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Theresa MackintoshWhen both CCH and Intuit revealed plans for online professional tax products at the Midwest Accounting and Financial Showcase last week, they made it a trio of major tax software providers that have declared their intention to ramp up Internet-based products this year.

The ball started rolling towards the Internet in late June when Thomson Reuters announced its plans for Software as a Service after a year-long pilot. But it’s about lot more than tax, says Teresa Mackintosh, senior vice president core market, for the Thomson unit that markets the CS Professional Suite..

"It is our complete offering of products,” says Mackintosh, who notes that the company has put together five role-based online product packages at different prices for different kinds of users. These are full-service, tax-only, accounting-only, administrative professional and auditor profiles, ranging in price from $165 for the admin profile to $425 for full service. All profiles have a $750 set-up fee

However, users of professional tax preparation products have been among the most resistant to the allure of the Web. CCH has marketed Global fx for several years, but it didn’t catch on and apparently will disappear in the face of last week's news. When CCH president Mike Sabbatis announced plans to deliver Internet versions of the ProSystem fx Tax, Document and Practice in Octoberm he also told a gathering of media that the suite will be tied together by a common data base so that users won’t need to re-enter shared data.

Intuit also moved toward an online suite with the announcement of Intuit ProLine Tax, on the heels of the introduction of Intuit ProLine Research, which uses BNA material to give Intuit a heavier-duty set of research tools. It’s clear Intuit plans to use that ProLine name as a new brand as it slapped the phrase across the Web pages of all professional tax and accounting products, including those for the Lacerte and ProSeries tax packages, and the QuickBooks pages. Intuit hinted that online versions of practice management and document management are in the works, but probably not for release this year.

Of the three, Intuit appears further behind in the move to online professional tax preparation, although for its consumer tax preparation product, TurboTax, online is rapidly replacing desktop software as the platform of choice. The company plans to have only the federal 1040 form available for ProLine Tax for the 2009 tax year and hopes to have all 1040 states, but is unwilling to promise it will achieve that goal.

What ProLine Tax is not is Lacerte Online or ProSeries Online. It's a new product for the Internet, according to Jill Ward, the Intuit SVP who announced the plan at the Illinois show.

The whole question of what SaaS means will probably be a battle ground. In his comments last week, Sabbatis took a whack at using Citrix, an application widely utilized to Web-enable products not written for the Internet, as not being truly SaaS. That remark would seem to be aimed partly at Thomson which does use Citrix to provide hosting for its Virtual Office.

But while some claim using Citrix slows down application performance, Mackintosh says the opposite is true. "We discussed completely rewriting everything and there was no end payoff to the customer," she continues. Mackintosh says that because Thomson Retuers has so much computing horsepower, far more than typical practitioners can afford, the CS Suite applications run faster in Internet mode than on a preparer's desktop

She also believes that debate about what makes a product a SaaS application is not meaningful because the definition has nothing to do with technology. "SaaS is nothing more than a leasing model, a utility that you pay for as long as you are using the product," she says.

 

Bob Scott
Bob Scott has provided information to the tax and accounting community since 1991, first as technology editor of Accounting Today, and from 1997 through 2009 as editor of its sister publication, Accounting Technology. He is known throughout the industry for his depth of knowledge and for his high journalistic standards.  Scott has made frequent appearances as a speaker, moderator and panelist and events serving tax and accounting professionals. He  has a strong background in computer journalism as an editor with two former trade publications, Computer+Software News and MIS Week and spent several years with weekly and daily newspapers in Morris County New Jersey prior to that.  A graduate of Indiana University with a degree in journalism, Bob is a native of Madison, Ind
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