Timing is of the essence with tax returns. Preparers look for tax workflow products that speed up both the client end and the user end of operations. Also, operability in the cloud offers firms flexibility with remote workers, which is particularly convenient during the busy tax season. Read on to see the solutions three different firms implemented, and how they worked out.
Seamless integration Firm: Sachetta & Callahan LLC Users: 15 Product: CCH Axcess (Wolters Kluwer) Commencement date: January 2014 On record: Partner Michael Callahan Challenge/objective: For Sachetta & Callahan, implementing a tax workflow product was a natural step. “Our philosophy has always been to go to the cloud, because it’s more secure and offers more flexibility for our staff,” said Michael Callahan, a partner at the firm. “We’ve always have been moving in that direction, so Axcess was a natural fit for our firm.”
Process: The implementation process at Sachetta & Callahan in 2014 was complicated a little by the fact that the firm had tried to implement Axcess in 2009 when the product was brand-new. At that time, the solution wasn’t ready for what the firm needed, so it didn’t stick. Three years later, the product was “ready for prime time,” as Callahan said, and the firm tried again. Because of the previous implementation effort, Sachetta & Callahan experienced some issues with duplicated data. However, CCH addressed the issues and once Axcess was in place correctly, it’s “been great.”
Results: “Flexibility wise, Axcess is a huge step forward,” Callahan said. “Instead of all different databases – we used to be tax, practice management, etc., as their own databases – we now have one database we maintain, and not as many moving parts. It’s a lot easier to keep that clean and updated.”
CCH also offers a scan and reader tool that can be used with Axcess, and a tool called AutoFlow to import numbers. “We used to have three or four people working for us during tax season just doing basic data input,” Callahan said. The automation of data input, as well as the “seamless” integration between steps of preparing tax documents, is a “huge time-saver,” Callahan said.
Callahan added that because Axcess is cloud-based, it allows a lot of flexibility for the firm’s staff, which is important. “A couple years ago we had a total of 100 inches of snow in one year,” he recalled (Sachetta & Callahan is based in Massachusetts). “Everybody could work from home. It really didn’t impact us too much. Ten years ago, we would have been out of business.”
Next steps: “Overall it’s a great solution,” Callahan said, “and the only thing they might do in the future is to go truly cloud-based. Right now, even though the data is in the cloud, you have to install it on local machine. So whenever there an update, you have to sit and wait for the update to happen. Browser based-integration is the Holy Grail.” Whole firm visibility Firm: Peterson Sullivan LLP Users: Approximately 180 Product: XCM (XCM Solutions) Commencement date: Full implementation in 2013 On record: Workflow manager Jason Peyovich
Challenge/objective: Peterson Sullivan tried to implement XCM as soon as it was released because the firm believed it would be a good solution to aid in growth. However, Peyovich said, Peterson Sullivan didn‘t implement the solution correctly internally. The firm also didn’t make adoption of the solution mandatory for employees, and that led to an unsuccessful implementation. However, three years ago, Peters Sullivan went through a Lean Six Sigma training process and made adoption of XCM mandatory. Since then, the firm has been using XCM successfully.
Jason Peyovich works at his desk at the Peterson Sullivan offices
Process: “The biggest challenge was cleaning up the data that was already in the system from the first implementation,” said Peyovich. “We almost started from scratch and erased everything in there. We started from square one and loaded in all the tax projects and returns.” Peyovich added that the support from XCM was “great,” but the firm had internal subject matter experts so didn’t need XCM’s input that much. Results: Once the firm got everyone on board with using XCM 100 percent of the time, productivity increased exponentially. If an employee wasn’t using the platform, their returns were simply falling through the cracks. With XCM, Peyovich said, there is efficiency and visibility throughout the firm with where each project is.
Specific advantages include eliminating individual spreadsheets, whole firm visibility, and cutting out wasted time.
As for challenges, one was “building accountability into the program,” Peyovich said. “The program is only as good as its users. If people aren’t moving information through the system, it won’t work. Addressing that was my job. We sent out reports weekly, including delinquent reports about what was outstanding. The problem got less and less every week and now people are on par.”
Next steps: “The biggest thing right now is we’re getting our audit department into XCM,” Peyovich said. “XCM has always been kind of tax-based program, but in the past year they’ve been making strides to move towards audit. I’d like to see more customization for the audit side. For example, they don’t have due dates and extensions. I’d like to see the platform become more audit friendly.” True SaaS Firm: Meyer Tax Consulting Users: 5
Product: Intuit ProConnect Tax Online, together with Intuit Link and Intuit E-signature (Intuit Inc.) Commencement date: 2013 On record: President and founder Jackie Meyer Amount spent/pricing: Between personal and business, an average of $40 per return. Challenge/objective: Jackie Meyer was consulting with a different tax solution provider and helping train accounting firms while starting her own practice at the same time. “My practice grew so quickly that I wasn’t able to continue consulting with the other software vendor. Their price point was shocking, so I moved to a product that was reasonably priced, innovative and Web-based. I didn’t want to deal with a server, local set-up and so on. I found ProConnect Online and loved it – I dove right in.” Process: “Implementation was pretty intuitive to me,” Meyer said. “I had previously used Intuit Lacerte, and Intuit said Intuit ProConnect Online is quite similar.”
Because Intuit ProConnect Online was a newer product when Meyer started using it, there were some kinks that Intuit had to work out. However, “the online chat support is amazing,” Meyer said. “Any time we had a problem we would just go through them.”
Also, because Meyer is based in Southlake, Texas, having Intuit’s Plano offices just 30 miles away was very helpful. “The support representatives are located there,” Meyer said. “I’ve met several of those people since implementation, so I feel like I’m working with a team.”
Results: “I’ve been very pleasantly surprised that I haven’t missed a single feature from prior tax products,” Meyer said.
The advantages of using Intuit ProConnect Online go back to the reasons Meyer first started using the product: “You don’t pay until you e-file a return or print to pdf. You can easily go in and compare a prior return to the current one and make sure it covers all the bases. There is zero cost of entry. The platform saves a lot of money and time with tech and IT support – I don’t know what the average cost is of having a server, but all my team are remote across Texas, so it was really important to have a solution we could all log into at the same time.”
Meyer is also happy with the true SaaS nature of Intuit ProConnect Online, as there are no downloads necessary.
One of the challenges Meyer faces with the workflow set up is that the E-signature does not notify her when a client signs. However, with E-signature, average turnaround for a return went from one to two weeks to one to two days, so Meyer would rather use it than not. “It would be great if Intuit could fix that little hiccup.”
Secondly, within Link, Intuit’s tax data collection platform, the checklist is fully customizable, but the questions weren’t interdependent. Intuit has now changed that so the questions flow depending on the answers clients input into the system. “That’s really going to streamline the work,” Meyer said.
Next steps: “I would like to see the tax estimate module expanded a bit,” Meyer said. “My firm is really focused on providing tax strategies and planning for clients, and that’s not something that’s out there.”
Some other features Meyer would love to see are a chat feature between her firm and the clients in Link, and the ability to individually produce K1s.
“Intuit definitely has the most integrated workflow between data collection with Link up front, the preparation with Intuit ProConnect Online, then E-signature at the end, compared with other products out there on market,” Meyer concluded. “From what I’ve seen, it’s just going to get even more streamlined form here.”
Technology editor for Accounting Today.