From the January 2012 Review of Client Portals.
2012 Overall Rating: 4.75 out of 5
- Firms using or considering the Office Tools Professional Practice Management 2011 system, who want to provide user-friendly portals to clients.
- Tight integration with Practice Management 2011 system
- Project management and file sharing
- Built-in client communication tools
- Customizable firm branding
- Good integration with outside programs
- Requires use of the Practice Management 2011 system
Office Tools Professional is one of the most popular practice management and invoicing systems for small and mid-sized professional services firms. The vendor offers versions and feature sets designed for tax and accounting firms and other professionals, such as integration with QuickBooks, Microsoft Office products and Lacerte Tax. About two years ago, the company added DropFolder.net as an optional add-on to the vendor’s practice management system, providing a basic integrated method for professionals to securely send and receive files to and from clients. This year, Office Tools Professional dramatically expanded these collaboration capabilities with the introduction of the Practice Management 2011 Client Portals add-on, which includes invoicing and payment options for clients, coordinated project management, client messaging, email marketing functions and other features.
Firm User Experience – 4.5 Stars
The Client Portals system is an optional feature that, from the firm staff perspective, works completely from within Office Tools Professional, with its functions available from the client setup and client document management screens. It provides quick views of all files currently being shared with the client, including those sent to the portal by the client. The system offers the ability for clients to add files to their portal individually or in bulk, with access to built-in client messaging options, project management tools and the ability to push invoices to the portal.
Client portals can be created individually or across multiple clients at the same time, with the system sending a firm-customizable, template-based invitation to the portal via email. The client-side portal views can also be easily customized to show firm branding elements, including logos and contact information.
Firms using the Client Portals can have as many concurrent users as they have licensed on the broader practice management program, and can create any number of portals with multiple users per client. The system includes tools that allow firm administrators to manage user rights for clients and firm staff, such as restricting or giving access to specific functions. However, multiple client users at the same company cannot be given different access rights.
The portals for Office Tools Professional are hosted on RackSpace datacenters, one of the largest secure data hosting providers in the United States. RackSpace has undergone a SAS 70 Type II audit and is HIPPA and FINRA compliant. User agreements do not guarantee connectivity uptime, but RackSpace documents more than 99.999 percent uptime over the past two years. Data protection includes encryption prior to transmission and throughout storage on the servers, as well as redundant geographically dispersed datacenter sites.
Client User Experience – 5 Stars
Clients can access their portals either via links in email messages sent by the firm or through a login field that can be integrated into the firm’s website. The web-based interface offers a tabbed display that allows users to move between views of all documents in a list, or to view them as they relate to project folders, such as tax engagements by year, payroll services by month, or other firm-determined structures and naming.
The client-side interface also offers options for uploading tax documents, payroll sheets, bookkeeping data or any other files, and has a messaging function that lets them send brief notes to firm staff. Uploading of files is performed via a traditional Windows folder structure. When users download documents to their own computer or device, the original file remains in their portal and cannot be deleted by clients.
The password utilities in Office Tools Professional Client Portals allow firm staff to directly manage and reset passwords, or clients can use a “forgot password” function when logging into the portal to be sent a reminder by email.
Portal Capabilities – 4.75 Stars
The Office Tools Professional Practice Management 2011 system includes broad project and document management capabilities that enable the attaching of any type of files to client engagements, and the portals then allow the firm to share any of these items with clients. The files can be grouped into projects or can be left individually, with client-side views allowing project and all-file views.
As with the other programs in this review section, the system does not offer simultaneous, multi-person collaboration on the same document (dynamic workspace), but its sharing functions make it easy for users to work and share files with each other. When the firm uploads files to the portal, the client is notified by email, and when the client uploads a file to the firm, staff members assigned to that client are notified by a system alert that provides a popup view and options for assigning the document to a project or performing other actions.
Files remain on client portals until they are deleted by a firm staff member or until they reach a 30-day default deletion date, starting the day they are uploaded. As an option, firms can add a one-year file/data retention plan that, with annual renewal, can effectively allow files to remain on the portal indefinitely. The system does not offer other automated or user-determined file removal functions.
Files stored on the portal component of the system are displayed as messages received from the firm, and with little folder management and structure control. The firm can set up the system to notify users on either the client or firm side as to when documents have been shared, opened or moved, but the program does not offer live simultaneous collaboration on documents. Client user passwords meet basic security requirements.
Technical Aspects – 4.75 Stars
The only limitation on portals is based on data upload, with firms able to transfer up to five gigabytes per month to each client portal, and with the option to increase that limit for an additional fee. There is no overall maximum file storage space or limitation on file downloads.
The portals for Office Tools Professional can be used by clients on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari, and on any web-enabled mobile device. There are currently no specific apps designed for the program. While the portals are web-based, the practice management system itself is designed to be installed on a firm’s servers or workstations, or can be remotely hosted by Right Networks, InSynq and Cloud 9 Real Time.
The portals are integrated directly into the practice management system, and they also work with the user’s default mail application. For other functions, Office Tools Professional offers integration with QuickBooks, Lacerte Tax, Outlook, Word, Excel and DYMO for labeling. The portals can also include functions to allow clients to pay invoices online using popular payment solutions.
Help/Support – 4.75 Stars
The Office Tools Professional Practice Management 2011 system has several user assistance features, from how-tos and right-click menus, to customizable firm resources and a traditional Help index. The company’s support website offers system updates (which can be automated), along with tips, a knowledgebase, user guides, articles, extensive documentation, training options and contact information. Live support is included with pricing and is available weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time.
Summary & Pricing
Office Tools Professional consistently receives high scores in our annual reviews, and the introduction of the new Client Portals is an excellent extension of the Practice Management 2011 system. With the firm-side view of portal information built directly into the larger system, the portals are easy to manage and use. Likewise, the client-side view of the web portals are uncomplicated and offer good sharing, organization and messaging tools. The portals are available in a $360 per year Lite version, which includes the core file uploading and sharing for the firm and client, while the $720 Full Portals system adds client messaging, invoicing, payment, status update features and email marketing functions. To retain files on the portal for more than 30 days, the full-year retention add-on is $100.
2012 Overall Rating: 4.75