Jordan Kleinsmith, Thomson ReutersThe 2014 tax season was as uneventful for software as 2013's was marred by problems. So much for that analysis. What tax professionals really want to know if what changes will hit the products they use for the next tax season. Only a few new features are ready for public view, but then again, a substantial number of tax preparers new their software without seeing the new stuff.

It seems obvious that much of what happens will revolve around web-based mobile systems. A series of changes will be introduced with a product that has not had a lot of publicity about enhancements in the last few years, Thomson Reuters' GoSystem Tax, the granddaddy of Internet-based tax preparation systems.

"We have a number of pretty significant initiatives in place," says Jordan Kleinsmith, a Thomson Reuters product manager. He continues that over the last two years the company has been developing what it calls "our user experience consistency project."

The project is designed to make different tax forms have a similar look and feel, in much the same way that applications in the Microsoft Office Suite – Word and Excel – resemble each other. Kleinsmith says this is a feature lacking in most tax software

"Nobody in the market was doing a great job in making mandates as what the different entities of tax returns should look like when compared to one another," he says. So in a particular company's product line, the 1065 and 1120 forms might look in completely different.

Thomson began moving to make the appearance more consistent last year, focusing on the general information screen where client information is entered. General information that applies to the federal return would also apply to state returns.

Thomson also wants a more user-friendly GoSystem and is taking steps such as making the ability to making data entry more self explanatory. "We will be refreshing the look and feel of the product," Kleinsmith says. That means updating screen layout. For example, in the past, GoSystem screens had only black and white. Going forward, it will have different colors to clue users about functions.

Thomson will also expand an Excel add-on, a utility that was introduced last year. "It's a way firms can create a standard workpaper template," he says. Many firms have standardized Excel workpapers but many key the data into the tax software. GoSystem will now enable them to map values into the return so that Excel data will be entered directly into partnership and corporate returns

Intuit has made a widely publicized change in opening up its application programming interfaces to other software companies. That means third-party software publishers can develop applications that work with its Lacerte, ProSeries and Intuit Tax Online applications.

"We are starting to partner with third parties," says product manager Mary Kroenung. The first partnership is with SmartVault who is producing a cloud-based document management system that can be accessed through a branded portal and will be integrated with both Lacerte and ProSeries. While the product will be sold by SmartVault, Intuit is providing integration to the portal in both tax packages.

For the company's Intuit Tax Online, the changes ready for discussion are largely architectural. "We invested a lot in technology platform change," notes product manager Julie Kozloski. Intuit also gave the online product "a more friendly facelift," she says.

Of course, the online product has mobile connections, in this case TaxLink that enables the accountant to send messages to a client, who can take a photograph of a document and send it back to the accountant. But Intuit has plans for more than transmitting documents back and forth.

"We hope to enable TaxLink to take the data and feed its directly into Tax Online," she says. Generally, Intuit has plans for steps to eliminate data entry. "That will explode," Kozloski says, although she notes that the company does not have announcements at this time.

Intuit made one important change in its product licensing and bundling with the introduction of FastPath, the pay-per-return option. For ProSeries that option provides access to federal and state returns for $429 annually, plus $29 per return for each federal 1040 and $24 per return for each state 1040. Per-return pricing is offered for all business modules, forms 706 and 709 and the Client Organizer. However, there is no charge for e-filing. For Lacerte, FastPath is $545 annually plus $62 per year for one federal and one state return with each additional state return costing $35. Business, Trust and Estate return pricing is also available.

CCH has been busy with its promotion of the online Axcess Suite. However, this early in the year, the company has few features ready to announce. Among these is the continued develop of CCH e-Sign which provides electronic signatures on Form 8879. The Internal Revenue Service began allowing those e-signatures mid-tax season. The capability was available for the desktop ProSystem fx Tax during the season just past, but will be added to Axcess next year.

Manual signatures have been expensive for firms, says Jerry Connor, senior manager of technology shared services. A CCH study showed it costs firms $13 to $18 per form to manage 8879s.

At this point, CCH does not have a lot of detail to release about the 2014 tax software. When it comes to Axcess, "We had a significant growth, 300 percent growth in users on the system," Connor says. He notes smaller firms are moving more quickly to Axcess, probably because they can move more quickly.

The company is redesigning its CCH Mobile software, which was early to the market, perhaps a little too early. Mobile provides access to the IntelliConnect tax research platform. "When we first started designing it, the tablets hadn't taken off and firms were saying "there's not a lot we can do with smartphone," Connor says. The next generation will bring underlying changes in the infrastructure including the need to support the ability of users to move from device to device.

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