Thomson Reuters - Practice CS
From the August 2011 Review of Practice Management Systems
Firms wanting strong dashboards and Outlook integration, particularly those using other Thomson Reuters CS Professional Suite applications.
Practice CS, part of the CS Professional Suite from Thomson Reuters, provides resources for effective firm management that include time and billing, contact management and project management. Integration is the key to the success of the CS Professional Suite, and since Practice CS shares data with the other assortment of integrated applications from the suite, it can help firms streamline workflow and gain efficiency. Using the latest Microsoft .NET technology, Practice CS has a user-friendly and flexible interface.
Highly emphasized in Practice CS is the use of digital dashboards. Much like dashboards in a car display critical information of its operations to the driver, the customizable dashboards in Practice CS provide real-time data to firm decision-makers about clients, staff and the firm as a whole to maximize productivity, improve client service, and gauge the firm’s overall performance.
The newest delivery option for Practice CS and the other CS Professional Suite products is a monthly leased SaaS model, including web hosting, which makes it accessible anywhere and anytime with a web browser and a minimal up-front investment. However, this review focuses on the installed desktop Practice CS product.
Basic System Functions:
With an interface similar to the other programs in the CS Professional Suite, and a look and feel also familiar to users of Microsoft Outlook, navigation through the program is easy and intuitive. The navigation bar on the left side of the screen provides quick access to dashboards, while the top of the screen contains icons and pull-down menus. Like a web browser, there are buttons to go back to the previously viewed page, go forward, go to the home screen, refresh data, and choose from a list of favorites.
Time Management Capabilities:
In Practice CS, time can be entered into a customized spreadsheet-like, data-entry screen, or time can be tracked and captured with a built-in desktop timer. Staff working on a computer remotely can enter time within the program; and with an Internet connection, the time can be sent back to the office with the click of a button. With Mobile CS, an app that makes data from the CS Professional Suite available on mobile devices including an Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, users can enter billable time and expenses on these mobile devices as well as view projects, tasks, billing, A/R, and contact information while on the go.
The timer automatically starts when a program is launched from the project or task in the Practice Management screen and automatically stops when the program is closed. When Practice CS is used with other products from the CS Professional Suite, the program will automatically associate that time with the client that the user was working on in the suite’s other products. The program allows multiple timers to run at the same time.
With the Staff Management module, Practice CS is able to track accruable benefits such as vacation and sick time, as well as comp time benefits. Benefit requests can be forwarded to supervisors for approval within the program. Practice CS also tracks CPE hours as well as course information, type and other details.
Practice CS can accommodate a variety of billing methods, including fees at standard hourly rates, retainers and fixed-fee arrangements. The billing screen in Practice CS provides a filterable, sortable and searchable list of clients and engagements with check boxes to select billing actions. At this point, the user can choose between buttons for different detail levels with options including detail bill, quick bill, standard bill, or can zero bill (write off) the selected entries in work in process. An “integrated invoices” feature allows invoice totals to be exported from UltraTax CS to Practice CS and then adjusted if needed.
The program offers several options for sending invoices to clients. Invoices can be batch printed or sent in a variety of formats with personalized e-mails. Firms using other components of the CS Professional Suite can send the invoice output to NetClient CS, the CS Professional Suite’s portal product, and can electronically archive the invoice in FileCabinet CS, with additional options to save the file in GoFileRoom or as a file on a computer or network. Practice CS can internally process credit card payments and ACH transactions.
Practice CS provides vast resources for customizing the formats of invoices and other reports. The Practice CS Library contains templates for a number of reports, including billing and client letters, some of which are provided by the Practice CS support and development teams while others are user generated. These custom formats are available for users to download for free and use with their own data in their firms.
Practice CS makes extensive use of dashboards, providing firm management with a quick view of real-time key financial totals, work in process, receivables, billable time, and staff availability. Standard and custom dynamic reports can be saved on the dashboard, providing the quickest and easiest access to those reports that are used most often by management. These reports allow for drilling down to more detailed reports and to the data-entry screens.
The client dashboard shows data such as contact information, billing activity and payment history, and also contains what is called a Solutions portlet, a list of client documents with links for quick access. In the client dashboard, the user can view e-mail that resides in Outlook from a selected client based on the client’s e-mail address.
The staff dashboard is a useful workflow and scheduling hub that integrates with Microsoft Outlook Mail, Calendar and Tasks. This dashboard displays information from Outlook, outstanding projects and tasks, as well at entered time. Users with the appropriate security settings have the ability to see staff calendars side by side in the day, week and month views. The program provides the capability for automatic workflow and assigning of tasks based on when staff with sufficient qualifications have requested work.
The security features in Practice CS include the ability to create multiple security groups and assign certain menu and data security privileges, which affect the type of data each individual is able to view in the program and the dashboards. One of the newly added features is an audit trail that tracks client maintenance and time entry.
Integration & Data Management:
Practice CS integrates extensively with the other programs in the CS Professional Suite to maximize movement between its components. For example, clicking on the UltraTax CS icon within a selected client within Practice CS will automatically open that client’s tax return. The suite’s software products share contact, time, billing and other information. The suite recently added integration between Accounting CS and Practice CS. Although Practice CS does not have the same level of integration with outside tax and accounting products such as QuickBooks, it does have the ability to launch any software product from the Practice CS window and track the amount of time the program was open in a timer.
As previously mentioned, Practice CS deeply integrates with Microsoft Outlook’s mail, calendar and tasks. Invoices, statements, reports and letters can be exported as PDF, XLS, HTML, RTF, TXT, and TIFF files.
Software updates are downloaded and applied by launching CS Connect, which communicates with Thomson Reuters secure data centers to download product licenses and user bulletins. Users can sign up to receive an e-mail alert when updates are available.
The program includes a built-in traditional Help index and links to Help on the Web, including the CS.ThomsonReuters.com website, knowledgebase, bulletins and support via e-mail. The Thomson Reuters support web page provides several tutorial videos, as well as “tips and tactics” that provide answers to frequently asked questions. Also on the support site is an active Accountant’s Resource Network (“ARNE”) Community, where users and peers discuss issues and ideas. For a fee, Thomson Reuters training and consulting team offer virtual classrooms, on-demand training available 24/7, as well as custom training for a firm’s specific needs. Support is extended to midnight Eastern time and weekends during tax season.
Summary & Pricing
Practice CS is a powerful timekeeping, billing, and firm management tool that multiplies its effectiveness when integrated with the other accounting, tax and client service programs in the CS Professional Suite. Because of its dashboards, user-friendly interface, and integration with Outlook, it also merits consideration as a standalone product. Pricing starts at $1,800 for a five-user license, with the project, client and staff management modules available as add-on features.
2011 Overall Rating: