But the end of April is the perfect time to get a handle on the information that moves through your firm. The mistakes and successes of your busiest time of year will be fresh in your mind as you sit down to consider how to make next year even better.
Workflow tools, while they are a relatively new addition to accountants' toolkits, have become increasingly important to firms trying to improve efficiency and gain better control of their practices. When you set out to review these solutions, however, you face a confusing market. There is no standard set of features or even a common definition.
The information managed by each of these tools is as unique (and complicated) as the "Real Housewives" shown on television. Although they didn't have drama queens to worry about, the vendors we interviewed wanted to know exactly what we meant by "workflow". In our view, the common theme is an organized, structured way to move client information through initial receipt, preparation, and review without losing sight of it.
We'll take a look at the following products:
• CaseWare Collaborate
• Practice CS from Thomson Reuters
• ProSystem fx Workstream from Wolters Kluwer
• SurePrep Express
Price: Starts at $1,600 (five-user license)..
CaseWare approaches workflow from an engagement perspective. CaseWare lets users work, share and track from one central repository, so that everyone involved in the engagement is working with the same information. Workflow starts with CaseWare Working Papers, where staff can plan, perform and review engagements. Using CaseWare SmartSync technology, staff members work from anywhere on local copies of Working Papers files, with changes automatically synced in real-time to a central repository. Everyone can review the status of projects at any point in time from a live copy of the engagement.
With CaseWare's new WebApps, staff can also stay on top of engagement activity online. Activity Pulse extends engagement access to smart phones, net books and tablet PCs. Secure messages can be sent within the CaseWare WebApps framework to notify staff of changes in their workload.
CaseWare WebApps includes full Client Portal and Document Management functionality, enabling the easy and secure sharing of all engagement files (including Word, Excel and tax documents) from one central location. Custom client Dashboards let firms provide their clients with easy-to-digest financial information from their browser.
CaseWare's tools connect preparers and clients through centralized engagements.
Price: Starts at $1,800 (five-user license.)
Practice CS takes a modular approach to workflow management.
By accessing first dashboards maintained in Practice CS and then individual "portlets", a firm can see the status of information from a staff, client, and firm perspective. Portlets are customizable components of dashboards that provide links to other client details.
Practice CS functions as the central hub that can be connected to any of three additional modules:
• Practice CS Project Management - tracks projects electronically
• Practice CS Staff Management - schedules staff time via individual staff dashboards that integrate with Microsoft Outlook email, calendar and tasks.
• Practice CS Client Management- manages notes and status by pulling information from UltraTax CS, Accounting CS or CS Professional Suite programs. The module now includes support for and integration with Mobile CS so staff members can enter time and expense data from mobile devices.
Practice CS is scalable solution that can meet the workflow needs of firms of different sizes.
ProSystem fx Workstream
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
Price: Basic tier, $175 (1-10 users); $114 per user (more than 100 users). Premier tier, $225 (1 to 10 users), $147 per user (more than 100 users).
CCH ProSystem fx Workstream
ProSystem fx Workstream approaches workflow from a project point of view.It all starts with an electronic route sheet. Time entries are recorded, statuses get updated and the work keeps moving through your firm. Re-usable templates let you create triggers that make project updates easy to manage.
Workstream connects users with ProSystem fx Tax and fx Document SaaS and can be accessed directly from either product. As a result, both files and time can be associated with Workstream projects. The solution can also serve as a firm watchdog - helping staff members automatically track time for individual work-steps and reminding them to update project status upon exiting a tax return.
The software offers firms a number of different views of their projects:
• View System shows project status across the entire firm, individual partners or offices.
• Dashboard Panes provide individual users a view across their assigned projects.
• Project Assignment is used to assign projects to staff, teams or a role.
• Notifications enables users and managers to stay on top of project assignments and status changes.
Workstream offers firms a comprehensive view of projects across their CCH solutions.
Newport Beach, Calif.
Price: Pricing starts at $30 per return. SurePrep Express Lite, $149 per user.
SurePrep Express looks at workflow from a tax data entry perspective. A web-based system, SurePrep Express helps identify details of source documents for rapid data entry and increased tax return preparation efficiencies. Scanned documents generate a series of automated references that can be quickly converted to dollar amounts via data entry.
Once properly segmented, the information can then be exported to tax software including GoSystem Tax RS, ProSystem fx, Lacerte, UltraTax and ProSeries.
For the ultimate workflow experience, SurePrep offers onshore and offshore data entry outsourcing so some of the lower value work can flow right out of your office and completed information and profits can flow back.
SurePrep can be integrated with Dream Workpapers for document management capabilities. Their new binder system includes Excel integration and sheets that can be individually bookmarked. SurePrep is an affordable option for firms looking for enhanced tax department efficiencies.
Price: $300 per user, ($500 implementation/training fee).
XCM, a web-based workflow management tool that connects information across multiple applications, works with various practice management, document management, due date tracking, budgeting, and time and billing applications to provide a view across all firm departments from tax to auditing and accounting and bookkeeping.
You can review project status and staff workloads from the application homepage and create reminders to ensure that projects keep moving. Comprehensive reporting and forecasts help you plan ahead.
It offers a centralized repository for firm-wide information including Client documents via CCH ProSystem fx Document integration. (It is interesting to see this solution promoted by CCH's tax group.) E-file status from consent forms to acceptance. Work assignments by staff member. Accounting and audit compliance including sign offs, partner rotations, and scheduling
XCM is a strong choice for firms looking to connect information across best-of-breed applications from different vendors.