Technology is at the core of professional accounting firms, and for more than 25 years, this publication has covered the evolution of not on the technology, but also the dramatic changes in workflow processes and productivity.
In this, the 11th annual edition of the Readers Choice Awards, we invited our readers across the country to help us spotlight the programs they most respect and trust to help them run their practices and provide services to clients. From online systems for virtually all tax and accounting functions, to tax document automation and workflow management processes, as well as tools for client collaboration, mobile productivity and the office hardware they use.
We believe the Readers Choice Awards help accounting firms by giving them a way to share, professional-to-professional, what they believe are the most beneficial systems. After all, professionals need to stay aware of technologies and best workflow practices in order to stay competitive in the constantly-evolving tax and public accounting space.
Now, on to the results! And a hearty “thank you” to the more than 5,000 readers who participated this year.
Info about how our users took the survey
- 86% on desktop/laptop
- 8% on smartphones
- 6% on tablets
Federal/State Income Tax Preparation
Insight: With about 92 percent of our Readers Choice voters using professional tax preparation software, the tax question is always the most anticipated. For 2015, the most popular systems were:
WINNER: Drake Software
- Intuit ProSeries
- Thomson Reuters UltraTax
- Intuit Lacerte
- CCH ProSystem fx
- CCH SFS ATX/TaxWise
Specialty Systems & Tax Prep Tools
Insight: For some professionals, standard income tax preparation systems don’t have everything they need. This is often the case for those with specialties that include state and local taxation, estate and gift tax reporting, and other niches. Nearly 30 percent of the voters in this year’s awards selected a preference among specialty tax tools. The top vote-getters:
- Bloomberg BNA 709 & 706 Preparer
Tax Planning Systems
Insight: Tax planning engagements have been on the increase, especially with the Affordable Care Act and other recent tax code changes that have taxpayers seeking answers and looking for proactive ways to lessen or at least optimize their tax obligations. They can also help strengthen relationships between a professional and his or her clients. Most tax preparation systems include basic planning capabilities, but for professionals seeking advanced functions that can generate hundreds of scenarios for many years in the future, there are specialty systems designed to optimize this experience. Among the more than 60 percent of voters who selected a product in this category, the most popular systems this year were:
WINNER: Drake Tax Planner
- Intuit Lacerte Tax Planner
- Thomson Reuters Planner CS
Tax & Accounting Research Systems
Insight: The ACA/ObamaCare required new forms and a lot of patience in dealing with clients who had seemingly unlimited questions for their tax professionals this year. Fortunately, professional tax research systems were ready with insight, analysis and answers. While some of these systems integrate directly with preparation systems, others are stand-alone models. About 90 percent of voters selected a preference in this category, with the top votes going to:
- Thomson Reuters Checkpoint
- CCH Accounting Research Manager
Insight: Getting dozens, hundreds or thousands of W-2s and 1099s ready within a few weeks at the end of the year is far too challenging for business owners, so they turn, of course, to their tax pro or accountant. In turn, the firm is challenged with producing the forms and getting them mailed to recipients, the IRS, SSA and state taxing jurisdictions across the nation. Fortunately, many programs on the market help to automate these processes, providing tools for streamlining workflow. Although many use state agency websites for direct reporting, about 55 percent of this year’s voters selected a preference.
WINNER: AMS Software 1099-Etc
- CCH SFS ATX and TaxWise Payroll Compliance Reporting
- Tenenz Laser Link or TFP
Sales & Use Tax
Insight: State and local taxes can be not only a chore, but also a potentially expensive exercise for those not ready to handle the myriad differences in laws and reporting rules for the more than 8,000 taxing jurisdictions across the country. For the smallest businesses (one location or no location) with the simplest tax rules, it’s not so difficult, but it’s surprising how fast a few online or telephone-based sales can snowball into wide-reaching nexus for the business. About 40 percent of our voters selected a preference in this category, with the leaders being:
WINNER: Thomson Reuters ONESource
- CFS Tax Software
- Avalara AvaTax or TrustFile
Sales & Use Tax Exemption Certificate Management
Insight: Businesses that sell for resell or to organizations that are tax exempt have additional reporting and management needs. While these programs are certainly more of a niche, about 10 percent of our voters have clients for whom these systems are vital.
WINNER: Thomson Reuters ONESource Exemption Certificate Mgmt.
- Avalara AvaTax Certs
- Vertex Inc. Exemption Certificate Manager
- ISS Line Link
Insight: Write-up is undergoing a major evolution as more and more firms encourage their business clients to move to cloud-based accounting systems that let them more easily access data and information in real-time. But traditional write-up is still a necessary service for some. The most popular among this year’s voters:
WINNER: Intuit QuickBooks Accountant
- UBCC Real-Time Accounting
- Drake Client Write-Up
- PC Software Accounting Inc.
Audit Engagement Tools
Insight: Firms providing audit and attestation services need to closely manage processes and checklists. Engagement management systems are designed to streamline these functions, increase productivity, strengthen managerial oversight, and enforce controls. Of the approximately 10 percent of voters who had a preference in this category, the top vote-getters were:
WINNER: Thomson Reuters PPC SMART Audit Suite
- CCH Knowledge-Based Audit Tools/Knowledge Coach
- Capital Confirmation
Insight: Many professional tax and accounting firms have taken back the payroll relationships with their clients, and are reaping the rewards as the latest generation of payroll systems are designed to automate virtually all of the recurring tasks and reporting functions necessary with payroll services, and they are designed to manage multiple clients. Add to this the additional benefits of the cloud, and professionals can manage these payroll processing functions from anywhere at any time, while also offering online portal access to their clients and their clients employees. The most popular programs this year were:
- QuickBooks Payroll Enhanced and Online Payroll
- AMS 1099-Etc A-T-F Payroll
- ADP RUN Powered by ADP Payroll for Accountants
Insight: Valuation services are especially important when planning on sales, generational business transfers or other transitions, and sometimes when a client is involved in litigation. While this is another smaller specialty service offered by a smaller set of professionals (about 10 percent of our voters had a preference), it is one that still requires advanced systems to help manage all the potential variables.
WINNER: Thomson Reuters PPC Business Valuation Specialist
- ValuSource Express Business Valuation
- NACVA Business Valuation Manager Pro
- MoneySoft DealSense Plus+ & Corp. Valuation Professional
Practice Management/Time & Billing Systems
Insight: While many firms are transitioning to value pricing, many still either bill by the hour or at least track productivity and other efficiency using hourly-based methods. Practice management and time and billing systems do more than just count hours for invoicing, they also help firms manage many areas of projects and client collaboration, with increasingly mobile time, expense and document tracking functions.
WINNER: Thomson Reuters Practice CS
- CCH ProSystem fx Practice Management
- Sage TimeSlips
- Office Tools Professional
Online Invoicing/Bill Payment Solutions
Insight: As more and more small businesses and accounting firms move to the cloud, both are looking for ways to speed up invoicing functions, particularly the time it takes to receive those receivables, but also helping to ensure accurate tracking and payment of vendors. Receiving the most votes for 2015:
- Intuit Payments
Insight: Communicating with clients is essential, and being able to collaborate them on at least the simplest activities can greatly streamline workflow. Client portals allow sharing of files, as well as many automation tools that can help move data to where it’s needed. The following systems received the most votes in this year’s voting:
WINNER: eFileCabinet Secure Drawer
- Thomson Reuters NetClient CS Portals
- Citrix ShareFile
Document Management & Document Storage
Insight: This category was once again the largest in this year’s Readers Choice Awards voting. While some are simple file folder programs that resemble Windows Explorer, others are much more advanced, providing organizations of any size with options for managing document retention, client collaboration functions and automated workflow.
WINNER: Drake Document Manager
- Thomson Reuters FileCabinet CS/GoFileRoom
- Intuit ProSeries & Lacerte DMS
Document Management Utilities
Insight: Other tools can also help with tasks related to documents and workflow. These can include hardware, specifically scanners, as well as other technologies. Once again this year, Fujitsu reigned over the voting in this category, followed by HP, Canon and the Tic-Tie-Calculate program.
- cPaperless Tic-Tie-Calculate
Tax Document Automation
Insight: One day, all client tax documents will be digital from the time they are created until they are imported into their taxes, until then, tax doc automation systems help not only create and manage digital client workpapers, but also can directly integrate with tax preparation systems to import and verify data, greatly streamlining preparation processes. The most popular systems this year:
WINNER: Intuit Tax Import for Lacerte & ProSeries
- GruntWorx Populate
- Thomson Reuters Source Document Processing
- CCH ProSystem fx Scan
- SurePrep 1040Scan Pro, 1040Scan Organize
- CCH Small Firm Services ATX & TaxWise PaperlessPLUS
Workflow Management Systems
Insight: Different firms have different needs when it comes to internal processes. Some may help the firm achieve greater productivity, but others can be detrimental, depending on how the firm uses the tools as well as the needs of their clients. Workflow management is divided into two groups: Workflow for Large Practices and Other Workflow Tools, which are designed for aiding in specific tasks and engagements and for smaller firms.
Workflow for Large Practices
WINNER: Office Tools Professional Practice Management
- Thomson Reuters FirmFlow
- XCM Workflow
- CCH Axcess Workflow
Other Workflow Tools:
- Thomson Reuters GoFileRoom/Practice CS
- Intuit Tax Import for Lacerte and ProSeries
Website Builders & Services for Accounting Firms
Insight: Professional accounting firms need websites, not just Facebook, Twitter or other social media presences. Find a solution, find the people on your staff who enjoy using it, and start providing your website visitors (potential clients) with useful information. It doesn’t have to be expensive, since there are many systems out there that provide valuable content and collaboration tools. This year’s most popular systems:
WINNER: Drake 1040.com Preparer Sites
- CPASite Solutions
- Thomson Reuters
- CCH ProSystem fx SiteBuilder
CLIENT SIDE ACCOUNTING SYSTEMS
Insight: Increasingly, accounting firms are directing clients toward online accounting systems, which also often means relying less on a single vendor all functions, but instead finding what they consider the best integratable options for bookkeeping, inventory, payables and other functions. Below are the top vote-getters in each category.
Small Business Accounting – Installed Programs
WINNER: Red Wing Software CenterPoint Accounting
- Intuit QuickBooks Desktop (all versions)
- Sage One, Sage 50 or Sage ERP
- RealEasyBooks ezREB
- PC Software Accounting Inc.
Small Business Accounting – Web-Based
WINNER: Intuit QuickBooks Online/Online Accountant
- Thomson Reuters Client CS
WINNER: Intuit QuickBooks Point-of-Sale
- Cougar Mountain Denali Retail POS
- AccuPOS Retail POS
WINNER: Serenic Navigator
- Fund E-Z Accounting Software
- Intuit QuickBooks Premier: Nonprofit Edition
Fixed Asset Management
WINNER: Intuit ProSeries Fixed Asset Manager
- Thomson Reuters Fixed Assets CS
- Sage FAS Asset Accounting
GENERAL BUSINESS TECHNOLOGIES
ASP/Hosted Solution Providers
Insight: Most traditionally-installed software programs can be turned into a web-based system by having it hosted by an Application Service Provider (ASP). This lets users continue to work in the program they are used to, while also relieving them of the headaches of IT functions and program updates and, more importantly, giving them anywhere, anytime access to the program. The below companies help users host the programs, with this year’s top votes going to:
WINNER: Cloud9 Real Time
- Right Networks
Outsourced Technology Services
Insight: Just as some firms partner with a local legal or investment practice for certain areas of client work many also use vendors that specialize in handling certain technology areas of practice functions. These providers range from ASPs to virtual servers, digital fax systems, email management and even tax form preparation. The most popular this year:
WINNER: Cloud9 Real Time
- Right Networks
Laptop and Desktop Computers
Insight: What brand of computer do our readers prefer? There are so many brands on the market, but a few hardware providers routine gain the most trust among accounting professionals. The most popular:
Insight: The mobile wars continue, but it’s now a battle of two, with Blackberry almost totally disappearing from this year’s voting. In fact, more of our voters said they don’t use a mobile phone, than said they use a Blackberry. Apple takes the lead over Android again this year, but it’s still close:
- Apple 50.2%
- Android 48.1%
- Blackberry 1.7%
Insight: Will tablets take over the business world? Who knows? But their continued growth is impressive, and the Apple iPad continues to overwhelm all other brands.
- Apple iPad 49%
- Samsung 22%
- Kindle 16%
- Others 13
Printers & Scanners
Insight: Is there a truly 100% paperless office? Not according to our readers, who voted that these devices are still key components to modern digital workflow.
- HP 40%
- Brother 18.5%
- Fujitsu 11.5%
- Canon 11%
- Epson 7%
- Dell 4%
- Others 8%
Office Supply Store
Insight: Everybody needs office supplies so, where do you get yours? At a big box retailer, at a business-focused retail chain, or online?
- Staples 28.4%
- Office Max/Depot 28.3%
- Costco 13%
- Sam’s 10%
- Wal-Mart 8%
- Others 12.3%
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Favorite Form of Physical Exercise During Tax Season
Insight: Most of us know that we could lose a few pounds or get into better shape in other aspects. During the 12+ hour days of tax season, though, how do professionals find the time? The top responses:
WINNER: Who has time to exercise?
- Jumping to Conclusions
New Technologies for Professional Firms
Do you use smartphone or tablet apps designed specifically for tax and accounting professionals?
- Yes 19% (Up from apx 17% last year)
- No 81%
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)?
- Less than 1 hour: 37%
- Between 1-4 hours: 28%
- Between 5-9 hours: 15%
- Between 10-16 hours: 9%
- More than 17 hours: 11%
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