While some purists might argues that tax and audit workflows involve more of these engagement processes (letters, contracts, etc.) and occur more consistently throughout the year than the typical tax preparation and filing seasons, the reality is that both accounting and tax workflow are processes evolved from five separate trends that that emerged over the past five years:
- Document Management. In 2008, Adobe Systems released its proprietary Portable Document Format (PDF) as an open standard. This created a core technology for document management that resulted in an explosion of new products and concepts for the creation, storage and retrieval of documents. While there are a number of new competitors in this space – notably Nuance's Power PDF – document management itself has expanded into a major part of practice management and workflow.
- Cloud Computing. Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS, served as the initial impetus for a shift away from on-site software and document storage to secure storage "in the cloud" – a term for the Internet. This, in turn, made possible immediate, collaborative access to these documents and processes by multiple workers simultaneously from anywhere in the world.
- Enhanced Scanners. During this period, a new generation of enhanced scanners emerged as specialized tools capable of translating unstructured images and documents into PDF files, which in turn drove the use of more efficient and standardized client workbooks and folders.
- Portals. Portals were created in order to provide a simple and straightforward interface for documents and unstructured data that are stored in the cloud. Some accounting firms prefer a unified portal, while others divide theirs into one portal for works in progress and archived copies and another through which to share finished work with clients.
- Mobile Computing. The ability to access data over the Internet created a need for new devices capable of anywhere/anytime access. These devices, which today include both smartphones and tablets, rely on wireless technologies and battery power to provide mobile access.
For 2014, we've surveyed seven of the leading tax and accounting workflow products. While this doesn't represent the entirely of the field, it does provide a survey of the top packages.
CCH Axcess WorkStream
Wolters Kluwer, CCH
Price: Starts at $255 per user, per year.
CCH Axcess WorkStream
CCH Axcess WorkStream, a modular cloud-based tax preparation, compliance and firm management solution, features a centralized database and common services to enhance firm productivity by eliminating redundant data and processes. For example, you can open the route sheet from within a CCH Axcess tax return, update project statuses from the CCH Axcess Practice time entry screen, and link projects to files stored in CCH Axcess Document.
Master templates can be tailored to different types of work, so you can standardize your processes and then customize your projects as needed. And the dashboard provides instant notifications and up-to-date project information as well as powerful, flexible reporting.
For 2013, a new utility makes it easier to reorder worksteps on projects, re-ordering more than 100 worksteps at a time to apply a change to all projects associated with that template. The new mobile Client Dashboard lets accountants view client information, contacts, notes, A/R balances, payments and invoices, as well as a client's projects from the Client Dashboard.
Las Vegas, Nev.
(888)693-6248 (Ext 1)
Price: Doc.It Suite, which includes Workflow, costs about one dollar per day per person.
Doc.It's Workflow is used to track the status of any tax or accounting engagement as soon as documents stream into the firm from any source, then continues through the processing of work to the engagement's completion. The application allows accountants to instantly view the status of all active projects and see the status of all projects related to a client. When tasks are complete, the project status is changed to allow professionals within the firm to stay on top of workflow.
With this product, accountants may quickly check the status of projects, route or reroute work, and efficiently monitor staff workload to identify issues before they occur. The system is instantly accessed through one unified screen, which does not require accountants to launch a separate application to manage workflow. It allows users to set up simple, defined workflows for various types of projects within their firm while avoiding the complications often associated with formal workflow processes.
And it can be used both with projects that are being processed within Doc.It and those that are being processed in other software applications.
Drake Tax Workflow
Franklin, N.C .
Price: Drake Software Full Package $1,495.
Drake Tax Workflow
Drake's flagship tax software offers workflow capabilities that include a Document Manager and a Client Status Manager (CSM).
The Client Status Manager enables a tax office to organize, view and search client files; follow workflow and manage productivity with on-screen tracking and reports; track return details, including preparer efficiency. Within the software's interactive home window is the Personal Client Manager (PCM), a condensed version of the CSM that helps each professional organize returns and appointments. Finally, a Multi-Office Manager that works with the CSM helps to organize client files across multiple locations.
Additionally, Drake Tax software now integrates with Gruntworx, the secure, Web-based application that automates the time-consuming tasks of organizing and populating client tax data into tax preparation software. This integration enables tax preparers to save up to 40 percent of the time typically spent in data entry.
Price: Starts at $5 per token.
GruntWorx provides a set of workflow tools to manage the import and organization of client data for tax purposes.
GruntWorx Organize identifies, organizes, and labels the scanned tax forms into a PDF file, with the document issuer's name on each bookmark—eliminating the time-consuming manual task of identifying and sorting client documents before scanning.
GruntWorx Populate extracts data from the bookmarked documents and imports the data into many leading tax preparation software packages. Working in conjunction with
GruntWorx Organize or GruntWorx Populate, GruntWorx Trades converts trade details on scanned 1099 Consolidated Brokerage Statements into a standard Microsoft Excel spreadsheet file for easy manipulation and import of trade details.
Intuit Tax Pro Online
Mountain View, Calif.
Price: Individual 1040 per-return pricing begins at $39.95; business returns at $49.95; and bundles for a variety of business and individual returns are available starting at $299.
Intuit Tax Pro Online
Intuit Tax Online a cloud-based tax preparation and workflow application, helps tax professionals prepare and e-file standard 1040 and business forms up to 25 percent faster due to its innovative data entry and review process designed to streamline the workflow and increase productivity.
It provides multi-client management tools, client organizers, PDF file management and integrated banking products. Offering bank-level encryption compliant with Federal Trade Commission and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act regulations, Tax Pro Online for 2013 features electronic invoicing and payments, Excel import for stock transactions and customized print options.
Intuit also offers a mobile application for iOS and Android which allows accountants to view their client's tax return summary information, check e-File status, securely email tax returns directly to the taxpayer, as well as provide customer contact information.
New for this year, the mobile apps include a companion application for taxpayers. TaxLink is a mobile application that the accountant's clients can download, and it enables the accountant to easily communicate, collaborate and exchange documents
with their clients. All mobile applications are free to use and help save the accountant time by putting their tax practice in their pocket.
GoFileRoom Workflow Manager
Price: GoFileRoom with Workflow Manager starts at $3,950 per year.
GoFileRoom Workflow Manager
A completely new workflow management system for the GoFileRoom platform, Workflow Manager brings new efficiencies to document and workflow management for tax and accounting firms. It enables firms to create sophisticated workflow arrangements that reduce turnaround times and allow administrative employees to perform more tasks.
Major features include rules-based workflows that automate the routing of work based on the type and complexity of each project. GoFileRoom Workflow Manager asks a series of firm-defined questions at the inception of each project and configures workflow automatically based on the answers to those questions. This enables administrative employees to perform more of the work, reduces the amount of time required to manually route and assign projects, and simplifies the setup process for many workflow projects in the firm.
It also features a calendar with managed content that includes virtually all US and international jurisdiction details, supported and automatically updated by Thomson Reuters. Streamlined navigation and user-subscribed reporting make it easier to manage documents for internal firm operations as well as client work.
Office Tools Professional
Price: Small office, $600 per year (single concurrent user). Mid-size office, $2,900 per year (10 concurrent users). Large offices, $9,500 per year (40 concurrent users ).
Practice Management from Office Tools Professional,a simplified workflow tool, combines contact management, calendaring, collaboration and task delegation, expense and billing, and tickle file in a single-screen, desktop based solution.
The application integrates with the Microsoft Office programs Word, Excel and Outlook, addition to popular mapping programs. Reports can be exported directly to Word, Excel and all common formats. A new Microsoft Office add-On tool bar saves Office files directly into Practice Management. Firms can also create time cards for payroll or billing inside of Microsoft Office and an Adobe add-in enables printing or saving of any file in PDF format.
Other key features include contact synchronization from virtually any tax or accounting application, and direct synchronization with QuickBooks, Intuit Demandforce, Outlook and Mobile Devices. Recent enhancements include enhanced billing and reporting, faster operations, drag-and-drop document management, and better integration with the system's Client Portal.
XCM Workflow Automation Software
Price: $375 per user annually; fixed fee with monthly or quarterly pricing available for small firms
XCM Workflow Automation Software
XCM has crafted a new, end-to-end workflow automation solution that standardizes and automates workflow across departments, including audit, accounting, tax, consulting and firm operations.
XCM is a complete workflow solution that automates processes and information captured across all areas of a public accounting firm, with specific capabilities in each of four feature sets specifically designed for tax, finance/audit, bookkeeping/CAS and a firm's internal operations.
The company offers a packaged turnkey solution to smaller accounting firms that includes set-up, services and the software to help them take advantage of a complete workflow solution quickly. In addition, is provides a fully integrated and automated scheduling module that features scheduling two ways - by availability and calendar. The full module was released in the fall of 2013 and already has more than 2,000 users.
In addition to XCMscheduling and the turnkey solution for small firms, XCM Solutions has also released mobile access to the XCM application that allows users to see and act on information in their main XCM site in real-time . Additionally, the company made a number of key and user-requested enhancements to the full XCM workflow solution across many areas of functionality.