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Review: Workpaper Software Standard Tools in Unusual Times

It's amazing how quickly technology can change the way that we work. Old manual methods of working are replaced by new automated processes. And just as my 10-year-old children don't know what a 33-1/3 record is - or what they would do with one - the day is fast approaching when an accountant entering a new job will not recognize a stack of old fashioned working papers bound together by a rickety metal clip.

For years CPA firms relied on the comfort of paper files. These files were the product of hours of collaborative labor that resulted in producing a tax return, rending an audit opinion or documenting an internal control structure.

Although many firms might want to hang on those paper files for a more extended period of time, it's likely that the changing work environment will force them to adapt to new technologies or face extinction.

Economic conditions and the mobility of today's workplace focuses more than ever on the ability to work anywhere at any time. The addition of Internet connectivity guarantees a fast, stable and readily available always-on connection to our offices. CPA firms that want to compete effectively need to embrace this change or face an increasing struggle to attract top talent.

The three engagement software packages that we'll take a look at today all have at least some aspect of these five things in common: security, integration, workflow, paperless and efficiency.

Long ago, these packages reviewed mastered the basics of creating attractive trial balance sheets, pretty financial statements and detailed general ledger reports. The next frontier for engagement applications is the mastery of workflow and the paperless office.

Working without creating mountain of paper is not only more efficient but it's vastly more convenient. When you remove the physical working paper file that in years' past was stored in one filing cabinet in the firm - and replace it with an electronic file - then suddenly your staff can work from anywhere at any time. That’s the type of productivity that produces measurable increases in profits and both client and staff satisfaction.

Engagement CS
Thomson Reuters
Dexter, Mich.
(800) 968-8900
Price: Starts at $1,200 (four users).

Engagement CS
Included with Engagement CS from Thomson Reuters is Trial Balance CS, for collecting and working with core financial information including switching between cash, accrual, tax and other basis of accounting, and the Financial Reporter module for custom designing financial statements.

Archiving of engagement workpapers occurs through use of FileCabinet CS (licensed separately) to reduce the numbers of daily trips to the filing cabinet to retrieve and replace paper based files.

The software operates on a Windows 2000/XP (or higher) operating system. Some portions of the field collaboration may require additional software from Colligio as outlined below. Smaller firms not wanting to maintain the hardware (and technical setup expertise) can choose to pay a monthly fee and have Thomson Reuters host and manage the software for them.

Integration to Practitioner Publishing Company's e-Tools, SMART e-Practice Aids and other Microsoft Word or Excel-based tools which you may create and link to from within Engagement CS.

If you're using the PPC Audit programs then you'll be interested to learn that Engagement CS automatically notifies you by diagnostic report of any steps in your program that remain unsigned

In the field, secure wired connectivity between staff computers is enabled by Colligio, a separately licensed instant networking software, which enables your staff's notebooks and PDAs to create direct-connected ad hoc networks with a single mouse click.

Once connected client files can be checked in and out for safe sharing between users using Engagement CS's unique MultiStaff workpaper and trial balance management.

Engagement CS offers strong integration with other Thomson Reuters products as well as flexible hosting solutions for smaller firms. On-demand training is available for a nominal fee as are numerous other integrated solutions (payroll, bookkeeping, tax filing) that make Engagement CS a serious contender to solve your client working paper hassles.

CaseWare Working Papers/Open Engagement 2009
CaseWare International
Berklel, Calif.
(800) 267-1317
Price: Working Papers- starts at $499;  $1,399 (five-user license); Additional users, $260 each. Renewal, 50 percent of license.

CaseWare Working Papers
CaseWare provides a flexible solution that is designed for use by anyone tasked with financial reporting and compliance. Whether that's a CPA firm preparing a client's year-end financial package or a corporate or governmental accounting department the CaseWare solution fits both equally well.

Connector, a separate software program, takes financial data stored within the working papers and transfer it to Microsoft Word or Excel for further analysis. Just about all data, including the important account balances, can be designated for transfer via Connector.

Included in the main package is centralized document management. Each document, whether it's a native CaseWare file or an Excel, Word or PDF file can be stored as one engagement package. Viewing information is simplified by use of a hierarchical tree based interface.

Specific working papers can be checked in or out by staff on the engagement. When signing out a workpaper you can lock access to the entire area or just the specific schedule that's being worked on.

Integration with third-party audit tools such as PPC ePractice Aides, McGladrey Advanced CPA content and Capital Confirmation’s CONFIRM is provided. Tax data will flow to seven different tax packages including ProSystem fx Tax, GoSystem Tax, UltraTax, Lacerte, ProSeries, ProFile and TaxPrep.

CaseWare has a decidedly heavy tilt toward audit and accounting as well as financial statement preparation. It offers enough hooks that it's flexibility also offers a useful solution to corporate and governmental accounting departments seeking a package not written solely for the CPA firm audit department.

ProSystem fx Engagement
Riverwoods, Ill.
Price: Starts at roughly $1,400.

ProSystem fx Engagement
CCH claims that firms using their solution can save up to 40 percent in time after the first year of implementing ProSystem fx Engagement. It's not hard to imagine this would be the case since the software provides a complete start to finish process for taking in raw client data, preparing adjustments and ultimately issuing financial statements and tax returns.

Of course like the other solutions reviewed you can use as much or as little of the software as your practice needs. The most benefit is typically realized by those who adopt the full suite of solutions from one vendor. This is true because the software from the same developer almost always has the tightest integration. The better the integration the more time you save - and as they say - time is money.

Staff on an engagement can check out the single workpaper they need, or use an entire binder of work. Depending upon how much (or how little) of the workpapers the staff elects to use determines the level of access granted to the remainder. With the flexible file locking your staff shouldn’t ever fall into a situation where they can't work on a particular workpaper because they're waiting for it to be "unlocked".

Larger engagements can have security rights applied so that only certain staff have access to more sensitive information. You can also choose to lock down the remaining portion of the engagement against change (or viewing) by anyone. This is particularly useful for situations where payroll or other confidential data cannot be handled by everyone on the audit team.

The company claims this product is the only trial balance system built from the ground up on Word and Excel. This means you an paste or insert links using ranges of cells, rather than inserting each cell individually into the link formula.

With a very comprehensive suite of solutions ProSystem fx is a cradle to grave solution. Starting with the raw data which you analyze and mold into financial reports and final tax filings (ProSystem fx Tax,GoSystem Tax, and Lacerte are supported tax packages.)

Wayne Schulz is the founder of Schulz Consulting. He began his career working for two professional service organizations and managing their consulting divisions. He has been active not only with the implementation of Sage MAS 90 and MAS 200 accounting software but often is engaged to help clients design or evaluate their current accounting procedures.

The philosophy of Schulz Consulting has been built around one of being a consulting firm first and a sales company last. This is evidenced by Wayne’s unwavering claim that he is the world’s worst salesman but perhaps one of the top at providing client service to his loyal base of clients (many of who have been with him since 1986).
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