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2009 Review of Tax & Accounting Research Systems

Interpretation is Key to Tax Research

From the Dec. 2009 Issue

Familiar brand names and interfaces for federal and state tax research have
been appearing in new contexts for some time, and this year is no exception.
What is important to understand is that the shuffling and combining of content
has not affected its underlying quality and breadth. While the presentation
of this content, along with new methods for searching and new tools for using
the results are improving, the core principles are the same. It is always tough
to move out of our comfort zone, but that is the way of the world. And with
adaptation comes the opportunity for productivity improvements for the tax practitioner.

Ease of use and search routine have an important effect on the learning curve,
efficiency and productivity in day-to-day use of a tax research product. All
of the products reviewed here are intuitive to use, with a rational page layouts
and workflow. More complex page presentations might take a while to get used
to, but they also have the potential to deliver easier navigation. All have
unique methods of accessing and presenting content that, except for editorial
content, is largely identical.

The content available falls into categories of publicly available documents
from taxing authorities and courts, which forms the core of the tax research
product. The value-added proposition comes with editorial analysis and commentary,
done by experts on the thousands of sometimes arcane topics that may only appear
rarely in real life, but which is also the special competency expected by taxpayers
with special situations. This is the main variable between the various offerings
reviewed here, and there is considerable overlap in the editorial content, with
some products offering just their own in-house generated commentary, and others
combining content from more than one source. Since all the content is delivered
online, updates are available to the user as soon as the content is generated.
Daily and weekly discussions in newsletter format are provided in some cases.

The growth in cross-border business activity inevitably leads to consideration
of the tax implications for the jurisdictions involved, and some products have
added content, such as the text of treaties and third-party analysis of this
complex area. Just browsing through the topics will be an enlightening experience,
which may spark ideas for new practice areas for the firm. Along this line,
some of the services generate draft client letters on hundreds of topics that
the user can incorporate into marketing campaigns.

Customization of the homepage layout varies, from little to almost total control.
The choice of subscription level determines the look of the content menu and
how searches are filtered to include categories of documents. There is at least
a choice of how result sets are sorted for listing, with more elaborate systems
giving the user ongoing control of tabs, restrictions to subsets of content,
font size and more.

Although all the products are well designed and intuitive to use, the user,
particularly at first, may be puzzled about navigation or how to form complex
queries. The tax research products reviewed here all have Help screens that
are just a click away with toll-free support as a backup. The most ambitious
feature allows the user to post a question inside a chat window, with responses
from other users who happen to be online at the same time. However, anyone with
familiarity with web-based searching, combined with an understanding of the
various sources for original documents will feel right at home.

Whatever the needs of the tax practitioner, tax research products are available
to fit any type of practice, from the simplest to the most complex. Online tax
research is a powerful tool, but it will never replace the experienced and creative
professional who can interpret all the results in light of a particular real-life
client situation.

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BNA Tax and Accounting – BNA
Tax and Accounting Center
BNA is a well-known and respected provider of research
focused on all tax-related matters. The company has a long history of
delivering relevant content and coverage of a wide variety of topics through
numerous channels, including supplying content through some of the other tax research products
reviewed here.
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
– IntelliConnect
IntelliConnect is the newest research offering from
CCH, and is the successor to the Tax Research NetWork. It combines content
on legal, tax, accounting and business topics, but this review will focus
on tax research.

Intuit – ProLine Tax Research,
powered by BNA
Intuit has enriched the Lacerte and ProSeries tax
preparation products by launching ProLine Tax Research this year, which
includes the analysis and content library of BNA.
Tax Analysts – The Federal Research
Tax Analysts provides a variety of information resources
on tax issues for tax and accounting professionals, including daily, weekly,
monthly and quarterly publications that focus on news and analysis of
tax policies, regulation and legislation.
The Tax & Accounting Business
of Thomson Reuters – Checkpoint
The Checkpoint product is a research platform covering
a wide range of tax and accounting topics. Tax research is just one of
many subject matters addressed in Checkpoint, and that will be the focus
of this review.

— Related Articles —
Additional Tools For Comprehensive
Tax and accounting professionals have information
needs that span many different categories, from income taxation for individuals
and business entities at the federal level and each of the states, along
with international taxation issues, plus the need for detailed guidance
on GAAP, IFRS and other accounting standards. The information can be so
broad and originates from so many government entities, courts, standards
boards and professional associations that, even though the Internet has
made research much simpler for professionals to find the information they
need, it can still be overwhelming.
Free Information & Research Sites
Provide Basics & Community-Based Peer Assistance
As tax and accounting professionals have become more
and more confident and comfortable with both utilizing resources and providing
services over the Internet, they have begun to unlock the wealth of benefits
therein. The rising interest in SaaS and cloud computing is just one piece
of evidence supporting this shift.

2009 Review of Tax & Accounting Research Systems— Comparison Chart

Michael Roselius,CPA is a technology project manager specializing in accounting
and Contact Management software installation and integration. He has authored
a corporate policy and procedure manual for SOX compliance for a public company,
user documentation for application software, and has contributed numerous software
reviews to this publication. He has over 25 years experience in the business
world, supporting a great number of software applications.

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