Estimated reading time: 11 minutes, 46 seconds

Workflow is one of those terms that means something different to each person depending on his/her background and experience. One of the companies I reviewed defined it as what accountants and CPAs do all day, every day. I would agree.
The most successful firms have successful workflow policies and procedures. It seems axiomatic that all midsize to large firms have workflow systems. In small firms, we too have workflow processes and procedures.

The real question is how successful is your workflow? One of the best ways to answer that question is dependent on your answers to the following questions. Are you processing all your clients' tasks on a timely manner? Are you missing a deadline on 941 for the client who only needs you to file a 941? Are you able to tell which clients truly are profitable for the firm? How long did it take you to process each tax client?

Do you have a list that shows which clients are A , B, C or D? Do you still have D clients? (It can still be alright as long as you have a good reason for it ? ) Do you really know which staff member is the most productive and profitable for your firm? There are many more issues depending on your firm's size and its goals.

This is the perfect time of year to examine these questions. You are no doubt evaluating and re-evaluating what worked and what didn't work during tax season. Each year, we want to be better. Even if you felt you did a great job at managing the flow of work and people in your firm, you owe it to yourself to ensure you have the best tools available to you.

Each year, the accounting and tax products get better and better. There are some very good solutions in this review. Each solution I reviewed had me thinking about my processes and what I can do to improve. This will only give you a taste of what each product can do for your firm.

We'll take a look at the following products:

Accountants World
Practice CS from Thomson Reuters
ProSystem fx Workstream from CCH
SurePrep 1040 ScanPro

In the review, we will share how each program is marketed, what each company feels are its competitive advantages, what we felt were the best features and any limitations. Each program uses the latest and greatest technology. Let's take a look and see how which one of these programs might work best for you.

Accounting Relief
Accountant's World
Hauppauge, N.Y.
(888) 999-1366
Price: Accounting Relief Pro, starts at $99 per month or $999 per year.

I wanted to include AccountantsWorld in this review even though the company does not have a practice or workflow module. The full integration of the products is a workflow system.

Here are some examples of how you can process your data using AccountantsWorld: With its products, Accounting Relief and Cyberdrop, clients can easily scan bills to be paid, bank statements, credit card statements, and all source documents and upload them automatically to CyberCabinet. When a staff member logs on to perform client accounting for any client, unpaid bills are displayed on screen for quick data entry, and the bill is attached to the matching data entry field.

All payroll forms and reports in Payroll Relief are automatically archived to CyberCabinet, so accountants and clients have access to them whenever needed. This eliminates the time, money, and effort of printing and mailing paychecks. You can save the paychecks in CyberCabinet, from where clients can download them securely and instantly print them in their offices.

Client billing for payroll services can be automatically debited, the amount billed can automatically flow to Practice Relief (our time and billing program) and from there an invoice can be automatically generated in Accounting Relief.

Using Accounting Relief for client bookkeeping, trial balance work and financial statement preparation cuts out many steps traditional used in this process. This is possible because the data is stored in the same program for all steps and can be accessed anywhere/anytime.

Practice CS
Thomson Reuters
Dexter, Mich.
(800) 968-8900
Price: Starts at $1,875.

Practice CS
A proven product, Practice CS not only offers standard time and billing, it helps you operate your entire practice at peak productivity with real-time access to essential firm, staff and client information.

Thomson says Practice CS scales from the smallest firms to the largest. But one of its best features is its integration with other applications in the CS Professional Suite: Any change made in any one program can be updated in any other program. There is no need to waste time updating addresses in multiple programs. The company also points to its use of Microsoft technology such as .Net, SQL Server and Outlook as enabling this integration.

Practice CS is another top product in the Thomson suite. There are so many features in this product that make it a tool that you really need to have in your practice. It is more than the center piece of the workflow. You can manage client relationships in the product. Ideally, the best way to process is to have all the add-on modules.

Here is one example of the workflow process. If you are using the company's UltraTax, not only can you automatically update the status of the tax return in the practice software, but you can also pull in the invoice you created into tax and update your billing. From that, you can create electronic invoices and statements, publish invoices online to a secure client portal and accept credit card payments. As you can see, there are some really cool tools that you need to see how they would work in your firm.

The only negative on the program is that since it is such a powerful tool, you must spend some time getting the product set up. You have to think through every aspect of your practice and make sure you know what you want to have this work.

However, Thomson not only has training, but also offers consulting services to help you create your own best practices. The cost of the software and training and/or consulting is so small compared to the value you will gain. And today is the best day to do this so you can have it all set up and running before the fall.

ProSystem fx Workstream
Riverwoods, Ill.
(800) 739-9998
Price: Basic tier, $175 (one to10 users); $114 per user (more than 100 users). Premier tier, $225 (one to 10 users); $147 per user (more than 100 users).

CCH ProSystem fx Workstream
CCH markets Workstream as going beyond meeting a firm's basic needs and offering a full-featured software program designed to manage all of your deliverables. Go with the flow and put Workstream to work in your firm today. You'll be glad you did.

The company says among the product's strengths are automatic notifications that let you stay on top of projects and spend more time on deliverables and reduces non-billable time. There are many standardized templates to get you started but you can also customize the program. And like an increasing number of products, Workstream is built on Microsoft technology, in particular, .Net 3.5 Framework.

CCH has done a fantastic job of updating their products to ensure they offer customers as much efficiency as possible. The products are excellent and are really giving Thomson a run for their money as a full line of truly integrated products. Like Practice CS, there are so many features that it is impossible to mention them all. But, I will share some that I found very impressive.

I really liked the way the dashboard was laid out and the way you could customize it to show what is needed for your tasks. It used the familiar Outlook view so you immediately felt comfortable in the program. I was very impressed that once you had a task assigned to you, you could just go to the task. From the dashboard, you went right into the correct client on the correct program. You can also go in and manage an employee's task if they leave or are out for an extended period with one quick move.

Another really impressive feature was if you were in a tax client and you made a note, that the note becomes part of the notification system in workflow. It was a huge times-saver!

The only negative is that I really couldn't figure out what pieces I would need to buy to have the integration that we described in the review. The pricing structure is pretty confusing. However, that extra bit of time it would take it figure that out, would be more than made up when you brought the products! If you are already using some of the CCH products, you really need to spend some time looking into the rest of the product line. You will be very happy that you did.

1040 ScanPro
Newport Beach, Calif.
(800) 805-8582
Price: Pricing starts at $30 per engagement.

1040Scan Pro
SurePrep, one of the earliest entrants into tax document automation field, has evolved and extended its offerings to meet the demands of practitioners.

The company points to its ability to have strong integration with third-party applications. It also said it has many built-in features that are not available in other products, including tools that can help ensure accuracy of tax data.

This was my first time ever seeing this product. As you can tell, I am a big fan of integrated solutions. So, I wasn't too sure about how to view this product in a workflow context. I have to say after about two minutes on the demo, I was not only impressed but looking at ways this product could help improve my workflow. Because this is a single line product, it has capabilities the product suites just do not have.

When a client brings you data, you can have the source documents uploaded to SurePrep and within 10 minutes in non-crunch time and two hours during peak season, you have the data back in your system. Now, if you are like me, you were a bit suspect of that. How can I tell it is really there, did anyone look at my clients data? But, no worries, this product provides an automated process and there are tons of tools for you to use to make sure the correct data is there. And in fact, the system will notify you of data that is missing from last year. For example, if your client had two W-2s last year but only one this year it will ask you where the other one is.

Another item that I loved was the ability to look at two Excel sheets on separate monitors. And the best part of this is the way you can tie out spreadsheets to tax returns. So, for instance, you have a client whose records are in QuickBooks. You can export the financial statements to Excel. Then, you can note the three accounts that make up a number on the tax return. That information is then put in an online binder. That way, if you ever have to go back and look at the information, you know why you did what you did.

You can use the same kind of process you did on paper only it is now better as it is automated. They have thought through every process that we do during tax season and have found ways to eliminate excess processes. If you are a process junkie, you really want to take a look at this product.

The only negative I saw on this was that it mainly works with tax processes. The SP binder can work with other products but not the scan. However, if you really want a product that has the tax processes down to a science for you, this is the product for you.

XCM Solutions
Braintree, Mass.
(781 356-5152
XCM: About $300 per user annually. XCMessential and XCMessential Plus, for smaller firms with one or two practice areas, $95 and $150 respectively per firm monthly.

Founded in 2002, XCM Solutions claims to have been the first company to focus on workflow. It is celebrating its tenth anniversary with preparations to release the tenth version of its software that it touts as being the most mature and complete workflow application around.

The company says its application saves firms an average of 90 minutes per person each day by standardizing and automating all processes for completing work in all areas of the firm - tax, audit and accounting and internal operations. XCM provides a full view of all work in progress at the individual, departmental, office, and firm-wide work management across all levels in the firm in one centralized, easy-to-access dashboard.

Like SurePrep's product, XCM is a stand-alone product. I have to say this product had me at the moment they said checklists. This is a very cool and wonderful program that treats workflow as a horizontal process not linear. It is an easy-to-use-and- manage program. It starts with the concept of routing sheets and then moves the flow from there. The training and support all focus on workflow not just answering a one off question. It is a wonderful product.

The only negative on this is that it currently isn't as tightly integrated with all the products out there. However, this product has many features that make managing processes quick and easy.

In conclusion, as we discussed in the beginning, this was only a small taste of each of these products. Today is a great day to get started on your reviews. Good Luck and I hope you find the solutions that will help your firm grow and thrive!

Julie Lepper, EA

Julie S. Lepper, EA, MBA is the Principal of Julie S. Lepper, Accounting & Tax Service, LLC, a small local accounting firm in Pinckney, MI. She earned her Master's of Business from Eastern Michigan University and her Bachelor's of Accountancy from Walsh College in Michigan. Julie has over 16 years in consulting with client not only accounting and tax issues , but also on software and sales engagements. She specializes in focusing on start-up businesses and small to medium client needs.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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