From the August 2010 Issue.
It is gratifying to see the natural evolution of software over time, as the more successful software vendors respond to user feedback and incorporate features and functionality that reflect the demands of actual users. Great software is becoming more powerful all the time, and new development tools and database capabilities allow this evolution to occur more quickly than in the past.
The migration to relational databases also helps get the software developer past the legacy syndrome, where each new feature would become more difficult to design because of the inherent limitations of flat files and the need to maintain backwards compatibility.
A fork in the road comes with the decision to deliver the product in a web-based or SaaS (software as a service) model or as an on-premise installed product. Neither paradigm is universally the “best” because each has its own pros and cons. Web interfaces provide the user with location flexibility for data entry, management and reporting.
However, remote access software that allows a user to connect with the home server or desktop provides an alternative that mitigates this advantage somewhat. SaaS products are managed by the software vendor, which greatly eases issues of updates and bug fixing. On the other hand, client/server-based software may give some users a feeling of control and security.
The basics of time entry have changed very little; recent development focus has been on in-depth reporting and analysis, and customization of reports and invoices. These practice management tools are the frontier of profitability and realization improvements. A firm should be able to quickly recoup their investment in new software by finding areas for improvement in staff, client and types of work done. Perhaps even tighter control over billing will close up some holes where time and client expenses are falling through the cracks.
Simply becoming aware of what is actually happening in a practice will inevitably lead to upgrades in policies, rates, utilization and workflows. Finally, a dramatic reduction in the time spent on review and billing will translate into more billable hours for the most profitable people — the partners and managers.
The vendors of these time & billing products are continually adding more and more features, with a focus not only on the billing side of the equation but also with the availability of add-ons that are intrical to tracking and managing time. Time & billing isn’t just time & billing anymore, but it’s not end-to-end practice management either. (see page 6 of this issue for a review of Practice Management systems).
The document storage solutions that we are reviewing in this issue typically have a more focused set of features and functions, which are often targeted to a specific niche such as direct integration with a particular tax prep package, integration with QuickBooks, or providing a secure file sharing solution. So you should read each of the individual product reviews carefully to help you gain a better understanding of the core strengths that each has to offer.
The specific attributes that we have evaluated for each product are organized into three fundamental categories: core functionality, integration and advanced functionality. The core functionality focuses on the overall user experience, based upon the interface and the ease of navigation, as well as the ability to publish documents directly to the system via a PDF print driver, and the nature of how the files are organized.
In the integration category, our focus is on what options are available for an integrated scanning solution, integration with Outlook or other e-mail platforms, and the ability to support multiple file formats such as MS Word, Excel, etc. In the advanced functionality category, we look at what type of reporting is available, security features, document indexing and retrieval capabilities, and file archival features. We will also use this category to identify any unique features the vendor offers that distinguishes its solution from the rest of the crowd.