Maximize Your Tax Prep Efficiency: It’s All About Workflow
From the April/May 2011 Issue
As in our 2010 review of professional tax systems, we have separated the products into two categories: Advanced Workflow and Traditional Workflow (www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10254660). The advanced workflow systems represent the top-tier product offerings by their respective vendors and are both more capable and more expensive than most of the products classified as traditional workflow applications. And even though these products are categorized as advanced workflow, they are not intended for only large firms. Many specialized small firms and boutique practices run by sole practitioners can benefit from the variety of integrations and feature offerings of these products.
All of the advanced workflow tax systems include full federal support for individual, business, nonprofit and other major category tax compliance. Most state and local filings are also supported, as well as full support for federal electronic filing for all applicable compliance modules. Several of these systems also added multiple state partnership and corporation electronic filing modules for tax year 2010. This level of tax compliance support can greatly decrease the amount of time and frustration associated with locating, filling in and supporting forms not natively included in many lower-tiered products.
The look and feel as well as the way data is entered into the return is a key differentiator in this product review lineup. Although the basic navigation structure is similar in many of these products, the user interfaces differ greatly, giving practitioners another item to consider when choosing tax software. Since the user experience impacts the firm’s productivity based on its processes, people and culture, this is an area where multiple individuals at your firm should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of competing products before making a final decision.
For tax year 2010, the advanced workflow products have continued work on integrating their tax solutions with other product offerings. Each of these systems tightly integrates with product offerings through their respective vendors and has the ability to transfer data between applications. Third-party integration is another key differentiator. Some only offer support for their respective suite of products, while others are more open and allow data access to and from other software vendors. Many vendors supplement the capabilities of their flagship tax applications with optional add-on tools, which assist with issues such as cross-border transactions, basis tracking for large investment holdings, tax provision calculation and complex apportionments.
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With the widespread adoption of the Microsoft Office system, most of these tax systems integrate with Word and Excel, but the 2007 and 2010 versions of Microsoft Office are still experiencing limited support in the current version of some applications. Most products also allow for direct importing of trial balance data through available engagement or write-up modules. Other available integrations include direct import of web organizers, and many products offer scan-and-populate capabilities.
One area that all vendors have enhanced over the last 10 years is the support provided for remote access applications, with many offering products that are wholly Internet-based or have portions of their respective software suite hosted. These software as a service (SaaS) and hosted offerings can save firms significant upfront costs in both hardware and software. Nearly all of the vendors offer month-to-month per-user pricing without long-term contracts. This allows firms to gradually migrate to SaaS solutions with full scalability as firms add employees.