Workflow is King

From the July 2010 Issue

Mobile professional payroll applications, online document storage, SaaS-based account-ing and practice management tools, and an in-practice knowledge sharing system were among the technologies honored at The CPA Technology Advisor’s 7th Annual Tax and Accounting Technology Innovation Awards. The Awards serve to identify and honor new and emerging technologies that have the potential for significant positive impact on the profession and in the day-to-day work of tax and accounting practices.

Winners of the 2010 Awards are Account-antsWorld for Accounting Relief; CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business, for KnowledgeConnect; SmartVault, Inc. for SmartVault v3; SurePayroll for Mobile Payroll; and Thomson Reuters for its Practice CS Staff Management Module. Two additional technologies were given Honorable Mention recognition: The AvaTax with AvaCert system from Avalara; and ProSystem fx Document SaaS, a part of the new SaaS Suite from CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business.

The Innovation Awards are selected by the awards committee for The CPA Technology Advisor, which includes accounting and tax professionals from across the country who are engaged in public practice in firms ranging from sole practitioners to major, multi-office regional practices.

“There are no specific subcategories for the awards, but there are trends that appear each year,” said Executive Editor M. Darren Root, CPA.CITP, who also maintains an accounting practice and consultancy. “Over the past decade, dramatic changes in technology have led to great advances in productivity, particularly in terms of redesigning workflow processes within practices and in the continuing movement toward SaaS-model professional programs.”

The software-as-a-service model can reduce the IT needs of professional firms, while also offering greater mobility and scalability. Likewise, several new technologies have led to changes in workflow processes, including the initial movement toward a paperless office. But Root notes that optimizing how a professional practice performs requires a much broader view.

“Over the past decade or so, we’ve continued on from the paperless movement to a point where workflow optimization is the key, and this includes all aspects of how practices operate, collaborate internally and with clients, and even how they interact with outside partners, vendors and service providers. It requires a monumental re-thinking of how a practice can function most productively and efficiently, and it is being led by tech- and business-savvy professionals who have spent their careers teaching clients and other tax and accounting professionals how to work smarter, more efficiently and more profitably.”

Any technology product or service may be nominated for an award, but it must be commercially available at the time of judging, and be less than two years old or have undergone a significant redevelopment or addition within that timeframe.


Accounting Relief

Client write-up, as we know it, may be nearing its end. Imagine a client write-up engagement where there was no need to transfer client data, no need to synch changes back into the client’s system, and even the ability for the accountant to go live into the client bookkeeping system at any time without the client having to stop work. This is the promise of what we call “integrated professional client accounting,” something that is made possible by web-based accounting platforms and cloud computing, and that’s exactly what Accounting Relief offers.

At the heart of Accounting Relief is a powerful, web-based professional accounting system designed specifically for firms that provide services to multiple businesses. It is a full professional suite that includes optional modules for integrated live and after-the-fact payroll, asset management, sales and use tax reporting, practice management and web-based document management.

What makes the Accounting Relief system truly innovative, however, is that it includes a client bookkeeping component that is a part of the professional system. Each client can be set up to have their own web-based bookkeeping system, with the accountant able to set the functions and access rights they are allowed. The interface is focused on the small business user, so it’s easy to learn and use, but limited to only the aspects of their own accounts that the business and each of its users needs.

Information from sales, receivables, payables and other data is always immediately available to the accountant from their dashboards, and the data is already in their professional-level accounting program … because it is the same program, just with different user levels and capabilities at the firm and for the client. When you don’t have data moving around between systems, the result is improved efficiency and saved time, along with an increase in the accuracy of the data. Accounting Relief also offers integrated portals for collaborating with clients. It’s an entirely new way of looking at client bookkeeping. As a web-based system, it is also easy to implement since there’s no software or updates to install.

CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business

One of the most valuable assets in any professional practice is the knowledge and experience of the senior staff and specialists. In a small firm with only a few members, a mentor-like relationship can often provide enough guidance. As a firm grows, however, it becomes less viable to have juniors peeking into the office of seniors to ask advice on a particular tax treatment or accounting issue. And with the AICPA estimating that as many as 75 percent of credentialed accountants will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years, finding a way to chronicle the knowledge and experience of these leaders is critical.

Over the years, many firms have compiled their own best practices, case studies, resource guides and other documents, but CCH’s KnowledgeConnect finally takes an innovative approach to knowledge management in the accounting profession. The program offers a centralized, indexed and easy-to-search system that allows staff to access knowledge resources faster and make more informed decisions for their clients and their own practice.

Among the core features of KnowledgeConnect is the ability to search across multiple databases from a single location, which connects firm employees with the knowledge they need. These multiple resources include the internal knowledge of an organization’s leaders and subject-matter experts, as well as the ability to search across other CCH databases that professionals in the firm use on a daily basis in their normal workflow.

Current integration points exist to IntelliConnect, the CCH Support Knowledgebase and ProSystem fx Document with additional CCH integrations planned for future release. In addition, an organization can have custom integration points created to unique firm databases. KnowledgeConnect also integrates seamlessly with Microsoft Outlook, simplifying the process of asking and answering questions and sharing information.

Practices can also create interactive communities where staff can collaborate with each other, even with multiple locations and remote employees. Additionally, customizable Business Rules allow KnowledgeConnect to behave the way an organization needs it to.

KnowledgeConnect helps employees work more productively, and protects the future of an organization by ensuring critical knowledge is captured and shared, as opposed to being lost when a thought leader retires or leaves the company.

Practice CS Staff Management Module
Thomson Reuters

As an optional component for the Practice CS firm management system from Thomson Reuters, the Staff Management Module is the first staff management pro-gram designed specifically for the modern tax and accounting practice. The system greatly eases the unique human resources and personal staff management functions of professional practices by giving firm managers a centralized location for tracking and analyzing benefits, sick time, staff targets, budgeting, staff scheduling and CPE credits.

As with the other programs in the Thomson Reuters CS Professional Suite, all information is seamlessly integrated with other components of Practice CS and is available, as needed, in other program areas. The system also provides features for performing analysis of firm and employee productivity, with managers having the ability to assign engagement tasking based on multiple perspectives and to choose the workflow management strategy that is most efficient for their firm.

This customized work queue is then able to pull data from other areas of Practice CS to determine the priority of specific projects and tasks, available staff for specific projects (based on availability, skill set, location and many other factors), and what individual staff workloads are in order to enable efficient scheduling for firm management.

All functions in the Staff Management Module use a dashboard-based design that groups a variety of pertinent information into single screens for easier viewing, faster progression from one task to the next, and better management of high-volume processes like 1040 tax returns with limited involvement of management outside of initial setup.

The Practice CS Staff Management Module offers an innovative and unique advantage to firms looking to further streamline internal management processes, which can then help improve engagement productivity and firm success.

SmartVault v3
SmartVault, Inc.

For accountants who have clients that use QuickBooks, SmartVault can be one of the greatest simple tools when it comes to improving collaboration and client-side document retention. The system, now in its third version, is a web-based add-on to QuickBooks that provides advanced document management features that can be used by both the client and their professional firm.

The easy-to-use SmartVault system lets users attach any document or file to any QuickBooks transaction, and allows them to store the digital documents in secure, online storage facilities, with the ability to instantly create copies of the document or share with other users. The system includes a built-in hierarchy for storing and sharing documents and source files, with a three-step toolbar that creates a seamless experience for scanning, attaching and finding documents.

Since SmartVault was first introduced in 2008, new enhancements and features have been designed to further meet the needs of accounting professionals, including streamlined firm-client collaboration functions that help bring efficiency to workflow. Most recently, the program has added features that expand the program beyond QuickBooks users to make it available to everyone in a business, accounting practice or professional services firm. This includes core system utilities such as creating and customizing folder structures, greater online file and folder access, and enhanced intuitive Windows integration.

The system can also be set to automatically perform data backups of QuickBooks or other small business bookkeeping systems, with intuitive wizards that simplify setting up rules and features and performing searches of documents. For accounting practices, a centralized management portal offers additional tools for managing multiple clients, their portals and workflow functions.

SurePayroll Mobile Payroll

Professional payroll … now, “there’s an app for that.” SurePayroll, which offers online payroll processing and management systems for professional accountants and small business owners, has introduced its new SurePayroll Mobile Payroll app for user of Apple’s iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. The app can be downloaded for free from Apple’s Apps store and is the first mobile add-on to the devices that is specifically designed for a professional payroll system.

The SurePayroll Mobile Payroll app integrates directly with the vendor’s web-based payroll systems, which allows users of those programs to access them from wherever they may be. All features of the payroll systems are available, with the exception of printing functions. This includes the ability to enter payroll information, preview totals, perform calculations, create or edit employees and contractors, and even process and perform payroll runs, with print-based checks generated and delivered via SurePayroll’s service.

Other features include the ability to view all available reports and summaries, use the payroll calendar, set human resources and benefits for employees, and connect to SurePayroll’s customer service. With the addition of the Mobile Payroll App, SurePayroll gives active professionals more freedom, but with all of the power of one of the leading payroll systems on the market.



In addition to this year’s Innovation Awards, The CPA Technology Advisor extended Honorable Mention recognition to Avalara and CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business for the following technologies:

  • Avalara – AvaTax with AvaCert
  • CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business – ProSystem fx Document SaaS