Thomson’s CS Professional Suite had one of the earliest entrants in the portal game with its NetClient Portals and also its 1040 Portals. The company says there are more than 200,000 portals being used at more than 2,500 firms since their introduction in 2001.
Those two categories were recently combined into one portal offering, NetClient CS. And last fall, the Dexter, Mich.-based group added the ability to enable Practice CS to deliver invoices and accept credit card payments via portals. It is document management in the sense that firms can manage documents by not generating paper invoices and not waiting for payments.
“It’s more convenient for the client,” notes Fleszar, who said that “There is definitely money flowing through that system, even some really large bills, bills of over $10,000. It’s serving its purpose.”
Portals can also be used by firms to host client accounting, document management and Microsoft Office applications.
Rival CCH re-entered the portal game last fall with the introduction of ProSystem fx Portal and the company has already seen the roughly firms 500 firms who are using the tool reducing the costs of shipping and printing documents, says John Springfield, product manager for ProSystem fx Site Builder and Portal.
CCH had previously offered portals through ProSystem fx Document. However, Springfield continues, ”while there were good components in the product, it became pretty evident there were areas where would could make it better. The decision was made to build it from the ground up on modern technology.” The company chose to use Microsoft Silverlight for the user interface, which it says increase usability, security and flexibility.
Springfield says over the next two years CCH has a “pretty tight road map” to turn Portal into what he describes as a “full-featured collaboration tool kit.” He notes that the concern for data privacy is also a major reason that both clients and firms are considering portals.
Integration with ProSystem fx Practice, which will enable firms to use portals for invoicing and billing, is expected by 2011, along with merchant services. CCH is also seeking to make integration with ProSystem fx Document, Tax and Engagement more robust.
The portal gives managers and portals control over who receives which content, Springfield notes. For example, a firm might want to let seasonal employees use portals, but only for downloading files.
It’s not just companies marketing tax preparation software that are entering the portal market. XCM Services, known for its workflow software and its sister Xpitax for tax preparation outsourcing, plans to have its portal product on the market before the user conference being held in June, according to CEO Mark Albrecht.
Users will be able to push requests for information to clients and receive answers via portals. The company will integrate its workflow application, giving the manage documents via the portal.
Albrecht also anticipates that moves by Massachusetts, Nevada, California “and half the country” to implement laws mandating that sensitive information can’t be attached to an email will be a big impetus to the adoption of portals.