“We are going to be doing a couple of more releases later this year. The general theme is how to get the customers answers even quicker,” says product development manager Tanya Rose. Those releases will be aimed at provided greater integration to the company’s next-generation tax and accounting suite, as CCH has implemented a far-reaching change to its product lines
Its major rival, Thomson Reuters, has picked a different route. Even though Thomson has developed a new platform for its large law business, it’s not going for a major platform change this year or next on the tax side.
“Just as a general rule, we are not in favor of the grand platform change approach. We have a multi-year project,” says Steve Zelman, senior VP of content operations for the company’s tax and accounting business. While changes are coming, they “will be seen as steady slow enhancement sot the existing platform. They will be easy to understand by existing users. We will not have any radical change,” says Zelman
Underlying the difference in philosophy of platform change appears to be a difference approach to search. CCH went for new search technology that it said provided more intuitive searchers that provided searches from a single screen and which gave users the ability to research entire publications and which would also take minutes to learn and use. Zelman questioned whether a “Google-like search” really fits the needs of professional users.
CCH refined its approach starting last fall, including a more topically based organization that enabled users to go, for example, federal, state or international tax.
The January release added multiple filters for narrowing down results more quickly and also a Collapse All function that can collapse all topically arrange menu levels so that users can restart research from a different point or start a new search. Rose says the filters also produce a results list that helps narrow down searches.
The move to IntelliConnect simplified CCH's research product line as users of the Kleinrock research platform have been moved to IntelliConnect. Kleinrock was used primarily by CCH's ATX and TaxWise customers.
Meanwhile, Thomson has also introduced changes to its search mechanism, including nature language searches. The company also plans tools that will be intelligent enough to prevent users from heading in the wrong direction. There are several options for improvement that again rely on greater use of intelligence within the system to speed research.
“We could have the screen default to your most frequent pattern,” says Zelman. The system could present screens and information based on, “What you do most often, how you do it, what you do with the results when you are done,” he continues. That’s essentially part of the more towards role-based design of software in which users see the features in application that they need to do their jobs, but not those which they would almost never use.
An integrated CPE offering is in the works, although Zelman did not have details for release. The company also plans tools that will help with workflow and productivity, an approach also taken by CCH.
BNA is also not grappling with major platform change as it accomplished that late in 2008 with the introduction of Convergence, a news filtering system. Instead, it’s more concerned with beefing up content in the Tax and Accounting Center libraries that are getting a lot of attention from users. These include international taxation and green incentives.
“The IRS is heavily scrutinizing international tax transactions. We are putting a lot more emphasis on giving people what they need on the international tax side,” says product manager Holly Flater. "What we are hearing from practitioners is that international tax is a hot area."
However, in terms of usability both content areas also feature a major change in presentation of data, which is the use of comparison charts, a capability CCH has done for a few year with its smart charts. The charts can show the difference between tax treaties for counties with the models and also state-by-state list of tax incentives.
Flater says while both CCH and Thomson have content about tax incentives, “They don’t have anything for green incentives.” The system also covers non-tax incentives, such as grants and loans from the Department of Energy, which sometimes provide more favorable incentives than those available via tax mechanism.
BNA content is available from several companies and it got even more exposure last when Intuit got into the tax research business in 2009 with its Pro Line Tax Research that also doubled as a debut for the Pro Line brand.
Initially, the product, which utilizes BNA research, was available only with the company’s ProSeries and Lacerte tax products. However, in the next release the company will release a standalone version, says product manager Ryan Farley. The price is $849, although Intuit often discounts new products and is currently offering unlimited use for $299.
It’s a different approach to pricing, Farley notes. “It doesn’t matter if you have two people in your firm or 200 in your firm.” There’s also an a la carte pricing in which users can pay for articles found via research currently Intuit is promoting the system offering the first article for 99 cents and $19.95 for each succeeding article retrieved by the search.
Articles can be printed or attached to the return and Intuit stores purchased articles for a minimum of three years. Farley notes that if content changes, the article that has been purchased by the user is not overwritten.