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Thomson Creative Solutions — Practice CS 2006

the Oct. 2006 Review of Practice Management Systems

CS, Version 2006.1.0 from Creative Solutions marks the second edition of its
new environment and one component of a very large suite of integrated accounting
and client service products. This product can easily be implemented for a small
firm, but medium to large firms (upwards of 30 to 100 timekeepers) will make
greater use of the suite approach and capabilities.

Ease of Use/Flexibility — 5 Stars
Installation was smooth, and the program immediately recognized my Outlook profile.
There were no difficulties in getting started, though for workstation installation
it is best to not have other instances of MSDE running. Software developers
are known for using “eye candy” to cover up missing components or
help the user forget their frustrations with particular aspects of the package.
In the case of Practice CS, the colorful interface is just a bonus to the experience.
Taking design cues from Outlook, Practice CS makes use of dock-windows with
menus sorted into three categories: firm, staff and clients.

A particularly appreciated factor is the “Setup” menu category,
included both as a top-level dropdown and as a component of the three dock-windows.
All of the necessary steps for setup are found here, and can be entered or reviewed
at a later date. User Preferences and System Settings are a part of the setup
process, as are template design, custom fields, creating and maintaining groups,
and the requisite employee and client setup. Other vendors take note: Using
a setup menu is far easier to navigate than a setup window that includes 20
tabs and no way out until all information is entered.

Because this product is marketed to growing firms, it is important to note
that the importing of data is not an intuitive process, though it appears that
CS is working to improve this. For the purposes of testing, a small firm was
set up and running in about an hour, complete with staff in/out status being
posted. However, data entry could be a hurdle for larger firms, especially for
those with a large number of in-progress engagements. Practice CS, as mentioned
above, makes use of a SQL environment. Many custom options like description
fields take an open-sized table approach rather than having to fill out a form
that lists out options one to 40, or worse yet options one to four for a list
that has seven entries. Templates can be created for engagements and projects.
For anyone making templates, make sure your firm’s information is complete
before starting. The design process is much smoother, and there will be a smaller
likelihood of introducing problems at the template level.

There are a number of ways to set up activity codes, projects and groupings,
which makes Practice CS highly versatile for all firm sizes. The only difficulty
smaller firms may run into is the high level of customizability — to retrieve
information and to manage the accuracy of input can require a large amount of

Scalability/Stability — 5 Stars
No stability issues were noted with the Outlook integration feature, nor were
any noticed with the setup. The testing used for this review was not enough
to tell how large of a data set can be efficiently processed by the software,
though using a SQL database does help to ensure that very large record sets
can be maintained. As Practice CS is part of a suite, the expectancy is that
large firms’ client engagements can still be handled. Larger firms should
consider the suite approach early on. This can often help to efficiently keep
information organized. Luckily, small firms can rely upon just the core functionality
of Practice CS at first, though it would be wise to use the basics of engagements
and projects early on. Extensive tasks and budgets are not a requirement and
can be configured at a more convenient time.

Productivity Tools/Features — 4.5 Stars
Companies working toward a paperless office will appreciate the dashboard functionality.
Here, users can quickly find information regarding clients, staff, and time
and billing. This provides current information in an easy-to-access format,
which helps free up administrative time and encourages managers to actively
monitor clients and engagements. For busier offices, employee scheduling is
available, and the added Outlook integration can be useful for tying engagements and projects together with Tasks, E-mail, and Notes stored
in Outlook. Other useful features specific to projects include the ability to
set up recurring tasks, an individual-responsibility system for tasks and their
associated budgets, and the option to set application links for fast access
to programs related to a task.

Reporting — 4.5 Stars
Practice CS includes standard reports categorized as listing reports, production
reports, billing reports, collection reports and reconciliation reports. While
there are only 30 standard reporting templates provided, each one is infinitely
customizable, which greatly extends the reporting capabilities of the program.
Unique report templates can then be saved, allowing users to build a library
of reports that best meets the firm’s needs. Printing of reports allows
for exporting to several formats including *.PDF, Microsoft Excel and text,
as well as to e-mail and FileCabinet CS, which is useful for those firms that
are integrating the company’s document management solution. On a productivity
note, several export methods can be chosen simultaneously. Previewed reports
contain drilldown capabilities and tie back to the data set for quick and easy

Support/Help/Updates — 5 Stars
Still in its infancy, Practice CS receives regular attention from Creative Solutions.
As a core feature of the CS suite, it will continue to be maintained and have
new features added. Thomson is known for being an attentive vendor, and continued
user feedback is sure to add new features on an annual basis. Deborah Mahoney’s
five-employee CPA firm recently adopted Practice CS. She states that “the
few minor problems have been solved by contacting Tech Support — they
have been so great to work with, and are just a phone call away.” The
online support system is quite extensive, including seminars, a user forum,
and a knowledgebase, all of which cover the complete suite of CS products.

Integration — 4.5 Stars
As mentioned earlier, integration with the CS Suite and Outlook is an important
component of the product. You’ll have to rely on tools that can synchronize
Outlook with your Palm or Pocket PC, as Practice CS has no native tools for
linking to portable devices. Paul Hayden of Hayden CPA, a firm with about 300
clients, finds that “the most beneficial aspect of the program is the
integration with the other CS products. Integration and sharing of data with
CS products like tax and accounting” drove his firm to select Creative

Relative Value — 5 Stars
At a price of $2,200 for 10 networked timekeepers and an annual renewal fee
of $450, this product is well priced and has excellent value for firms with
fewer than 100 employees. :::::

2006 Overall Rating: 5 Stars