Online portals open up at Accountex

ExCel London

This season's "must-have" accessory for technology-savvy accountants is an online client portal, according to the suppliers who are launching or exhibiting such tools at Accountex.

A quick review indicates the following will be on view at Excel in London’s Docklands on 6-7 June:

  • Thomson Reuters will be introducing its Digita Virtual Office, a cloud-based implementation of the Digita Professional Suite of personal and corporation tax, accounts production, company secretarial and practice management software. The company also has a NetClient document management portal for sharing files with clients.
  • CCH will also be demonstrating its new portal, which links into the CCH ProSystem suite of tax and practice software. It was a long time coming, but a test drive on AccountingWEB proved it to be a simple and satisfying experience for potential client users.
  • IRIS has a bit of a headstart on its big rivals. Last year it launched OpenSpace, an online storage facility that forms part of its cloud-based OpenApps family. Since then it has extended its cloud portfolio with the web-based IRIS OpenTax suite.
  • DocuSoft also launched a portal system last year, incorporating electronic approvals.
  • Lindenhouse - one of the pioneers of specialist document portals for accountants in the UK will be exhibiting the latest version of its Virtual Cabinet, a sophisticated, integrated document management and authorisation system.
  • PracticeWEB is another long-timer portal provider with its Secure Document Exchange, which is designed to operate in tandem with PracticeWEB’s  website packages.

Document portals have been discussed extensively on AccountingWEB in the past year, starting with Dropbox and moving on to accountant-specific systems such as those mentioned. The debate arose partly in response to claims that sending sensitive client information by email could violate the Data Protection Act. That’s not strictly true, but email is a pretty unsatisfactory method to exchange bulky, confidential files. If you do still rely on email, you could take precautions like encrypting files before sending them - which applies just as much to Dropbox.

When it comes down to it, an online portal is a very simple concept - it’s a big bucket on the net into which you dump files, to which you can invite other people to view them. When assessing them, it is worth checking what they offer over and above basic storage facilities, which could include the ability to authorise files such as tax returns for further action or direct links into your document and practice management systems.

There are bound to be more portal products on view at Accountex and we will report them here as we uncover them at the event.

The exhibition and conference sees a return to the calendar of an event designed to give accountancy practitioners insights into the latest trends and technologies. Now in its second year, Accountex shares some characteristics with Softworld, which used to host spring and autumn events in London and Birmingham - although they catered more for business software buyers.

These big, national gatherings give accountants a chance to compare products available from scores of 50 suppliers. And visitors looking to brush up their CPD are catered for with a full programme of lectures from experts including Rebecca Benneyworth, Mark Lee, Mark Lloydbottom and AccountingWEB’s editorial team.

When they’re not presenting, John Stokdyk, Robert Lovell and Rachael Power will work their way around the exhibition hall to uncover the latest announcements and discuss the key trends with conference speakers, exhibitors and Accountex visitors. Their reports will be updated on this page throughout the event - so keep in touch and even ask us to follow up specific topics by commenting below.

Comments

hmmm

query | | Permalink

Isn't this just overkill? Emails are good enough for tracking files/documents/backups surely...

Email

raycox | | Permalink

Personally, I have no problem with email services but then I rarely have huge data transfer requirements.

Kent accountant's picture

Small practice requirements    1 thanks

Kent accountant | | Permalink

As a sole practitioner I tend to have little requirement to transfer large documents via the web.

For the few clients who are still using Sage they either send a backup by post or save it on dropbox.

I can't see myself wanting to make use of one of these systems in the future.

 

 

 

Locutus's picture

Risks

Locutus | | Permalink

I've never seen a compelling reason to pay for one of these products. Sure there is a theoretical risk that someone at the Internet Service Provider can intercept my e-mails and start reading them (not that they will be much use to them). But then again if I send something by post, there is the risk that some dodgy postman will open it, or that my letter will get "lost in the system".

Besides, any super-sensitive attachment can be encrypted with a password.

Saying that, I might give the Iris product a try when I get some time, as I believe they offer 1Gb of storage for free..

Paul Scholes's picture

More than document exchange

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

Enabling clients to come to one place for their accounting & tax needs is more than just document exchange.  The accountant's site can also be set up as a window to anything the client might need to access, from online accounting & payroll to information.

Documant exchange is a good start and, with most of my clients now on Iris OpenSpace I have to say it's also good for us to have one place to go to for sensitive inforation with the online authorisation being the real bonus.

One correction to the above, Iris OpenTax is not part of a client portal, ie clients do not have access like they do with online accounting (eg OpenBooks), but it would be great if they could.

 

Tkwhitehouse's picture

I'm trying to build one

Tkwhitehouse | | Permalink

Hi,

I'm in the process of building an accounting portal for use by my firm and was intending to try and roll it out to other firms if there was an appetite for it.

My plan was to integrate it with Dropbox so I can just save anything from VT/TaxCalc/Whatever into a dropbox folder and then it will be automatically added to the portal, a notification sent to the client and the client can then approve it if necessary or otherwise view it.

From the portal they can also see some useful information like filing dates (and amounts) and perhaps also some FAQs. 

My motivation is not particularly driven by a lack of email security but making it easy for clients to find all their important documents in one place (not in hundreds of emails) and also to build in some reminder emails to clients, eg "your VAT return is due for [date] please update your Xero account".

Is this attractive to anyone but me?

Thanks

Tim

Paul Scholes's picture

Tim

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

I've used Dropbox for years and love it and, despte also using Iris OpenSpace some clients still share lots of stuff with me through Dropbox.  I'm no expert but the story repeated more than once on here is that Dropbox may not comply with EU data protection requirements, plus there have been stories of the US authorities gaining access to records. 

So until these rumours and stories are settled one way or the other, it would seem unwise to base client confidential data around this solution.

When you mention client approval of documents, is this a formal electronic signature type approval?  This is what the other systems around provide and is what I value most in Iris OenSpace.

Locutus's picture

@ Paul Scholes

Locutus | | Permalink

Going slightly off topic, but you mentioned issues with Dropbox, which I'm also a great fan of.  I've also been using Boxcryptor with it since January 2013 to get over any lingering security / Data Protection concerns. Boxcryptor puts an encrypted folder within the Dropbox folder structure and creates a virtual drive in which to drop files to become encrypted.

It is client-side encryption using 256 bit AES, so nobody at Dropbox, Boxcryptor or anyone else will ever be able to read anything without the password that you create and keep yourself.  You can still access the encrypted documents on iPhone, iPad, etc provided that you download the free app and have the password.

I've got the old BoxCryptor Classic licence. The new subscription based model has a facility to allow access to certain groups (presumably each with their own encryption password), although I don't think it would be sophisticated enough to call it a portal.

Tkwhitehouse's picture

Safe Harbour

Tkwhitehouse | | Permalink

Hi Paul,

Taken me ages to respond ....

On the dropbox security my understanding is that it should now be compliant with EU Data Protection as they adopted the international safe harbour rules. I may be wrong though. I very much realise it remains a concern though.

As for the client approval, yes I am thinking a secure electronic signature. I'm yet to find out exactly what standards need to be met for that but whatever it is will be met. 

My thinking is that the ease of just using dropbox from the accountant side will make it far more convenient than an Iris or whatever portal.