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Tax Technology

SYNERGY Executive Briefing: For corporate tax departments, technology solutions matter — but maybe not as much as the know-how to effectively utilize them

Technology considerations — such as how organizations leverage their robust capabilities and manage the changing demands on talent — are key factors that are currently ratcheting up pressure on corporate tax departments.

To that end, Thomson Reuters’ very first SYNERGY Executive Briefing, held in mid-November in Denver, brought together 16 corporate tax department leaders, Thomson Reuters executives, and other tax and technology experts from tax heavyweights like Ernst & Young and KPMG, and software solution developers like Alteryx, to get a better handle on the challenges tax departments face today.

Throughout the day-long event, speakers, panelists, and experts at open forums discussed hot-button issues concerning technology and the tax industry. The event also allowed attendees the opportunity to network with their peers, sharing unique perspectives on the issues and challenges they’re currently facing while offering insights into the technology and solutions that have helped them overcome some of these hurdles. Indeed, the event was arranged so that attendees could not only enjoy the conversational environment created to give face time with industry executives and other experts, but also spend time with their peers that are experiencing many of the same challenges.

Amid the discussions, several topics and themes soon emerged — like how emerging technologies can solve for the lack of resources in dealing with rapid change; how to deal with the demands on your top talent in an environment of greater regulatory enforcement that is increasing the workload and risk burden; how to invest in the right technology; and how the power of data analytics can help tax departments with the internal collaboration needed to deal with increasing tax risk. An opening keynote by Thomson Reuters Corporate President Piotr Marczewski shed light on these themes and on all that was accomplished this past year.

One panel, Transformation Technologies in our Industry, led by Shawn Malhotra, Thomson Reuters’ Chief Technology Officer, highlighted the benefits of emerging technologies to solve the problems of tax departments, highlighting many new problem-solving products being brought to market. Malhotra pointed out, for example, that valuable tech applications such as cloud-based platforms, which can offer new functionality at a fast pace; APIs (Application Program Interfaces), which can provide greater automation for end-to-end workflows; and machine learning to further automate manual and repetitive tasks are already key innovations already available in certain single-platform tech solution suites. It’s no surprise that these emerging technologies are changing the way tax professionals work, Malhotra explained, adding that this change also necessitates the need for hiring talent with the know-how to apply these new capabilities in an effective way.

Facing the tech talent challenge

The Executive Briefing the delved into some of the more pressing business challenges that corporate tax departments now face, especially as they try to do more with less.

As panelists observed, at the center of the various functional challenges corporate tax departments are facing is the issue of talent and the shifting competencies and skills needed by the next generation of tax professionals. “It’s true that leadership need to be able to recognize who has the different skill sets and leverage them appropriately,” stated Marc Mehlman, General Manager of Large Corporate Accounts at Thomson Reuters. “Tax technology skills may be present in those early on in their professional careers, but technical skills take time and experience.”

And while rapid regulatory change in the tax environment shows no sign of slowing, technological innovation is fortunately keeping pace and providing new solutions to reduce the burden on tax professionals. As attendees learned as they began round-table discussions, however, often a tax department’s ability to deal with change comes down to having staff with the knowledge and ability to adapt to these new tools, as well as the know-how and experience to understand the problems they need to solve.

Many attendees and panelists are keenly aware that many companies are being forced to do more with less, and among the major challenges that tax departments are facing is these cost pressures that require them to make the right investment, every time, in the right technology.

Expert relationships are key

Indeed, as many attendees reflected on how to select the best emerging technologies for their needs, many suggested that they look to their tech vendors and solution-providers to be a voice of inspiration to their tax departments. In fact, many department leaders said they are actively engaging their vendors as partners to help the tax department better understanding the capabilities of new products as it tries to create a more efficient system and effective way of working. One attendee, for example, noted that the issue isn’t always whether the department has the right technology, but rather whether the technology is being used in the way that it was intended, further underscoring the need to hire talent with technology expertise, or to be able to rely on industry experts like vendors or other tech solution-providers.

Another attendee agreed, saying it’s the collaborative relationship his vendors that has helped shape the vision for his tax department, as his department operates in multiple locations and needed to create a consistent tax function across all locales.

For many in attendance, these examples illustrated how technology has the ability to address the challenges corporate tax departments face today; however, it becomes even more apparent that the previously-held idea that process automation would eliminate the need for human capital is not coming to pass. In fact, industry leaders are seeing that the need for talent with tax technology expertise is more important than ever.

By the end of the day, the SYNERGY Executive Briefing clearly demonstrated that while there are numerous technologies and techniques that can be deployed to collect, transform, cleanse, classify, and convert data into easily understandable visualization and reporting formats, it is understanding this process — and why you’re doing it — that is vital to the success of a corporate tax department.

For more on how your corporate tax department can address the challenges it faces in adapting to new technological change, visit Thomson Reuters ONESOURCE.

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