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2007 Review of Practice Management Systems

Having done this review for the past three years, it’s amazing to see the changes that have occurred. Products have already come and gone, vendors have exchanged products, and the web-based model is quickly transforming the expectations that mobile users and regional firms have.

From the October 2007 Issue

Having done this review for the past three years, it’s amazing to see
the changes that have occurred. Products have already come and gone, vendors
have exchanged products, and the web-based model is quickly transforming the
expectations that mobile users and regional firms have. Last year, this review
focused on the ease with which our 10-timekeeper firm could set up an installation,
enter basic data and begin using each product (see the 2006 Practice Management
review at

This year, the emphasis tends toward the user: what’s missing, what
would be nice to see and what could be done better. Over the last two years,
assurances were made from software developers that big changes were coming,
and we’re beginning to see such changes. Two of the products are thin
applications (one hosted), and have growing user bases, and one desktop application
now has Vista support with tools built especially for it. Developers are going
to have to meet some new expectations from firms, too, both in the areas of
technology and in tools. Every firm must ask itself, “Which product fits
my needs?” But many firms are re-evaluating their internal needs. Like
what, you ask?

Well, two years ago, I would not have given much thought to implementing any
Apple hardware. Tonight, I’m planning on buying two desktops and one laptop.
MPAN agreements from Microsoft, specially designed for accountants and accounting
service providers, are a great way to get software, much of which may supplement
the management tools found in practice management applications at a nearly free
price. Thin clients and terminal services give access to data from home and
branch offices, and alleviate significant administration at the workstation
level for desktop applications. Lastly, the value of time seems to be increasing
more rapidly. For me, it was having the stork deliver twins to my door right
as I began to write these reviews.

This means that new tools must be easy to master, remain engaging, and provide
the information that is necessary for us to do our job, support decision-making
processes, and not require significant daily supervision. Clients have expectations:
Their information needs to be secure, and it should be easily accessible when
they want it. This unfortunate paradox means that accountants must review the
security roles in use, be able to anticipate their clients’ needs, and
have well designed and implemented policies.

While no application would fulfill those demands perfectly, several applications
include new security functions, particularly integration to Active Directory,
roles assignments and multiple administrator levels. Interfaces are seeing marked
improvement, and web-based applications no longer have cumbersome updates and
refresh lags. Features to track proposals and win/loss rates are becoming popular.

Now would be an excellent opportunity to do a corporate scorecard and see
how well you meet your clients’ needs and recognize any shifts that may
have occurred internally. Any application can tell you that a rainy day could
be coming, but it’s more important to understand the cause.

All of these products were reviewed last year, and every application has seen
improvements, from database engines supported and easier installations to new
project management tools, new export capabilities, and new modules or add-ons.
More importantly, the applications now represent a changing focus seen across
the business world. The visible difference between the applications is their
adoption of newer programming and development standards and database vehicles,
which drives the speed and security of the application.

Fundamentally, however, firms should not focus on the question of how fast
or how much data can be shown. Rather, they should focus on how secure the data
is, how much control the system administrator really has, and how well it can
adopt or adapt to the processes of a package. While the reviews did not directly
score against such a rubric, firms should also consider this to be a necessary
part of the analysis to identify the applications that best fit their needs.

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CaseWare International, Inc. – CaseWare Time and Today 2007
CaseWare Time and Today 2007 is an extensive workflow
management package that can be easily implemented by small and midsize
firms while providing enterprise-like tools for office productivity and
firm administration.
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
– ProSystem fx Practice Management, Office Edition
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.

Commercial Logic, Inc. – Practice
Commercial Logic, Inc. is an approved U.S. distrubutor
of Practice Engine, a product of The Practice Engine Group Ltd. Practice
Engine Version 7.0 is a web-enabled, thin client software package that
provides a comprehensive toolkit well suited for both large and small
North 40 Systems – Office Tools
Office Tools Pro 2007 provides a full range of management
tools, well fitted to the under-40 employee accounting and law firm. Improvements
for 2007 were made to document and project management…
Thomson Tax & Accounting – Practice
Practice CS, a component of the CS Professional
Suite, offers midsize firms a collaborative, real-time approach to practice
management. Boutique accounting firms will be rewarded with the easy interface
and appropriate client management tools.