Database Server
Net-Centric Applications
Tax Preparation Site
WebHub EEP 8.95
Interbase Server 4500



Company: Universal Tax Systems (SecureTax)

Rome, GA


On January 10, 1997, Universal Tax Systems launched SecureTax (, a public web site which allows users to compute, prepare and file their taxes online. SecureTax provides users with the functionality and processing capabilities of sophisticated tax software applications while handling all computation and data exchange on the server-side. SecureTax is one of few sites on the web today that features a real-time application that can be accessed and utilized by any computer in the world with an Internet connection, regardless of its operating system. Using Delphi and WebHub, the developers of this system web-enabled a comprehensive personal tax product in less than six months.

Company Background

Universal Tax Systems Inc. (UTS) was founded in 1983 by Steve J. Safigan. The companyís original and flagship product, TaxWise, is a full-featured professional tax preparation and electronic filing program used by more than 5,000 CPAs, accountants and tax professionals throughout the world. UTS was recently awarded a five-year contract to provide the Internal Revenue Service with more than 15,000 copies of TaxWise. These packages are utilized in IRS offices worldwide. Several thousand tax returns were prepared and electronically filed at sea by U.S. aircraft carriers using TaxWise. UTS has grown exponentially during the 14 years of its existence. For the past three years, UTS has been named to the Inc. 500, a list compiled annually by Inc. Magazine to recognize the fastest growing, privately held companies in the nation. Located in Rome, Georgia, UTS employs more than 200 people.


After achieving significant success with its TaxWise professional tax package, UTS sought to transfer its software expertise toward penetrating the personal tax market. If UTS was going to develop a personal package, it would also have to develop elaborate distribution systems to compete in an already crowded marketplace. In the emerging World Wide Web, the developers of SecureTax found a far more democratic channel for penetrating the personal tax market.

"The beauty of the Internet is that it has no shelf space,"said UTS President and chief SecureTax architect Steve Safigan. "From a marketing standpoint, the Internet levels the playing field. Because of this, we could cost-effectively reach our markets while utilizing the majority of our resources for product development."

The SecureTax development team sought to further exploit the Internetís inherently direct path to customers by offering an alternative to platform-specific computing.

Said Safigan, "We did not want to develop a shrink-wrapped application for customers to download and use on their own machines. Instead, we wanted to create a real-time application that could be used online by any computer with a browser and an Internet connection."

For UTS, this development strategy appeared to have major benefits for both the company and its customers. UTS would not have to worry about the traditionally high overhead costs of distributing software and upgrades. It could direct its resources toward continuous quality improvement. For the customer, a real-time application would provide simple, instant access to a comprehensive tax preparation system. It would eliminate the hassle and technical issues of installing a once-a-year program and would make product updates unnecessary.

Web-enabling a personal tax package had several undeniably strong business advantages. The challenge for UTS was to find a framework that could help realize this objective.


After searching the web tools market, UTS found WebHub, a solution that would play an instrumental role in bringing SecureTax to market. UTS had been using Delphi since it began shipping in 1994. WebHub was therefore a natural extension to the companyís core programming environment and skill-set. It gave UTS a flexible framework in which to build a highly customized application. Additionally, WebHub offered critical solutions to such common web challenges as state management, web server interfacing and scalability.

Flexibility and the Web-Centric Application

SecureTax was conceived as a full-featured application that could perform a broad range of tax preparation services, including multiple state returns, form generation based on taxpayer input, and online auditing functions. Such customization required a development environment that would place no limits upon the kinds of features that could be included in the SecureTax system.

As a set of Delphi components, WebHub provided UTS with the necessary flexibility to web-enable a custom application and give the developers complete control over the project.

The SecureTax application is a powerful demonstration of true flexibility. More than an interactive site filled with dynamic "cookie cutter"features, SecureTax is an entirely customized application whose operating system happens to be a browser. WebHubís extensible architecture made such customization possible by extending the developerís programming skills and code to the web.

From Client/Server to the Internet: Solving the Technical Issues of Building a Web-based Application

The decision to build a web-centric application brought several Internet-specific challenges, including state management, interfacing with web server protocols and handling high volumes of surfer traffic. Beyond a flexible framework, UTS required particular solutions to these common web barriers.

"The technical issues of developing web-based applications are very different than those involved with desktop applications,"said Safigan. "With WebHub, we worked within a framework where most of those issues were automatically resolved. WebHub helped us bridge the gap between conventional client/server and web-based development."

Saving State

One of the fundamental requirements for any application is state management. In order for data processing to occur, the application must be able to remember and restore user input and, in doing so, "save state" for a particular individualís interaction with the software. This state management creates the cohesive relationship between the user and an application.

For web-based applications, saving state is a particularly difficult challenge. Using traditional CGI methods, developing a save state mechanism for a web application can take weeks of programming time. And even when the mechanism is completed, it cannot be reused for subsequent projects.

The WebHub architecture is designed to address the saving state challenge automatically, allowing developers to optimize their programming time and focus on the applicationís core functionality.

Said Safigan, "With WebHub we built our application the way we wanted it to work and WebHub took care of saving state, providing a cohesive, cumulative experience for the surfer."

WebHubís saving state mechanism derives from its distinct surfer-tracking capabilities. Applications built with WebHub track surfers from page to page by assigning a unique, anonymous identification number which stays with the surfer (as part of the URL) for the entire length of a session. This provides the essential information necessary for retrieving and restoring surfer-specific input.

The developers of SecureTax extended WebHubís tracking feature in order to retain surfer input for up to one full year. In addition to assigning a unique identification number, SecureTax also asks the user to provide a personal password, giving further security to the interaction. By extending the capabilities of WebHubís surfer tracking mechanism, SecureTax can store taxpayer information and save state beyond individual web sessions. This allows taxpayers to access and prepare forms during subsequent visits. The information entered during previous visits is automatically restored for up to one full year, further simplifying the filing process.

Low-level Web Server Interface

UTS utilized WebHub to solve a primary technical challenge of building a web-based application: establishing an interface between the application and the web server. WebHub addresses this challenge by providing an additional layer ("runner") between any major Windows-based web server (ISAPI, CGI-win, CGI-bin) and the rest of the application.

"We were absolutely impressed with WebHub's ability to handle the peculiarities of the ISAPI interface,"Safigan added. "We never had to see it. WebHub took care of it for us."

Scaling Up for High Traffic

The SecureTax site is designed to serve thousands of users per day. Twenty-six instances of the same SecureTax application reside on an equal number of Pentium machines, all equipped with their own web server and connected by a Tricord file server. UTS utilized WebHubís scalable architecture to direct traffic, queue surfers and direct users to the least busy instance of the application. In this way, WebHub functions as a traffic officer, directing surfers from box to box and ensuring that the system is not overloaded during peak times.

According to Safigan, "Scalability was definitely an issue for us. We found WebHub extremely easy to scale across multiple servers. Our system now has the backend architecture in place to serve a virtually unlimited volume of customers."


The recent emergence of the world wide web as a practical tool for business communication and commerce carries new paradigms for broadening existing markets and reaching new ones. SecureTax is the realization of these new paradigms. Using the most advanced object-oriented development tools, UTS has successfully fulfilled the promise of web-centric computing. Moreover, SecureTax has created a better way to market tax software.

WebHub was the key to publishing our application on the web. We needed a tool that would allow us to replace our DOS/Windows user interface with an HTML interface. WebHub is the only tool on the market with the flexibility and robustness to accomplish this. Using WebHub, we were able to adapt our tax program to run across the Web as if it was running on a local computer. WebHub gave us the head start we needed to develop a true Web-centric application.

Steve Safigan

President, Universal Tax Systems

Technology Used

Operating System Windows NT Server 4.0
Web ServerMicrosoft IIS 2.0
DatabaseInterbase Server 4500, by Borland
Hardware26 P90 Machines linked by Tricord file server

Compaq to host Interbase commerce database

Tools WebHub, by HREF Tools Corp.

Delphi 2.0, by Borland