by Dave McClure
The 1990s were a period of chaos and consolidation for the tax and accounting software industry.
The advent of Windows-based, 32-bit computing required wholesale re-writes of every software package at the same time that attrition and acquisition caused many of the leading software packages to disappear almost overnight.
CCH chose instead to go global.
Formed in 1892, the company took its present form in 1913 with passage of the first U.S. income tax. Named Commerce Clearing House, CCH rapidly became the authoritative publisher of tax law and advice in the United States. In the 1960s, the company added its first tax preparation software via the service bureau model, then augmented the tax software with other accounting products, and in the 1990s introduced one of the first line of tax products on the Internet.
Today, the company is recognized for its market-leading integrated research, software and workflow tools.
“We constantly push the boundaries of development,” says Kevin Robert, president of CCH Tax and Accounting. “Accounting and legal professionals can be hesitant to adopt new technologies, but they expect you to be ready when a new technology comes out, even if they are not ready to buy it. For us, that means staying ahead of the technology curve without getting ahead of our customers.”
But it was in 1995 that CCH began to expand globally.
Publishing giant Wolters Kluwer, in the Netherlands, was in the midst of reformulating its core businesses, making more than 300 acquisitions while divesting its traditional printing and newspaper businesses. The $4.3 billion corporation acquired CCH, building on its U.S. capabilities while establishing CCH as a powerful brand in Europe and Australasia.
CCH Inc. at a glance
CCH business units:
Today, CCH is part of a new unit within Wolters Kluwer that was created to focus completely on the needs of tax and accounting professionals. In 2003, Wolters Kluwer reorganized its companies worldwide to focus on customer groups. As a result, CCH Tax and Accounting was formed, combining the industry leaders of CCH Inc., CCH Tax Compliance, and the tax, accounting and audit groups of Aspen Publishers and CCH Canada. The CCH Tax and Accounting unit, with offices nationwide, is headquartered near Chicago.CCH Tax and Accounting professionals — many of them accountants and attorneys — produce hundreds of integrated tax law information and software products for accountants, attorneys, tax professionals, government agencies and others who must understand and apply federal, state and international tax law.
Long known for such flagship resources as CCH’s “Standard Federal Tax Reporter” and “U.S. Master Tax Guide,” the unit also produces the latest generation of market-leading products with the CCH Tax Research NetWork and ProSystem fx Office — software used by professionals for tax preparation, review, compilation, audit and office productivity.
“The common element across all of these is a real passion to deliver accurate, high-quality products,” said Robert. “Even the products we acquire as new offerings are rewritten before we introduce them to bring them up to the standard of quality our customers expect. It’s this passion, the demand to make every one of our products ‘best of breed,’ that makes CCH different from anybody else.”
That passion may drive CCH, but the future for any company driven by technology is a matter of constant innovation and ever-increasing levels of service.
“We have the most sophisticated products in the market, and the leading market share among the major accounting firms,” noted Ernest Zoumot, CCH director of product management for software. “The challenge is to continue that lead in an environment ruled by the paperless office, XML formats and the Web-based ASP model that will be integral to our customers’ needs.”
“That’s why we have introduced an online client organizer called Tax Notebook,” he explained. “It is why we have designed the ProSystem fx Practice management system to be compatible with handheld devices on the Palm PDA platform. And why we are building our products to be compatible with the widest possible range of electronic mail formats, PDF and document management formats, and with Microsoft Office 2003 formats, including Outlook. We see these developments, along with the migration to the ASP model for delivery over the Web, as the future of our business.”
CCH sees a continuing market for printed publications in tax and accounting — the authoritative power of a hard-bound copy of the “U.S. Master Tax Guide” is impressive to clients and allows for fast reference while working on complex tax issues. But the majority of the industry is migrating slowly to the Internet, compelling changes in both the structure of the company and in the way it delivers its products.
“Last year, we reshaped the company into a flatter, more horizontal organization where managers on the content side and the software side can more easily interact and share ideas,” said Catherine Wolfe, vice president of tax and accounting publishing. “This is a more holistic perspective that puts everything together in one place, content and software. The result, as we are seeing already, is a different way of looking at tax and accounting products.”
“We have always linked our published content with software — putting links to research reports in ProSystem fx, for example. But we’re now integrating software and content into the same product. An example is our Sales Tax Research & Compliance Manager, a product that combines content, dynamic interactive charts and forms. The bottom line is that our approach and our technology are allowing us to know our customers better and to deliver to them better products, faster,” Wolfe asserted.
From publishing to software to delivery over the Internet, CCH has kept its place in a chaotic and highly competitive market by staying just ahead of customer expectations. And it has done so in spite of an uncertain global business environment and ever-changing U.S. tax laws.
A leading provider of electronic filing software, CCH enjoys the highest Internal Revenue Service acceptance rate of any electronic filing service — and accounts for half of all partnership and corporate returns filed with the IRS. The company maintains a full line of federal, state and multi-state filing products each year.
In recent years, CCH has been a strong member of the Free File Alliance, a coalition of 15 companies that offer free tax filing software to consumers. But its core customer base remains with accounting and legal professionals.
“Our position in the market is something we don’t take lightly,” said CCH president Robert. “When a customer calls with a need, we jump to it. We are at the heart a company of extraordinary people, dedicated to the highest level of customer service. If you had to sum up our company in two words, it would be, ‘We respond.’”
Dave McClure is the president of Kent Associates, in Alexandria, Va., an independent testing labratory and evaluation service.
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