Office Tools Professional
From the August 2011 Review of Practice Management Systems
Small to mid-sized firms not currently using a completely integrated suite of tax and accounting products.
Office Tools Professional is a comprehensive practice management solution geared toward small and mid-sized firms currently using disconnected applications. Its features include contact management, scheduling, workflow, document management, and time and billing. Repetitive data entry is avoided because of the program’s integration with software typically used in small to mid-sized firms, such as Microsoft Office, QuickBooks and Lacerte Tax. The objective of the software is to provide resources that help firm owners and accounting professionals become more productive.
The program was recently redesigned using the .NET platform, expanding its capabilities for integration with state-of-the-art technology. The redesign brought a new look and feel to the program, most notably a color scheme for calendars and alerts that automatically turn certain items red. The latest version introduced many new features, including a PDF print driver that provides the ability to print to an Adobe Acrobat format from any application and the ability to drag and drop files directly into the program’s window.
A distinguishing feature of Office Tools Professional is its non-proprietary document management system that firms may use as a repository of electronic files. By clicking on the documents tab, a user can add, edit, view and e-mail all types of files related to a specific client. Its sortable list view may make it easier to manage and find documents than Windows Explorer, for example. Documents can be dragged and dropped into the Practice Management window directly into a client’s directory. For an extra charge, firms can securely send documents to clients with a portal using the DropFolder.net service that integrates with Office Tools Professional’s document management.
Basic System Functions:
Office Tools Professional can solve the difficult problems of tracking workflow from the point that documents arrive and throughout a project’s progression to completion. It encompasses the processes of tracking employees’ time, scheduling and measuring productivity. The software helps maintain information about clients more like a CRM system, and less like a typical practice management application. For example, it has a tab completely dedicated to tracking every detail from client phone calls. Users have the ability to print customized client letters, envelopes and labels directly from the program.
The single screen interface makes it possible to access and enter data within a few clicks. The tabbed layout facilitates moving between the major sections of the program easily. Right-click menus can be accessed in many parts of the program. Certain parts of the program, including the calendar, have the ability to “undock” from the main screen and open in a new window on a separate monitor.
Time Management Capabilities:
In Office Tools Professional, time can be tracked in three ways: with a built-in timer, on a time entry spreadsheet, or on a time card upon the completion of a task. The timer, similar in function to a stop watch, has input fields for recording the client, project, work code and notes. The timer may be paused and started again for another project or client, so it is possible to have multiple timers running simultaneously for each task. The settings allow for automatic timecard creation when completing a To-Do, call, schedule, project, assignment and review. Billable time is moved automatically to the work in process and made available for billing.
Powered by Crystal Reports, Office Tools Professional’s invoices are highly customizable, both for global settings and each line of every individual invoice. Option buttons make it easy to change the invoice type and level of detail with the click of a mouse. Adjustments and changes to billable time and expenses can be made in the screen where invoices are prepared.
Some of the project management features include tracking due dates, missing information, budgets, and current and past staff assignments. The activity list, shown at the bottom of the screen, functions as a to-do list for each staff member and can be easily searched, filtered, and sorted by due dates and priority.
Office Tools Professional includes powerful features for scheduling and managing staff. Similar to Microsoft Outlook, appointments can be dragged, dropped and stretched. Staff schedules can be displayed side by side in both the day and week views. It can also show appointments for all staff in the month view by indicating the staff person’s initials next to the appointments.
Integration & Data Management:
Contacts can be grouped by two layers of management. In the contact information screen, information such as addresses can be instantly copied to the clipboard or brought up quickly on Google Maps. A unique feature of Office Tools Professional compared to other practice management programs is that the contact information includes fields for social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. With the click of a button, a picture for the contact can be added from these social media sites.
Calendars, contacts and tasks can be synchronized with Microsoft Outlook in real-time. Outlook users will appreciate the similar interface of Office Tools Professional, especially with the color-coded approach and day, week and month views in its calendar. Office Tools Professional doesn’t perform some of Outlook’s advanced functions, such as scheduling meetings with multiple attendees, but it does things that Outlook cannot, like associating calendar appointments with a specific client in the system.
Most reports can be exported to Word and Excel. Contact information, as well as tax data such as entity type, tax year-end tax identification numbers can be synchronized with Lacerte Tax. For firms that use QuickBooks as an internal accounting software, Office Tools Professional can sync data including contacts, employees, time, invoices and payments. Contact information can be sent to Dymo label printers and synchronized with Laser App.
Users are notified of system updates when the program starts. There is also an option to update the program automatically, and updates are available free to all licensed users.
Technical support through phone and e-mail is included at no extra charge, but is limited to questions directly related to installing the software and related error messages. Fee-based training options include phone, online, on-site, DVD and e-mail. The resources section of the product’s website offers helpful tips, a knowledgebase, and user guides for finding quick answers on how to use specific features. In particular, the PowerPoint presentations available for download on the support site are well-designed with helpful screenshots and may be valuable training tools.
Summary & Pricing
Office Tools Professional is ideal for smaller practices that could benefit from data synchronization with Lacerte Tax and QuickBooks. The strong project management and workflow tools, combined with social media and CRM functionality make this tool an excellent choice for small to mid-sized firms who want to make it easier for junior team members to effectively communicate with clients.
The annual cost of a single-user license is $500; additional users may be added for $300 each. Package discounts are available for five, 10, 15 and 20 users. Client portals, credit card processing, and productivity tools such as syncing with other software can be added for additional fees.
2011 Overall Rating: