[IMGCAP(1)]Tax season has begun and clients are heading into accounting offices across the U.S. in the hopes of getting their tax returns filed as quickly and efficiently as possible. How can you address your clients’ needs, meet the government’s ever-changing requirements, and still maintain a manageable workload during this busy time? The answer is simple: embrace technology.

Today, accounting professionals have numerous technology solutions at their fingertips, many of which are designed specifically to help streamline workflow and accelerate productivity. Finding the right solution can easily lead to greater efficiency and, most importantly, greater peace of mind as you juggle your clients’ unique situations alongside the federal tax deadlines. That said, what are the key questions you should be asking before you make an investment in a technology solution? I suggest you consider the following five:

1. Does the technology solution offer mobility?
Having around-the-clock access to valuable client information will help simplify your to-do list and give you the flexibility you need to make better informed decisions for your clients. Mobile solutions are typically easy to use, offer similar functions as desktop solutions, and allow you to start on one device and pick up where you left off on another. With this extended capability, you can do what you want, when you want, and it doesn’t matter where you are. Productivity will remain high, even on the go.

2. Does the technology solution provide cloud storage?
Cloud-based systems are designed for scalability. You can add additional services or implement new features from the technology vendors with little disruption to your use of the system and the solution can grow with you as your needs change. Even better, technology vendors automatically update these systems through the cloud, and this helps to ensure that the system runs smoothly, bug-free and securely.

3. Does the technology solution provide customizable reporting?
When it comes to exporting data, it’s helpful to have customizable reporting capabilities that allow you to get your data back out of the tool and adjust each report according to your client’s individual needs. Finding a technology solution that gives you the option to insert your own graphs, import data into third-party software or develop ad hoc reports will only increase the value of your investment and help enhance your role as your client’s most trusted advisor.

4. Does the technology solution feature adequate customer service?
In most scenarios, your responsibilities to your clients can’t be put on hold because you encountered a technical issue or stumbled upon a user error when it comes to your software. Your technology vendor should be both accessible and supportive when you need it most, no matter the time of day. Live-help can mean the difference between filing your client’s taxes on-time or putting in the added paperwork and hours needed to file for an extension. Research your vendor thoroughly to find out what their current customers are saying, determine what type of support they provide, and ensure their expertise in the space can deliver the type of solution you’re looking for.

5. Does the technology solution deliver any other unique tools and resources?
Beyond providing a system to hold client information and reporting, some technology solutions go a step further to bring you the tools you need to be more successful in serving your clients. For instance, clients expect their accountants to be up-to-date on the latest federal taxation changes, IRS announcements, and, of course, filing requirements. There are many free, online resources to help accountants keep up with this information. Many of these, including the Paychex Accounting Knowledge Center, provide answers to payroll and HR questions, business topics, and IRS news. Some of the better solutions also make available the most current tax forms for download and provide access to the 2014 U.S. Master Tax Guide. Finding a solution that can be a one-stop shop for your accounting needs can only help you in the long-run.

No matter which vendor or solution you chose, be sure to fully research the vendor and the capabilities of the offering. If you remember these five questions, you’ll be able to find the right solution to help your accounting office take on tax season at full speed.

Jeremy Durham is senior manager, product development and IT, at Paychex, Inc.

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