Tax & Accounting Blog

Designing for people: Tax and the process of transformation

Accounting, Accounting Firms, Accounting, Audit & Payroll, Audit, BEPs, Blog, Business Practices, Organisations, Our People, Thomson Reuters & You September 24, 2018

Imagine being able to press pause on business operations and to take stock of your tax and accounting processes. To start afresh, removing the barnacles and band-aids, keeping what is working, and re-working what can be done better. Transforming it into a process “Utopia”.

But even then, it would never remain in this “flawless” state. The complex ecosystem that characterises large businesses is influenced by many factors: laws, regulations, market trends, technology, business goals and most significantly – people. So how can we improve within the existing parameters?

Disruption, transformation and the tax and accounting world

The tax and accounting sector has always been a dynamic legislative and regulatory environment, but more recently, it has been through some seismic shifts. Global regulators and local administrators, equipped with technology, data matching tools, have picked up the pace and dialed up the pressure on corporate and individual taxpayers to deliver detailed justifications of their tax profiles.

This means accountants and tax advisors need to also lift their game to support their organisations or their external clients. Unfortunately, the utopian “pause” button isn’t an option. But by simply taking a step back, tax managers can give themselves space to think objectively about their teams’ processes and plot a path to a better design and better results for the business.

No matter how big (implementing a new ERP system) or small (producing monthly reports) the process managers require a deep understanding of the full end-to-end process and how teams interact and collaborate to meet the business’ objectives.

Given the time and resources needed just to just carry out day to day work, transformation might seem an impossible mission.  But with the right methodology and support partners, there is a way of adopting a curious and creative mindset – what is termed “design thinking” is the first step.

Designing for the User

The users’ experience is central to any process re-design:

  • What do the people who are at the centre of the work think?
  • What are the pain points associated with using a system?
  • How can these be removed, or lessened and what do people want?

Empathy is critical when undertaking this review to remove pre-conceived ideas or biases. Empathy can be brought to the process using methods such as assuming a beginner’s mindset, asking what-how-why and creating journey or value stream maps. From here the environment is set for brainstorming – key in the ideation phase for devising innovative ways to improve existing processes, including elements not previously considered, such as the role technology plays in transformation.

Technology and Systems Review

Technology, particularly automation is often seen as the key enabler for business transformation and credited for driving greater efficiency and delivering better bottom-lines.

If your business predominantly uses spreadsheets or other tools that lack robust controls, during the design phase, you might consider the use of technology to improve systems across the whole business.  For tax and accounting specifically, a tech-upgrade allows a greater focus on audit trails, risk mitigation of human error and the ability to review and analyse, as opposed to number crunching and manual data manipulation.  And technology can afford far greater flexibility for your teams. For instance, by using cloud-based software means you work from anywhere – fast becoming the norm in our digital world.

However, starting the process can be very daunting for Tax and Accounting teams, as they grapple with time pressures, limited resourcing and more work. But a systems review should be a large part of any re-design, and if engaging with technical consultants to take a big bang approach is not be appealing, consider staggering the review and implementation of the design improvements – small process improvements may bring some immediate relief.

Partnership and finding the perfect fit

The transformation journey doesn’t have to be a solo one. There are consultants and technical software providers who offer an array of services to support businesses during the assessment criteria phase, through to best practice approach for implementation.

For example, Thomson Reuters’ professional services consultants have similar backgrounds to our customers, many with CA/CPA qualifications and have either led or worked in tax divisions and financial accounting teams across multiple industries.  Equipped with empathy, they have a deep understanding of the pain points identified by our customers in their existing processes.  In some cases, customers may have recently been through an ATO audit, which has highlighted unpaid tax, resulting in subsequent penalties and even reputational damage.  The invaluable ability of teams such as ours, to build rapport and design robust processes, through leveraging career expertise and experience, ultimately results in efficiencies across tax and accounting compliance processes, and optimum experience for our clients’ teams – the users.

Companies who support innovation and create a culture of inclusion, involvement and continuous process improvement by empowering their people to be creative, will always trump companies who do not.  In a digital world, it is important to remember how quickly things can change and it is just as important to ensure we remain curious and question the status quo, to adapt and develop new ways of working.