It should come as no surprise that more vendors are looking to improve or offer something completely new to improve the work life of a CPA, but this level of attention often makes it more challenging to identify the truly advanced and innovative offerings -- but such is our editors' task with this annual report.
While we have found that this year's crop of new and significantly improved products was comparatively slimmer than in previous reports, there are some clear trends among the submissions that are worth noting.
For example, although there was no clear winner in the Mobile category, mobile apps dominated the submissions, and with good reason. Competition among Web-based accounting-related solutions continues to mount -- to the point that if your product or service does not have a mobile component or app, you will be at a severe disadvantage. (That said, we're giving an Honorable Mention to the CCH Mobile app, because of its cool voice features, which make us feel a little like Joaquin Phoenix in Her.)
This year also appeared to be a "building" year for many product makers, as many of our submissions were for enhancements to existing products, rather than new or never-before-seen releases. Many of them were noteworthy, but by and large were not deemed to be Top New Products.
We are looking forward to seeing what next year's round of submissions may bring, but for now here are the winners and Honorable Mentions for this year's Top New Products.
Beyond 415 WorkCenter (Beyond415)
Beyond 415 continues to build great tools for everything that comes after you file your clients' taxes. Its WorkCenter streamlines and standardizes how you handle post-filing work, and has seen significant enhancements in the past year, including a new Workplans feature that breaks every IRS issue down into clear steps, Microsoft Office integration, a new user interface and file system, the ability to add your own issue guidance and topics, and enhanced reporting and client management.
XBRL GAAP Certificate (AICPA and XBRL US)
The Extensible Business Reporting Language, or XBRL, is becoming the lingua franca of public company financial reporting -- which more or less makes this training program from the American Institute CPAs and XBRL US its Rosetta Stone (or Berlitz, for those of a different era): the place to go if you want to speak the language properly.
QuickBooks Online (Intuit Inc.)
Accountants and businesses have been slow to switch from the desktop version of QuickBooks, but that may well be changing given the improvements made to QuickBooks Online last year and the company's aggressive efforts to help transition businesses to the product. With the addition of community functions, like connecting users to ProAdvisors, as well as scalability, improved usability, and mobility features, practitioners and businesses alike are giving QBO a serious second look.
An Honorable Mention in this category goes to Sage North America's Sage One Accountant Edition, the first accountant-centric product delivered by the publisher. This Web-based product is focused on accountants that serve businesses with from one to nine employees.
Exam prep and CPE
FastBook (Fast Forward Academy)
Where you usually learn the textbook, Fast Forward Academy's FastBooks learns from you, using your responses to questions to judge your level of knowledge and the areas of study you can most benefit from. We named it a Top New Product for its potential to revolutionize CPA Exam prep and continuing professional education -- and we're giving Fast Forward's FastPlay an Honorable Mention, for using "game-ification" to help groups of exam candidates improve together.
AdvanceFlow (Thomson Reuters)
Tax and bookkeeping have long since been transformed by technology, but auditing has lagged a little behind - until recently. Cloud-based audit management solution AdvanceFlow is among the vanguard of products aiming to help auditors achieve some of the efficiency, mobility and flexibility that their compatriots in other departments already enjoy.
Looking at audit from another angle, we're also giving an Honorable Mention shout-out to ACL's cloud-based audit and compliance management system, ACL GRC.
Tax firm management
CCH Axcess (CCH)
Cloud-based tax prep is considered by many practitioners to be the final, key tool for them making a move to the cloud. CCH Axcess not only offers a tax preparation component with thousands of necessary forms, but also has many of the items needed to help run a tax practice in the cloud, including document management, client portals, time management, invoicing and workflow.
iLumen Survey Intelligence (iLumen)
Underneath all the hype about Big Data is the potential for accounting firms to actually make more money by offering a useful, long-term service -- provided they have the right tools. The iLumen Survey Intelligence product allows firms to accurately survey their client base, incorporating the various elements of conducting a survey into a single, cloud-based platform, and then saves the results into a database that allows for instant analysis.
The Bounce (Business Learning Institute)
The Bounce is the fulcrum on which a whole curriculum of leadership and soft-skills courses from the BLI turns. The program matches an accounting firm's CPAs with the courses they need to take to develop into the leaders the profession needs -- and thus represents a whole new way of thinking about career development that accountants need to embrace.
While we didn't pick as many Top Products this year as we have in the past, we did spot a few that we wanted to single out for Honorable Mentions.
First off, Bloomberg BNA has dug even deeper into a hot tax area with its Premier State Tax Library and Individual Tax Suites tools, while Thomson Reuters' GoFileRoom Workflow Manager is a great boost to its GoFileRoom document management platform. And workflow pioneers XCM have integrated a new scheduling package, XCMscheduling, into their workflow management system to make it easier to make the most of your staff's time.
On the non-software side of things, we wanted to mention PartnersCoach's Partner-Pipeline Program, a consulting service that aims to help firms develop their future leaders, and Sto Amigo's CloudLocker, which is basically your own private cloud housed in your own private (and portable) device.
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