by Roger Russell

Internet tax research has continued its evolution from a novelty to a necessity, as many of the major providers have taken major steps to integrate their platforms and add content to their offerings.

While Washington-based BNA Tax Management’s Web Library has added new content to its Tax Management series, according to new media marketing manager Holly Flater, “The big news is the added flexibility.”

“You can now go directly to relevant portfolio analyses wherever you start,” she explained. “The researcher can link back and forth from the code and regs to the portfolios. The advantage of working with the code and regs on our library is the ability to link whenever you want to a Tax Management portfolio.”

“It accommodates the different ways a practitioner researches,” she added. “You can type in a code section number, read the code section and its background history, and then go to an explanation in Tax Practice for a quick understanding of the provision. If you need a more detailed analysis, it will take you to one of the portfolios.”

“I run a paperless office, and [Internet research] is another part of being paperless,” said Larry Novick, a Holliston, Mass.-based accountant.

Phil Hart, assistant product manager for Tax Management, noted that flexibility in research is important, since most transactions have more than one tax issue. “A given transaction may have five or more issues, and often the practitioner hasn’t thought through them all. The display window shows exactly where the code section is being discussed by subject area, and shows other portfolios that the researcher might not have thought about.”

For Heather Depe, a CPA with the Minneapolis-based firm of Simma Flottemesch & Orenstein Ltd., Internet tax research is a boon. “I use the various Internet-based services almost exclusively,” she said.  “Paper research takes a lot longer because you have to look up everything separately.”

Riverwoods, Ill.-based CCH has continued to fine-tune its platform, Tax Research NetWork. “There are some new bells and whistles, as well as additional content,” said Jill Eck, manager of platform enhancements.

“Last November, we redesigned the whole platform — it made the interface cleaner, with more intuitive navigation. The same research functionality is there, but it’s a lot easier to find what you’re looking for.”

All the “helps” are now organized in one place, according to Eck. “We realized that, content-wise, we had great tools — client letters, calculators, look-ups and practice aids. We decided to put them in one place so that the researcher could find them easily.”

New to Tax Research NetWork is an Express Toolbar, which allows the practitioner to begin research without logging in. “It’s like the Google toolbar,” said Eck. “You can start your search with just one click, from wherever you are.”

CCH has continued to build on Client Relate, which integrates Tax Research NetWork with its tax preparation software, ProSystem fx. The service identifies clients who are affected by a tax development or who need customized advice by their tax return data.

“We’re working on additional interactive tools that don’t always integrate with compliance — for example, a cost segregation study,” said Eck. “We’re looking at different ways to better integrate research with the regular work flow.”

Putting print online
Rockville, Md.-based Kleinrock Publishing, a division of ATX II, continues to nip at the heels of the larger publishers.

“We rolled out a new version of Kleinrock.com in January,” said executive tax publisher Alistair Nevius. “Whereas before we only had Federal TaxExpert online, we now have most of our products available on the Web, including All States TaxExpert, Employment TaxExpert, our new Kleinrock 1040 Library, Total Tax Guide, and five of our handbooks. About 90 percent of our print product is now available online.”

“Any subscriber to a print product gets the online version as well,” he said. “Last fall, we started offering Total Kleinrock Office for $500. It has all of our tax research products.”

Kleinrock also is working on greater integration with its sister company’s product, ATX Forms. “If a preparer is working on a form and needs help, he can hypertext to our Tax Guide, and if that’s not detailed enough, he can go directly into the full TaxExpert research product,” said Nevius.

New York City-based RIA’s Checkpoint has added new content from its Financial Reporting and Management product line, and has enhanced the functionality of all product lines. A relevancy ranking score on searches gives users an idea of the comparative value of a document versus other documents, and a new case template box allows researchers to search for cases across databases.

Meanwhile, RIA, a Thomson business, continues to enhance Tax Alerts, its integrated tax research and compliance tool. While Tax Alerts exists as a stand-alone new service for users of RIA’s tax preparation software, GoSystem RS, it creates reports showing a list of tax returns that are potentially affected by a tax development. “It serves as an advance warning system,” said product manager Mark Sheiner. “It enables the practitioner to warn his client about the impact of tax developments on his return.”

Arlington, Va.-based Tax Analysts offers an online version of its Tax Notes, Tax Library and Highlights and Documents on its Web site. Its Complete Federal Research Library includes Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department source material, including the code, regulations, publications and Circular 230.

It also includes the Chief Counsel Advice Library, which offers letter rulings, technical advice and assistance, field service advice and legal memorandums; the Court Opinions Library, which has more than 35,000 full texts and summaries of tax cases; and TaxPractice Magazine, a weekly publication.

For full-time researchers, the luxury of more than one research service is a blessing. Andrew Martin, a CPA and manager of the tax department at Fiducial’s Columbia, Md.-based center, uses several Web-based products.

“From January 15 through April we handled more than 6,500 questions from our franchisees,” said Martin. “On average, the questions took 12 minutes to answer.”

Although most of the research is now done on the Internet, Martin doesn’t think it will totally supplant print products. “The Internet is great for searching for a term and getting there quickly,” he said. “But it won’t replace print products entirely. When you’re not just doing research but calculating and using worksheets, the print product is still more comfortable.”

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