Every year, it seems products for the accounting profession are getting better, and we're privileged to be on the front lines of seeing what's coming and, more important, where technology is moving.

It should come as little surprise that many of our top products and honorable mentions have a mobility component to them, as well as a solid representation in tax, practice management, audit, and useful information for the tax and accounting profession. Business intelligence is also getting some attention and -- believe it or not -- spreadsheet tools.

There were, however, very few strong entries in the cloud and accounting categories - not that there aren't several on the market, but none really qualified as a top new product. (Membership in the list is limited to products that were initially released in 2012, or that underwent a significant upgrade.) We suspect this will likely change for next year's report, but in the meantime we are confident that this year's list is a good representation of what is truly worthy of attention.

 

Mobile Category: H&R Block Mobile

If there was one overwhelming theme in technology this year, it was mobility. Everywhere we looked, developers were releasing apps that gave smartphone and tablet users access to their solutions, with the goal of letting them work anywhere at any time. But we didn't choose our Top New Product in the Mobile Category, H&R Block Mobile from the eponymous tax prep chain, because it helps accountants or tax preparers. Most of them, in fact, will never use it, since it's for Block customers, to let them upload and send in tax documents, make an appointment, track their refund, and find out when it's been deposited. We chose it because it represents the next step in mobility -- the one that moves from giving professionals anywhere, anytime access, to giving clients and customers anywhere, anytime access.

That said, we're also giving Honorable Mentions to the many products that recognized the importance of mobility and mobile apps: CCH's ProSystem fx Mobile and CCH Mobile; Intacct; AccountantsWorld's Accounting Relief Mobile; Kashoo's iPad app; Xero's Xero Touch for the Android and for the iPhone; Thomson Reuters' Checkpoint for smartphones and NetClient CS Mobile; and CPA2Biz's CPA Exam Aid app.

 

Tax Services Category: Beyond415 Guidance

The Internal Revenue Service is using technology to help close the tax gap, which means more letters, more audits, more investigations, and more clients panicking. Handling these kind of post-filing issues can be an entirely new service area for firms, one that Beyond415 has pioneered. For 2012, we're honoring its Beyond415 Guidance, which builds on its stable of post-filing tools, with guidance on a range of issues and a selection of sample response documents and workpapers, and the ability to store your own.

We're giving an Honorable Mention to another tool that can help you expand your practice outside of tax season -- NetWorth Services' Web-based e-Portfolio Management, which lets you upload a client's financial portfolio to review the tax implications of an investment decision.

 

Practice Management: Crossing the Chasm Assessment Tool

Businesses of all kinds need to figure out where they truly are in the scheme of technology adoption and how to get to the next level. This app from CPA2Biz, with insights from business strategist Geoffrey Moore -- author of Crossing the Chasm -- is one of the more pointed tools on the market to help businesses make a real plan on how to evolve.

An Honorable Mention goes to Deltek's Maconomy Public Accounting Solution, an ERP-like tool designed specifically for CPA firms to help them streamline administrative tasks in all areas of their practice and help manage client relationships.

 

Financing Category: Bank of America Practice Solutions

Accountants have long known that they were credit-worthy, but it's taken the rest of the financial world a while to recognize that. Since the beginning of last year, Bank of America has made a big splash in the profession with programs offering firms capital for mergers and acquisitions, partner buy-ins and buy-outs, commercial real estate, technology investment and more. At the same time, and perhaps more important, they've made a concerted effort to get to know and understand the profession, and to customize their offerings appropriately.

 

Business Intelligence Category: ProSystem fx Client Intelligence

The ability to provide clients with better insights about their own business, as well as their competitive landscape, is a valuable tool in retaining business and prospecting. Having a tool like CCH's ProSystem fx Client Intelligence, which is powered by business insight professionals iLumen, can prove a powerful ally. Client Intelligence essentially creates a firmwide client BI system that is integrated with CCH's ProSystem fx Engagement. Data can be extracted from Engagement into a Web-based analytics platform that enables special solution features.

 

Recruiting Category: CollegeFrog

Why be local, when you can be national? Why let the big firms poach all the best students? Why limit your recruiting to the colleges in your area, or the ones where you have relationships? CollegeFrog leverages the power and scope of the Internet - and the fact that today's students are deeply, frighteningly engaged with it -- to give firms of all sizes the kinds of recruiting opportunities that were once limited to the biggest. Creating a profile to promote your firm on the site is free; you pay extra to search and manage candidates.

 

Audit Tools Category: AR/AP Confirmation

Someday, computers and the Internet may completely displace the human auditor, but for now, they can only displace some of the human auditor's more burdensome chores -- as this year's Top New Product in the Audit Tools Category proves. Confirmation.com's new AR/AP Confirmation tool makes it infinitely easier for auditors to send out their confirmation requests. It includes a network of over a thousand validated companies, to whom auditors can send electronic invoice and balance confirmations, and also lets auditors send requests to other companies either electronically, or through a new paper fulfillment service.

Our Honorable Mention in this category also makes the auditor's job easier, this time by making sure it gets off on the right foot. The American Institute of CPAs' online Audit Risk Assessment Tool walks experienced auditors through the assessment, delivering relevant guidance and zeroing in on potential problem areas.

 

Spreadsheet Tools Category: Xcellerator

For those who choose to work in spreadsheets, a product that enhances the experience and makes using them more worthwhile is worthy of a top product award. In this category, Incisive's Xcellerator has the ability to help ensure that data is without error and helps reduce fraud. It can also analyze the data within for even more effective use.

An Honorable Mention in this category goes to Able2Extract from Investintech, which enables PDF-to-spreadsheet conversion and aids auditor control.

 

Corporate Tax Category: Estimated Payments solution

Since tax rules rarely get simpler -- with new regs building on top of old ones -- it's only appropriate that solutions to deal with them should build on the solutions that came before. Thomson Reuters' ONESOURCE corporate tax platform follows that model, regularly adding new tools to help tax departments with their compliance requirements. This year we're naming the new Estimated Payments solution a Top New Product. It takes the user data that's already in the ONESOURCE platform and converts it into the necessary quarterly and annual estimated tax payment forms. With updated tax laws, robust calculations and access to the user data, it eliminates a lot of time-consuming research and other compliance work.

 

Privacy/Security Category: Privacy Principles Scoreboard

Security remains top of mind for firms and businesses of all kinds, and any tool that helps in the battle to remain compliant is one worth using. In this category, for accounting professionals the AICPAs' Privacy Principals Scoreboard wins out. It is specifically designed to help organizations and the CPAs that serve them reach a new level of best practices in the assessment and management of privacy. The downloadable tool helps organizations design and implement sound privacy practices and policies. The software can be used for privacy risk and maturity assessments, as well as examining and reporting on internal controls over privacy at a service organization.

An Honorable Mention in this category goes to Ziptr Encrypted Communications from Ziptr, a tool designed to encrypt all communications from the point of entry, in transit and through to receipt.

 

MORE HONORABLE MENTIONS

This year we had numerous considerations for top products, including many that we thought accounting professionals should be aware of and keep an eye on. Some of these products may even evolve to top out a category, but for now we feel they are noteworthy as they represent change, evolution and relevance to the profession.

First up, Bloomberg BNA gets an Honorable Mention for significantly expanding the choices for accounting research with its new Financial Accounting Resource Center.

The e-book has a growing reputation as a popular and useful resource, and there are two new ones on the market worth spotlighting: One is from Ernst & Young, with its Tax Guide e-book; the other is the set of Tax & Accounting e-books on ProView from ThomsonReuters. These boast the cloud and mobile features you would expect, plus navigation tools developed specifically for RIA's Internal Revenue Code and Federal Tax Regulations e-books.

Another useful resource, given the increased interest in international tax, is CCH's online Global Tax Weekly -- A Closer Look, which provides up-to-date analysis of critical international tax developments.

Finally, note that Sage North America now has a true Software-as-a-Service offering in Sage One. For firms with clients that aren't quite ready for Peachtree, trust the Sage brand and are ready for the cloud, this one is becoming more of a consideration.

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