The sights, cities and tourist attractions in California are world renowned. The "image" of California living lures people and businesses to move there. Despite its problems, California's urban and rural areas, freeways, colleges and lifestyle are envied around the world.

Keeping California attractive to businesses, visitors and residents costs money (well, except for the weather). The California Franchise Tax Board (CFTB) is the state agency responsible for, among other things, collecting that money. It oversees the state's tax code, audits returns and is responsible for tax collection and enforcement. As the state's tax agency, CFTB relies heavily on published reference materials that detail tax policy, tax laws and tax guides to perform its functions. The agency keeps physical libraries with volumes of documents containing research data and tax policy at each of the agency's 17 tax offices; but since these hard copy volumes can not always be carried around in the field, auditors may not have immediate access to the tax information.

Taxing Frustration

"Critical tax research and tax policy information may not be available to the field auditors during business site visits. The auditor must sometimes collect his compliance queries and the tax payers' questions, travel to the office to 'look it up,' and return to complete the audit. This may delay the audit procedure by days and frustrate both the auditor and the taxpayer," claimed Carlos Zamarripa, audit technology project director at the California Franchise Tax Board.

Online Library

CFTB envisioned adding an electronic reference library solution to a new Professional Audit Support System (PASS), which was developed in a partnership with American Management Systems Inc. The library would make the tax research and tax law information files available for immediate access and viewing by field agents as well as in-house personnel. When the new system is fully installed, field users (via their laptops) and office users (via their LANs) would be able to retrieve all associated tax policy data, which is now stored in hard copy form from several electronic sources, including a CD-ROM network server. This would allow hard copy reference library information to be converted to an electronic format and begin the elimination of third-party hard copy subscription services.

This centralized, online document reference library and distribution "call-up" capability required the purchase of additional storage components (e.g., CD-ROMs and associated network software). The PASS partners liked the idea of utilizing a CD tower for this task because installing it would result in an added bonus -- it would provide multiple access capability from desktop PCs and laptops in the field. And so, the search was on for a CD-ROM networking solution that fit CFTB's needs and "meshed" with its current network components.

Towering Solution

CFTB PASS partners evaluated CD-ROM products from a number of well-known vendors. Most fell short in their ability to integrate and run efficiently on a network. However, after talking to Meridian Data, it was learned that Meridian could satisfy CFTB's capacity and network operability requirements. "The Meridian CD-ROM total solution fits our needs and they understand the intended application," stated Zamarripa.

A 60-day pilot program was commissioned (and is now completed) to test PASS with Meridian Data's CD Net software and the CD Tower capability and functionality. Network CD-ROM access to two Meridian Data model 914 towers (each with 14 CD-ROM drives) was implemented in two offices and included sixty initial users. It was extremely successful.

The CD-ROM server solution easily integrated with the new PASS system hardware and software. Any auditor/user with CD-ROM tower access could call up a tax information research file either by document name, subject or date.

The CD Net software package is the key to making it all work, said Zamarripa. "CD Net oversees network CD tower access and storage and makes the CD