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North 40 Systems — Office Tools Pro

From the Oct. 2007 Review of Practice
Management Systems

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, complementing the straightforward tools
in time and billing, contact management, calendaring and action alerts. Users
will find this package to be feature-rich, well supported and affordably priced.

Ease of Use/Flexibility – 4.5 Stars
Office Tools Pro is an excellent package for firms where staff training time
is limited. The 2006 review referenced much of the installation process, which
has gone relatively unchanged. Installation provides a comprehensive introductory
slideshow that highlights features to try and methods for setup. A System Utility
package is provided that can assist with database maintenance, backups and data
imports, which includes contact migration from Outlook. Administrators can set
up “staff” (users), which includes rates, history, professional
reviews and default work codes. Staff can also be set up as users with rights
to add/modify/delete in the different tools. In the next release, it would be
nice to have the password in something other than plain text.

Users may find a few limitations during setup, including the three-character
limitation to work codes and a five-character initial limitation to GL codes.
However, code entry and duplication is relatively easy. It’s worth noting
that the application size cannot be changed, and the use of 10-point font and
smaller is very common. There is an advantage to this, though: If you use dual
monitors, the size of the application allows for it to easily be used while
reviewing multiple reports. Using dual WXGA+ (1440×900) monitors, it’s
comfortable to view two reports and the main application simultaneously.

Time-entry is provided from timesheets, which allows for either direct time
entry (start/end) or quantity of hours. Users can also customize whether they
wish time cards to be generated based on appointments, tracked calls, to-dos,
document reviews or status updates. A handy timekeeping tool is the Billing
Hours recap, which provides a daily summary of hours for the period. Options
are provided for auto updating of data on forms and control over data that can
be entered on a timesheet. Firms will find that they can adapt a number of common
billing processes to the flows available within the program. Time does need
to follow some form of approval process, and billing administrators will appreciate
the easy adjustment of hours or straight dollar figures by time card. Invoicing
from available time can be done quickly, and the final printed bill can be customized
for content or output to Word for further editing. The Word output copy is extremely

Given that the product uses MS Access for its primary database, there are
some limitations to table and file size. Firms that use the program’s
full functionality will want to monitor the database size and perform database
maintenance regularly to ensure the best performance.

Scalability/Stability – 4 Stars
Office Tools Pro is not intended for large firms but will work excellently for
small and midsize firms that are looking to integrate and consolidate their
business processes related to practice management. In particular, those firms
with no in-house IT and no desire to support full server-grade products that
require SQL Server or Exchange may be an exact fit for this package. The software
continues to be stable, and updates from the website are easy to obtain, quick
to install and don’t disturb the data. Given the product’s cafeteria
approach of “use what you want, but everything is available,” firms
can feel comfortable in slow adoption (though diving right in and trying everything
out is half the fun). Organizations that grow into larger user groups (40+ users)
would need to find an enterprise solution, as there is a potential of outgrowing
the system. Also, as new tools are developed and adopted by users, database
growth will expectedly rise faster than initially anticipated. Office Tools
Pro continues to emphasize its commitment to providing for the future needs
of its users, which includes a planned SQL version and upgrade path.

Productivity Tools/Features – 5 Stars
Having a consolidated package that requires low management can be a significant
advantage, especially for practitioners who don’t have a large administrative
staff to rely upon. Timekeeping can be done remotely, though this appears to
just be installations of the software that are offsite (and presently there
is no web edition). Scheduling and alerting are strong components of the software,
making sure that every minute is billable and every noted client need is satisfied.
An excellent appointment tool is available, complete with filtering, color coding,
status tracking and location tracking. Views are available for what’s
happening by location, staff schedules and color-coded meeting types.

Document management allows for the cataloging of existing data stores, a drop
box for automatic addition of files, and attaching documents to projects with
category attributes. Multiple features have been added for project management,
including graphical summaries of hours, cost and fees. Ready access to project
details regarding staffing, time submissions and project “sessions”
is also provided. Sessions are project-related appointments. Entries are complete
with staff and clients who attended, work matters discussed, work codes, and
a method to convert time recorded into billable time.

Reporting – 3.5 Stars
Interfaces are provided for on-demand reporting, particularly for areas that
would relate to client questions (project status and schedules). The report
section itself is broken down by type, providing separate windows for selection
and criteria entry. There’s rarely any guessing involved per report function
or filtering, as the interface masks out options that are unavailable. The only
complaint about reports is there is no period selection option; all dates must
be keyed in or picked from the calendar. Fully customized (user-built) reports
are not an option. More than 50 reports are available, 20 with an emphasis on

Support/Help/Updates – 4.5 Stars
North 40 Systems provides a range of technology services, paying significant
attention to Office Tools Pro. Its website regularly receives updates with 10
task-specific user guides publicly available, as well as application updates,
though the knowledgebase has only seen one new entry since 2005. The online
support form works (it was tested!), with prompt follow-through. Support hours
are standard Monday to Friday, 8:00-5:00 Pacific Time.

Integration – 4.5 Stars
Users have access to Palm Pilot contact updating and manual synchronization
from Outlook. Newer integration features include QuickBooks integration and
what appears to be a forthcoming tool to integrate with a web portal (our installation
didn’t allow for the setup, but had information regarding import/export
to a web portal). The vendor also offers integration with Dymo Label printer,
LaserApp for investment reps, Google desktop for document search, and MapQuest
for address and directions. As well, MS Word templates are used to create new
files from within Office Tools Pro. Documents referenced under document management
can be launched directly from the listing into their native application or sent
via e-mail from the user’s instance of Outlook.

Relative Value – 4.5 Stars
New and smaller firms should consider Office Tools Pro. It’s easy to maintain,
rich in tools, and strong on upgrades and support. Licensing is $550 for the
first user and $175 per additional user. A 10-user office suite (all modules,
training guides, support and one year of upgrades) can be purchased for $2,000;
annual renewals are 35 percent of the current license price.

2007 Overall Rating: 4.5 Stars