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Firm and Workflow Management

API and integration: driving automation in tax and accounting firms

Calvin Leong  Product Innovation Manager

Calvin Leong  Product Innovation Manager

“There’s a way to do it better—find it.” –Thomas Edison 

For operations leaders, in tax and accounting firms, the pursuit for continuous improvement and simplifying internal processes are now possible with user friendly API’s and Integrated Apps. New DIY solutions can offer standardization — profitability— and help firms looking to drive automation. I specifically want to discuss APIs, Microsoft Flow, Power BI and PowerApps (part of the Microsoft Office 365 Power Platform), which is already used by many tax and accounting firms to drive productivity and can have a significant impact on KPIs. Interested in learning how the power of these features can affect the life of an accountant?

Start in your comfort zone. Rather than thinking about the scary technology involved, start by identifying problems and hiccups in your current operations. Problems are easy to identify while in the trenches of tax season. As a member of a professional tax and accounting practice, you pour your time and energy to fill gaps in productivity, address mishaps, and handle threats to customer experience. So begin by identifying frustrations in your day-to-day activities, and know that new technologies can solve many challenges once considered unsolvable. Ask yourself, what are the simple, quick wins that would have an impact on your current workflow?

To understand the opportunity, we must discuss a buzz word which many have heard but only a few understand. That word is API (Application Programming Interface) which is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. An API specifies how software components should interact. Some examples of an API for a tax application could be to retrieve a client list, submit an E-File, retrieve an E-File acknowledgement, etc. It sounds very technical, but just think of the API as a handshake between two different and separate applications.

The good news is that you do not need development resources or programming expertise to implement such solutions. Our friends at Microsoft now offer Microsoft Flow, which is made up of connectors that allow its users to create automation between applications. A connector is a user-friendly wrapper around an API that allows the underlying service to talk to Microsoft Flow.

Recently, Thomson Reuters partnered with Microsoft to release a GoFileRoom connector within the Microsoft Flow ecosystem. This means that GoFileRoom users can now automate GoFileRoom processes using Microsoft Flow to over 45 (otherwise manual) actions. You can combine these actions together to create automation within your firm processes.

Some use cases include:

  • New Staff Onboarding: Import a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to create new GoFileRoom users.
  • Mobility / Automation: Create a PowerApp which allows you to take a picture of a document and then gets added as a PDF to GoFileRoom.
  • Integration: Retrieve a document back from e-signature applications and then have it automatically saved to GoFileRoom.

Another great thing about the Microsoft Flow ecosystem, is the sense of community where ideas and solutions are easily shared and reused by other community members.  If there are common tasks which involve a Thomson Reuters Connector, then these can be made available as a “Flow Template” which can then be utilized by other firms.

Remember, successful innovations are inherently problem-centric!  It’s time to ask your staff for the problems they wish could be addressed – think about clicks that could be ‘saved’ – what steps in your current process can be eliminated.  It is critical to debrief and share out impediments to facilitate a culture in support of innovation.

As Thomson Reuters releases new public APIs for its suite of products, we plan on releasing additional Microsoft Flow connectors. As new ideas emerge through the use of these connectors in the Microsoft Flow ecosystem, we plan on releasing templates and power apps for our customers’ benefit.

See a preview of our GoFileRoom connector here.

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