2012 Readers’ Choice Awards

From the January 2012 Issue.

Since we started the Readers’ Choice Awards in 2006, they’ve become a popular way for many of our readers to voice their admiration and respect for certain companies that make technologies for tax and accounting professionals. Whether it’s their tax compliance system, the small business accounting system they prefer their clients use, or asset management, research, write-up or other systems, our readers have first-hand knowledge of how these programs and technologies affect their practice, whether through streamlined workflow or enhanced client collaboration.

Each year, these Awards give our readers the opportunity to help shine a spotlight on the technologies, services and vendors they use and trust — the ones that help them succeed, and the ones they find valuable for their clients. While the voting is not scientific and can sometimes resemble a popularity contest, that’s absolutely fine with us. We believe that technologies and vendors who’ve earned a positive reputation and have users who are eager to voice their praise are probably deserving of greater recognition by the accounting profession.

If you’d like to see how your practice is doing in terms of technology and workflow, take our free online Productivity Survey at www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/productivity. Your Productivity Score offers comparisons with other firms of your size and nature, as well as those in your geographic area. It also offers advice tailored to your firm for how you can achieve greater productivity. With the end of the year in sight and busy season just a few weeks away, it might also be a good time to assess your own firm’s workflow practices and use of technology.

Nearly 4,000 readers in and around the tax and accounting profession participated in the voting this year, which was open on our website, www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com, during October and early November. Thank you to the readers of CPA Practice Advisor and NSA Practice Advisor who took the time to vote in this year’s Readers’ Choice Awards. Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season and an increasingly productive and profitable new year.

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IN-FIRM TECHNOLOGIES
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Federal/State Income Tax Compliance

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Insight: In every year that we’ve held the Readers Choice Awards, Drake Software has come out on top in a most of the categories that they compete in. For tax compliance, Drake’s all-inclusive professional system continues to hold about 10% of the overall market, but it consistently receives the most votes in this category. We attribute this to the company’s service, which customers frequently commend, as well as the ease-of-use of the program and its everything-included offering. This year, Drake received 42% of the votes, up from 40% last year. Next up was a combined 25% who cited use of Intuit’s ProSeries or Lacerte professional tax systems (individually 13% and 12%). ProSystem fx Tax and Thomson Reuters’ UltraTax round out the top five.

See our 2011 reviews of Professional Tax Compliance Systems at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10254662 and www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10254660.

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Specialty Systems & Tax Prep Tools

Insight: Some tax-related issues can’t be completed by all tax compliance systems, which has resulted in a market for specialty systems that provide specific tools for firm needs. This year’s winner, New River Innovation’s Beyond415 is new to the category, and was also a recipient of a 2011 Innovation Award (www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10279737) for its IRS response system. BNA’s Estate and Gift Tax reporting systems came in second, followed by DynaTax for its quarterly estimated tax calculators, and FT William.com for the company’s pension compliance reporting system.

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Tax Planning Systems

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Insight: Tax planning can be one of the most beneficial engagements for a 1040 client, not only giving them knowledge of what to expect come April 15, but when done early enough, it can allow for strategic action to lessen their income tax liabilities at the federal and state levels. Planning is essential for self-employed clients, as well as those with multiple business interests and capital gains exposure, yet nearly half of the professionals voting in these awards claimed not to use a dedicated tax planning system. Of those who did, Drake’s Tax Planner, which is included with the all-inclusive compliance package, was the run-away winner again this year, followed by the Intuit Lacerte Tax Planner, BNA’s Income Tax Planner, Planner CS from Thomson Reuters and CCH’s ProSystem fx Planning. Others receiving votes included PPC, TaxWorks, Tax Coach and the Sawheny Group’s ExecPlan system.

Check out our 2011 review of Tax Planning systems at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10415621.

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Tax & Accounting Research Systems

Insight: No professional could possibly know the entire tax code, and even the most savvy pros can be challenged to keep up with the frequent major changes that potentially affect clients. The key, of course, is knowing what you don’t know and having the resources to find out that information. As long as the tax code is complex, the market for tax research will always be hot and offer many options, and it was one of the first to move to a nearly exclusively web-delivered format. This year’s leaders among tax research systems were Thomson Reuters’ Checkpoint, with 20% of the vote, followed by the same vendor’s QuickFinder system, which received 13%. Next up were The Tax Book by Tax Materials, Inc., IntelliConnect from CCH, Intuit ProLine Research, PPC’s Federal Tax Compliance library and BNA’s Tax & Accounting Center.

Check out our 2011 review of Tax Research systems at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10446841.

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Estate Planning Systems

Insight: Particularly for high net worth clients, estate planning is an essential component for minimizing tax exposure during generational wealth transition. This is a smaller specialty service in the accounting profession (and only about 18% of our readers cited using such a system), but one for which there are tools and technologies that can help retain client relationships instead of referring them to a potentially competing tax attorney. This year’s top vote receivers were the ONESOURCE Trust & Estate Administration system from Thomson Reuters, receiving nearly 25% of the vote of those who cited use of an estate planning program. Following were programs from BNA, CCH, BrentMark, Financial Profiles Inc., Leimberg & LeClair, Thomson-West and ePlans, Inc.

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1099/W-2 Compliance

Insight: On its surface, most non-professionals would think that year-end reporting doesn’t seem too complicated. Print out a few W-2s or 1099s and all’s good. But payroll compliance experts know that it’s a potential minefield, with penalties for non-compliance or late reporting both to the individuals and to the IRS and SSA, as well as with the various state taxing authorities. With recent withholding tax breaks and other issues, it gets even more challenging, which is why the market for stand-alone W-2/1099 systems is booming, with dozens of offerings. AMS Inc. continues to lead this category for the fourth straight year, with its users eager to voice their support. Rounding out the top eight were EG Systems, CFS Tax Software, 1099 Express, 1099 Pro, Greatland, CCH Small Firm Services and Tenenz.

See our 2011 review of W2/1099 Compliance Programs at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10351550.

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Sales & Use Tax

Insight: Whether you call them SALT (state and local taxes) or SUT (sales and use tax), they are increasingly in the focus of state revenue agencies, who are stepping up efforts to collect and penalize small businesses who are not in compliance. This market is split between a handful of technology companies who make solutions that cover all states and integrate with a business’ financial programs to automatically find and post appropriate sales taxes to transactions, as compared to other systems that are focused more on rate lookup and forms compliance, generally for a few specific states. Of course, just about every state with a sales tax now has online submission forms, but for businesses with sales tax obligations in multiple states, a program devoted to compliance can dramatically help ease the processes and avoid penalties. State filing websites led the list this year, followed by perennial favorite eFileSalesTax.com, AvaTax, Trustfile, CFS and ONESource.

See our 2011 review of Sales & Use Tax compliance systems at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10290542.

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Sales & Use Tax Exemption Certificate Management

Insight: Not every sale is subject to sales or use tax, of course, and for businesses in specific industries and those with high sales volumes, managing exemption certificates can be a challenge. In this category, which is new this year, only about 15% of all voters had a preference or recommendation/vote for this type of product. Of those who did, Avalara’s AvaTax Certs was the runaway leader as favorite, with programs from Thomson Reuters, Vertex and Imaging Science & Services rounding out the top four.

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Write-Up

Insight: The term “write-up” may be less common these days, but the core tasks that make up that service are still as vital as ever to small businesses: Account reconciliations, GL and journal corrections and financial statement generation among them. While basic bookkeeping programs may have simple tools for performing a few of these, it’s about the same as comparing a butter knife to a surgeon’s scalpel. Professionals need professional tools to perform professional quality work, and to do so efficiently. Which means the need for specialty write-up programs is still strong. The leader in this category is once again Intuit’s QuickBooks Accountant system, which is ubiquitous in most firms because the majority of small businesses use the system. Other significant vote receivers were were PC Software Accounting’s Client Write-Up System, Certiflex Dimension from The Versatile Group and the Client Ledger System from Financial MicroSystems, Inc.

See our review of Client Write-Up packages at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10314306.

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Trial Balance

Insight: For solid business returns, many firms still consider a full trial balance a must-have. The market for this specialty software has remained fairly steady over the past few years, and as with last year, among firms citing use of a trial balance system, Thomson Reuters’ Trial Balance CS retained the top spot in our reader voting, followed by programs from CCH, CCH Small Firm Services and Pendock Mallorn.

See our review of Trial Balance & Engagement Management systems at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10296054.

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Engagement Management

Insight: Audit engagements require greater diligence in managing processes and checklists, and engagement management systems streamline these workflows while also offering enhanced managerial insight and control. Although most small firms don’t offer audit services, close to 20% of our voters did specify a preference in engagement systems, Thomson Reuters was again this year’s favorite, beating out runners up CCH and CaseWare.

See our review of Trial Balance & Engagement Management systems at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10296054.

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Audit/Engagement Tools

Insight: In addition to engagement management programs, firms who perform audits also often use specialty tools that provide specific niche functions for audit processes. These are not mutually-exclusive programs, so voters were able to select multiple systems. As with the audit engagement systems, about 20% of our voters selected a product in this category. The leaders were Thomson Reuters’ PPC SMART Audit Suite, TopCAATs from Reinvent Data, Confirmation.com from Capitol Confirmation, and CCH’s Knowledge-Based Audit tools/Knowledge Coach.
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Payroll

Insight: We’ve all heard or used the term, “American is built on small businesses,” and one of the core requirements for any type of small business is payroll. There are literally dozens of payroll options on the market, from completely outsourced client DIY systems, to completely firm-based, to hybrid versions in between that take much of the tedious work out of processing and compliance and allow collaboration between firm and client. In our annual review of payroll systems, we discuss the benefits of each of these types of systems, as well as what types of firms and clients they are best suited for. In this year’s voting, AMS once again led the field, but was more closely challenged by Intuit’s QuickBooks Payroll Enhanced for Accounting Professionals. Rounding out the top of the list were solutions from PayChex, Intuit Online Payroll, Thomson Reuters, ADP and CompuPay.

See our 2011 review of Professional Payroll Processing systems at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/ 10318407.

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Budgeting/Forecasting & Business Intelligence Tools

Insight: There are many specialty tools that tax and accounting professionals use in their firms to aid in their engagements, whether for financial reporting, cash flow management, business planning and benchmarking. While this field varies greatly, there are some technologies that some professionals really stand by. This year the voters selected Reinvent Data’s TopCAATs system first, which adds audit-focused tools to Excel. Following were the SageWorks ProfitCents financial statement system, Thomson Reuter’s Financial Analysis CS and Sage Business Intelligence.

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Business Valuation

Insight: Establishing the correct value of a business entity is essential when planning for a sale, transfer of a family business or in support of litigation. Although not a widely-practiced specialty, it’s one that some firms have found great success in, and several programs are available specifically to address business valuation functions. The Thomson Reuters PPC Business Valuation Specialist once again led the field among voters with a preferred product, with MoneySoft placing second and systems from NACVA and ValuSource tying to finish out the top four.

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Practice Management/Time & Billing Systems

Insight: Value-based pricing is catching on, but effective time management can still be an essential tool for productively managing the workflow and efficiency of your practice. Sage Timeslips led the voting in this year’s awards, just ahead of Thomson Reuters’ Practice CS. Next up were CCH’s ProSystem fx Practice Management, Office Tools Pro, ImagineTime, AccountantsWorld and TPS Software.

See our 2011 reviews of Practice Management and Time & Billing systems at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10294100 and www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10346630.

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Time Tracking & Attendance Tools

Insight: In addition, or sometimes as an alternative, to full practice management or time and billing systems, sometimes firms want a simplified time and attendance system, either for themselves or to help their clients. This was a new field last year, and has grown a bit this  year, with the QuickBooks Time Tracker add-on coming in first, followed by systems from SwipeClock, Wasp Barcode and Chrometa.

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Online Invoicing/Bill Payment Solutions

Insight: Paper-based invoicing invites trouble, whether from misplaced bills, misplaced checks or missed due dates. The new breed of online invoicing and payment options, whether used in-firm or by a small business, enable greater control and management of these processes, with a lot less work and headaches. This is a new category this year, and LessAccounting.com led in votes, followed by Bill.com, Sage Billing Boss, FreshBooks and B2Bee.

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Client Portals

Insight: Client portals have quickly become an integral component of client communication and collaboration, but they’re quickly evolving into much more. Among the latest developments, portals can integrate with the professional’s programs and also allow the firm to offer clients access to not just documents and files, but also web-based programs for bookkeeping and productivity. The leaders in votes this year

See our 2012 review of Client Portals at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10457012.

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Document Management & Document Storage

Insight: This category was the largest for this year’s Awards, with 47 products represented, ranging from simple file structure storage programs to enterprise-ready systems that can be used to manage retention, offer client collaboration utilities and have automated workflow capabilities. The top receivers of votes this year were Drake for the Drake Document Manager that’s included with their tax system, followed by eFileCabinet, Intuit’s Document Management System for Lacerte and ProSeries, the combined votes of Thomson Reuters’ FileCabinet CS and GoFileRoom, SmartVault and Office Tools Pro.

See our review of Document Management and Document Storage systems at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10271301 and www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10281536.

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Document Management Utilities

Insight: The paperless office not only requires effective document management and storage, but until we live in a totally digital world it also requires a means of transferring paper files into digital files. This isn’t only the realm of scanners, but of specialty tools that help bridge the gap. This year’s runaway winner was Fujitsu, for the ScanSnap and software that accompanies it, followed by HP and Canon for similar utilities.

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Tax Document Automation

Insight: The new movement is towards zero data entry, or as close to it as possible. And that is possible, using new tax document automation systems that electronically examine scanned documents to determine what form they are, and what the data is, then transfers the information into workpapers or a return. Although only about 10% of our voters had a preference in this category, look for it to grow in the near term. This year’s leaders were Intuit’s Tax Import for Lacerte & ProSeries, CCH’s ProSystem fx Scan and Thomson Reuters’ Source Document Processing.

Read more about Tax Document Automation at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10453832.

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Workflow Comprehensive End-to-End

Insight: The definition and reality of what workflow actually is varies at every firm, but in the big picture it’s almost everything, from how client documents come in and invoices go out, to how review processes work and engagements are managed. There are two approaches to the concept of workflow, one at that larger level and also at a specialty tool level. For the higher end, this year’s top vote receivers were Office Tools Pro,Thomson Reuters, CCH and XCM Solutions.

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Other Workflow Tools

Insight: There are also tools for aiding workflow for specific tasks and engagements. This year’s leaders in this category were Drake, eFileCabinet, Intuit, Thomson Reuters and Office Tools Pro.

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Website Builders for Accounting Firms

Insight: Every business needs a website and fortunately, there are a lot of options for quickly using templates and other technologies to get up and running with a professional-looking one. For accounting firms, there are even several vendors that make website building kits that just about anybody can use, no web development skills necessary, and the result can be great content for your clients and visitors. Since Drake gives a free basic website to all of the firms that use their tax package, it’s no surprise that their users heartily voted them in the number one space again this year, followed by CPASiteSolutions, Intuit Websites, CCH’s Site Builder and Thomson Reuters’ Web Builder CS.

Read more about Website Building Tools for Tax & Accounting Firms at: www.CPAPracticeAdvisor.com/10352695.

 

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CLIENT SIDE ACCOUNTING SYSTEMS

Insight: Small businesses rely on their public accountants for more than just bookkeeping, write-up, payroll and tax services, they also turn to them for many of their other business concerns, whether it’s managing growth, helping trim waste, planning for expansion and many other areas. In fact, when it comes to the selection of what bookkeeping system they should use, they listen to their accountant as experts in financial solutions.

Whether or not all firms exercise their influence by guiding clients to certain programs, the applications they use have a direct impact on the firm, since the professional must work with their data and often with the program itself. This is one of the reasons QuickBooks continues to dominate the small business accounting space. Whether individual accountants think the program is great, good enough or not their favorite is often not as important to firm workflow as getting most or all clients onto the same system: It eases training, data transfer, accountant access and other matters.

As in every year that we’ve held the Readers Choice Awards, QuickBooks was once again the voters’ favorite in the categories for small business accounting, construction/contractor accounting, mid-range accounting, retail/POS and not-for-profit, with programs from Sage Software coming in second many of those categories. Intuit also led in the fixed asset category, with Thomson Reuters’ Fixed Assets CS coming in second and Sage’s FAS in third. LessAccounting.com emerged as a new number three in the small business accounting category, as did Wasp Barcode Technologies, which placed second in the retail/POS accounting group.

For the group of programs designed as add-ons to QuickBooks to help small businesses transition to a paperless office themselves, Bill.com’s online payables and receivables system received the most votes, followed by SmartVault. (Click for larger images.)

   
 
 

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GENERAL BUSINESS TECHNOLOGIES

ASP/Hosted Solution Providers

Insight: As more and more firms and businesses realize the benefits of the cloud (anywhere/anytime access, less IT requirements, easy to ramp up or down), many are turning to Application Service Providers (ASP), who can take most software programs that are usually installed on a PC or network, and put them on a remote server that allows users to access it just like a web-based program, even if the program isn’t available in web format. In short, it lets businesses take everything to the cloud. Although ASPs have been around for more than a decade, they’ve taken off in the accounting space recently, and so this category is new for this year. The leading vote receivers were Cloud9RealTime, Right Networks, Real Time Data Services and CPAASP/InsynQ.

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Outsourced Technology Services

Insight: Whether for your firm or for a client, sometimes specialized skills are necessary, but they may not make sense to permanently add to your staff or firm. The same goes for your technology, and that’s where outsourced business technology services can give a helping hand. Not outsourcing out of the country, just finding a technology provider who can do your occasionally-needed tasks more efficiently. The leaders in this category this year are eFax, Right Networks, Postini, CPAASP/InsynQ and CPA2Biz Email Solutions.

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Laptop and Desktop Computers

Insight: Here’s a simple one: What brand of computer do our readers prefer? Dell continues to lead the pack, with HP, Toshiba, Apple and Compaq following.

 

 

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Smart Phone

Insight: The early years of the smartphone were dominated by Blackberry. Then came the iPhone and everything changed, but that didn’t mean Apple would own the top of the mountain forever. The Android platform soon became a serious challenger, with multiple phone manufacturers and carriers offering various devices. Blackberry is still a player, of course, and so is Microsoft and Palm. The biggest change in this year’s results are right at the top: A year ago, Blackberry was ahead of the pack at 38% and 10% ahead of its nearest competitor. This year, the iPhone and Android are fighting it out at the summit, with Blackberry coming in third.

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Tablet Computers/Devices

Insight: Just as the iPhone revolutionized smartphones, the iPad ushered in a new era in personal computing devices, merging the functions of a smartphone with the power of a laptop. Following the iPad, which has a significant lead in this new category, several other tablet developers have arrived on the market, with the Kindle quickly charging into second place, followed by models from Samsung, Motorola and Sony. About 50% of our voters cited a preference.

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Printers & Scanners

Insight: In most cases, the paperless office is not completely paperless, so what favorite brands of printers are our readers most loyal to? The top remains the same this year, as HP continues to lead and is followed by Brother, Canon and Fujitsu.

 

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Office Supply Store

Insight: Sometimes we shop for office supplies online, but sometimes we still prefer a local store. As with last year, our readers’ favorite office supply store is Staples, followed by Office Depot and Office Max.

 

 

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OUT-OF-OFFICE

Favorite Form of Physical Exercise

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Insight: With all of the new mobile gadgets and devices, some accountants are learning what daylight is again, emerging from their offices and finding sports, recreation, hobbies and other entertainment they’d forgotten existed. Well, when it’s not tax season anyways. Here’s our readers top 5 list of favorite forms of exercise.

 

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NEW TECHNOLOGIES:

Do you use smartphone or tablet apps designed specifically for tax and accounting professionals? How “remote” are you? How many hours per week do you work on client engagements or firm business while away from the office (at a client, at home or anywhere else)?

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Even in tough economic times, and perhaps even moreso, technology continues to advance and offer us more ways to get more done in less time. From advances to personal technologies to specific professional programs, keeping up with technology is imperative to keeping up with your clients. If you aren’t the firm of tomorrow, you’ll quickly be the firm of yesterday.

Thanks again to the nearly 4,000 voters who shaped the Readers Choice Awards this year. Let us know if there are any additional programs or technologies you think would be a fit for the awards.

Have a great new year and remember to take the Productivity Survey at www.CPATechAdvisor.com/productivity.

 

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