users like to come to Checkpoint from many different directions. These include word search, table of contents browsing, topic index, the tax dictionary, citation, or line of a tax return. We want to give them as many ways as possible to perform their search effectively."
One of the enhancements generated by Project Millennium is a natural language search. "It enables the researcher to simply ask questions, rather than performing a word search," he explained.
Among the recently developed integrated workflow tools is the Income Tax Developments Wizard, Zelman said. "It's a FIN 48 tool that walks you through all the steps of identifying your uncertain tax positions. It researches developments during a specific time period, and it produces worksheets."
Another product available on Checkpoint is the Nexus Assistant. "Some activities create nexus for some states but not others," Zelman said. "The Assistant walks the researcher through the Nexus issues in the states, and produces a color-coded chart with links to the analytical content."
DRIVING ONLINE RESEARCH
IntelliConnect, CCH's next-generation platform, was rolled out last year. "Tax Research Network still exists, but most subscribers have migrated to IntelliConnect," said Tina Rajski, product manager for platforms at CCH. "We want them to migrate at their own convenience."
IntelliConnect is designed to be a central portal for the user's work. It simplifies the search process, since users don't have to pre-select what areas to search. Instead, the entire subscription is searched, with filtering performed at the results level.
The new platform has driven the use of CCH@Hand, a productivity tool that allows the user to do tax research without opening a browser or interrupting workflow, according to Rajski. "CCH@Hand gives you the ability to have many searches open at one time," she said. "You can search Google, and your desktop, as well as your full CCH subscription and industry Web sites at the same time, without leaving your current document."
Integration is the key to efficiency, according to Rajski. "If our products integrate well, we save our customers time and money. For example, why should a partner log on and do a separate search when I can put a link on a form?"
CCH will continue to bring out enhancements that will drive users to the content they need, she noted. "One enhancement will drive related information to the user so that when a search is performed, the user will have access not only to the information they're looking for, but related information."
CCH intends to make enhancements to IntelliConnect from midsummer through the end of the year. "The ability to do menu walk, do key word searches, and search favorites will be available right off the home page," revealed Rajski.
RIGHT FROM THE RETURN
Users of Intuit's compliance products now can perform research directly from a line on the tax return using Intuit's ProLine Tax Research powered by BNA.
The new tool, developed with BNA, includes state, federal, and primary source materials. "There are no additional fees for networks or multi-users," said Ryan Farley, Intuit group product manager for ProLine Tax Research.
The product is imbedded in both ProSeries and Lacerte programs, as well as ProSeries Basic, according to Farley, on either a subscription or a per-use basis.
It offers cloud access to over 1.5 million Tax Code sections, analytical articles, charts, letters and other documents. "The preparer can attach the analysis to the return with a click of the button. BNA supplies and maintains the content, and we put it into the database," he said.
ProLine Tax Research went live last August, and handled over 600,000 research queries during tax season. "It far exceeded our expectations," Farley said. "Our biggest peak was on April 14, with a smaller peak in mid-March."
Intuit also offers Tax Almanac, a free Web-based platform that supplies users with a research library of the Internal Revenue Code, Treasury regulations and other topical articles, along with discussion forums. While 60 percent of its users are Intuit customers, the balance use other preparation software.
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