Mathew Bender's Search Master. (optical disk-based tax information library) (Software Review) (The Practitioner and the Computer) (evaluation)by Arkin, Howard
Maintaining a tax library is sometimes easier said than done. Some firms don't have the space or the economic resources necessary for a complete working tax library. It is imperative for my firm of 75 professionals to keep an extensive tax library that enables all our professionals to have access to the latest developments from the IRS. A firm with 20 or more professionals usually has no choice but to keep a sizable tax library on the premises. Many firms, in addition to subscribing to a variety of services, engage a librarian to come in and update the services and keep the libraries in order.
But what about the smaller firm, the one to 20-person firm that has neither the room nor the funds to keep a comprehensive tax library up to snuf? These firms often have to send their staff to outside business libraries or state societies to perform extensive research projects.
Technology to the Rescue
Wouldn't it be great if there was a storage device that could hold hundreds of megabytes of data on one disk? Wouldn't it also be great if you were able to switch disks of available reference sources and have access to the data with almost no wait. Enter CD-ROM. Almost indestructible, these disks are as easy to store as a compact disk for your music system. The disks not only store huge amounts of data, but the optical disk readers read the data as quickly as most other storage media.
The Search Master
When it comes to tax periodicals, we all recognize the name Matthew Bender. For years Matthew Bender has been supplying accountants with the research necessary to solve the most difficult of tax problems. Now Matthew Bender has combined its tax research with the cutting edge of technology to offer the Search Master family of optical disk tax libraries. These libraries are a series of four optical disks that allow firms to eliminate huge libraries and keep all their material up to date without requiring the services of a librarian.
About the System
The libraries comprise four major categories:
* Tax Library;
* Federal Practice Library;
* Collier's Bankruptcy Library; and
* California Practice Library.
Only the Tax Library is geared towards the accountant; the other libraries are primarily designed for use by attorneys. The Tax Library consists of the following volumes:
* Bender's federal tax service (18 vols.);
* California Taxation (5 vols.);
* Florida Tax Service (5 vols.);
* Illinois Tax Service (4 vols.);
* New Jersey Tax Service (4 vols.);
* New York Tax Service (6 vols.);
* Ohio State Taxation (4 vols.);
* Pennsylvania Tax Service (4 vols.); and
* Texas Tax Service (5 vols.);
Any of the services listed above can be mixed and matched, so a CPA firm in Florida does not have to purchase the Illinois tax service.
Subscribers receive an updated optical disk each month. This new optical disk not only includes the updated information, but also includes the material on the subject that has not changed. In other words the new disk is a completely updated version of the full library.
One of the biggest benefits of using the CD-ROM service is that the user no longer has to go to the index to begin researching a tax issue. Once the system has been installed, the user must simply enter a few key words about the topic and the system will direct the user to various sections within the code or regulations. For anyone who has used Lexis or Westlaw, CD-ROM is based on the same principal. The user inputs a group of key words, and the system searches the entire disk and identifies the sections that contain those key words. Learning how to properly utilize the key words is the secret to success. As with any computer application, users should expect to experience a learning curve. But once mastered, Search Master makes what was once a tedious task quick, efficient, and painless.
One of the most frustrating parts of performing research is the discovery that one of the volumes is not in the library. In a big office, often you find someone working with the volume you need, or used it two days ago and has not returned it to its proper place.
With Search Master, once the user inputs the key words, the next step is to print out what Search Master calls the "Hits." These are all the subsections that match the topics input. Now, the user has all the information needed, (probably more than needed), and all the information is still intact. The system is ready to research the next topic.
A drawback to Search Master is that only one person can use a source or volume at a time. For larger offices multiple copies of the CD-ROM files would be required, unless multiple computers could be networked.
I Thought to Myself, Why Not an On-line Service?
Why would a firm want the hassle, small though it may be, of maintaining a CD-ROM library when there are companies like Westlaw and Lexis who offer the same service via telephone lines? The only difference is, instead of buying the disk reader and having to deal with the disks, they allow the user to dial in.
The major factor is one of cost--the on-line system is very expensive. Every time an improper item is pulled up, or the user remains on the system searching for that particular piece of research, the costs mount. Firms that do extensive research may find the service bureaus to be very expensive.
Another consideration when choosing a research system is the type of user for whom the system was written. When discussing Search Master with Tony Marrazza, (a tax manager at my firm), he felt that Matthew Bender writes its material with accountants in mind, whereas Lexis and Westlaw write their material for attorneys.
That Nasty Installation
Being familiar with computers and with computer hardware, I found the installation process extremely easy. To begin with, the optical disk reader requires that a card be installed into the PC. Once the card is placed in any available slot, transferring the software to the hard drive is as easy as typing Install." The total time needed to install both hardware and software was approximately 30 minutes. However, once installed, I could not access the system. I didn't realize that I needed an access code the first time the system was used-this code ensures that the software is properly licensed. I called the customer support number furnished in the documentation, and the technician quickly assisted me in getting the system up and running.
Just the Facts
Search Master runs on an IBM or compatible PC/XT/AT or PS/2 and requires 640K of RAM and at least 1 megabyte of storage available on a hard drive. The computer must have DOS 3.1 or higher.
The annual cost of the Tax Library disk is about $1,200, and varies depending on what other Matthew Bender services your office subscribes to. The cost includes the monthly updates. The optical disk reader can cost anywhere form $500 to $1,000, depending on the brand and speed of the disk drive.
Saving Space and Money
If having an up-to-date tax library is an integral part of your tax practice, but your office is tight on both space and dollars, Search Master is a tax system worth looking into. With a minimal cash investment, even a one room office can have the benefit of a monthly updated tax service for the fixed cost of $1,200 per year. Along with the space and dollars savings, Search Master should expedite the entire tax research process.
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