CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business — ProSystem fx Practice Management, Office Edition

From the Oct. 2007 Review of Practice Management Systems

ProSystem fx Practice Management offers enterprise-level services and is available in a tiered package for small and midsize firms. An emphasis is placed on control features to provide a secure, stable and regulated environment. This product is best placed in midsize and large firms with internal support to manage and maintain the application. However, the vendor also notes that it has a significant number of firms with fewer than 20 employees that enjoy the essentials of the Office modules, and, as their firm grows, they can grow in the software.

Ease of Use/Flexibility – 4 Stars
As with last year’s review, ProSystem fx Practice Management’s interface still can be difficult to navigate, especially when considering the needs of a small firm. In a work environment where users have specific job responsibilities, system administrators will appreciate greater control over employee access. The application has a modularized approach, with independent programs for different management functions. Timesheets are easily entered and have numerous tools for employees and firm administrators. Some screens present an overwhelming amount of options and information. However, billing appears to be easy with a “walk-you-through-it” approach.

Finding your way between applications is not always the easiest, and only one dialogue can be open at a time, although any module can be minimized to the task bar. In particular, users can keep Time Entry and Contact Management open for quick use all day. This was probably my biggest frustration with the program, but other firms may adapt to this methodology better than I did. Setup of service codes, employees and clients provides for multiple categories and subcategories. Firms can opt to track CPA requirements, CPE, payroll and allowances for employees. Growth opportunities can be followed by tracking leads, lead generations, affiliates and referrals.

Using an instance of SQL Server, data is available in real time, and the system provides a number of ways to review, enter new and update records. Note that while information can be found, it’s not handed out as freely as those systems using dashboards.

Scalability/Stability -- 5 Stars
After several unsuccessful installation attempts, a call to tech support finally solved my issues, and ProSystem fx Practice Management was up and running. If you have other SQL Server instances, especially desktop edition, make sure you use the assistance available from tech support rather than the brute force method. The software is extremely stable and can handle large volumes of data. Few firms will have concerns about database capacity, though they may need to move up from the Office Level of the suite. Because ProSystem fx Practice Management is a part of the ProSystem fx Suite, firms can readily grow into other components. Careful planning should be done if this is expected. ProSystem fx Practice Management fulfills the needs of appointments, time, billing, contact management and project management, but each of these are best implemented through a well-executed adoption plan, rather than hazarding a “wait-and-see” approach.

Productivity Tools/Features – 4.5 Stars
An administrative application provides linked access to the different utilities and setup actions. Time and expense entries are straightforward and include options for appointments, timers, corrections and performance analysis. The Time Entry interface also includes tabs for Alerts, an Appointment Log, and Due Dates. Alerts are notifications that previously set thresholds have been exceeded (such as time or value), and Due Dates are similar to Outlook’s tasks but with direct ties to projects and client numbers. Appointments make use of a calendar and task system that ties with the individual and entities involved. A free/busy view is available for all employees. Notes can be recorded with appointments, but individual files and e-mails cannot.

Larger firms may want to take advantage of skill-level assignments and multi-partner options for project management. Tracking can show which user previously worked on a project for a client, notifying the current user if he or she makes a different selection than the previous instance when setting up a new project detail. Both audit engagement planning and tax preparation can benefit here.

Similar to other reviewed products, remote entry consists of a file checkout process. Added in the most recent release is an Internet Time Entry Add-On (not provided for the review). Document management is left to other Suite products, but the recently announced CCH Coolbar has extended Outlook options for linking e-mails, tasks, and appointments to entities and projects in ProSystem fx Practice Management. The Coolbar was not available for testing during the review process, but Aaron Seeman of CCH Customer Support noted that, “Customers will now have the ability to add time based on appointments in Outlook and can also review real-time information about their clients directly in Outlook.”

Reporting – 5 Stars
In most any interface, the majority of options give access to organized data. This can make it more difficult to find a consolidated view of the information needed but easier to find nested details. Custom reports can be built through the Report Writer, and PDF and Excel versions can be output if paper copies are not desired. The Report Writer is no longer Crystal Reports driven, but will continue to generate previously developed reports. A base of about 20 report types is presented, and the Writer allows for selection of fields, column placement and previewing the initial 20 lines of the report.

Support/Help/Updates – 5 Stars
The program’s installation guide offers in-depth coverage of the the upgrade process, which allows for database conversion and updating to the new SQL Server 2005 platform. In the Practice Management 2007 release, the release notes are seven pages long, detailing bug fixes, user-driven improvements and new add-ons. Previously unavailable add-ons from CPAPractice Manager are now available, including the General Ledger and Payroll Interface. And as previously mentioned,new this year is the Internet Time Entry Add-On, which can be licensed and installed by the user. Most importantly, CCH has already made a Vista compatible release with tools specific to those users. Aaron further clarified, “We are focusing on early adopters of Vista and Office 2007 so our clients can continue to use Practice Management without needing to run it in XP compatibility mode.” Clearly, CCH is letting client needs drive development of the product. The vendor’s telephone support is courteous, and my experience was free from long hold times. CCH has extended hours during tax season and also provides training, online demos, newsletters and an annual user conference.

Integration – 5 Stars
CCH is effectively making Practice Management a part of the ProSystem fx suite and providing the same level of service and assistance for which they are known. The system integrates throughly with other fx programs, providing greater data flow and reducing redundant entry.

Relative Value – 4.5 Stars
CCH provides the most comprehensive product suite and the strongest integration with highly rated accounting tools. The target audience, detail level and administration requirements are good for firms with more than 20 employees or those handling complex projects. Firms looking for a product that is being updated regularly and given significant attention should keep watch on ProSystem fx Practice Management. Our 10 timekeeper firm can license the software for $3,495. Renewal fees are 35 percent of the list price, and Internet Time Keeping can be added for $95 per user.

2007 Overall Rating: 4.5 Stars