The new Thomson Reuters podcast, Tax & Tech Talks explores the evolving intersection of tax and technology. Each episode explores current issues or topics, giving listeners an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and new perspectives in tax and tech. We chat with top subject matter experts and industry leaders as we break down these top-of-mind topics.
In this episode “New Tax Software, Now What? Tips for a Smoother Tech Implementation”, the Thomson Reuters ONESOURCE team discusses how tax departments can facilitate a smoother and more successful technology implementation. Host Bianca Kuijper, Direct Tax and Transfer Pricing Director, and Jeff O’Hagan, Director of Professional Services discuss tech implementation tactics. Jeff manages a group of consultants that implement the ONESOURCE Direct Tax suite of products and tools. Jeff joined the company in 2004 and has been responsible for over 300 tax technology implementations. Some of his key clients include JP Morgan Chase, United Healthcare, IBM, AIG.
The topic is top-of-mind for many tax professionals as surveyed in the recently released 2020 Corporate Tax Departments Report, conducted by Thomson Reuters and Acritas. The survey reveals that many tax professionals see the implementation of technology as a major headache. As technology becomes more complex, tax professionals lack the support they need to understand implementations and therefore miss the opportunity to improve their workflow.
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Communication, or the lack thereof, can lead to confusion and frustration during technology implementations. In discussing the report findings, it was noted that implementation challenges were more related to people and not to the technology itself. According to Jeff, making sure your tax team sees the overall vision for the new technology is key. If this vision is not clearly understood and laid out to stakeholders, your team may not see the new technology as something that can help them be more efficient. Jeff has seen some organizations provide training before implementation even begins to show employees the uses, benefits, and possible limitations of new software. Getting your team familiar with the new software as soon as possible can help them understand why it is needed and how it will help reach your overall vision.
Once your team sees the necessity of the implementation, it is time to start planning. Developing a plan with multiple phases can break down the complexity of the implementation. Change can be stressful in the workplace but tackling it in smaller portions helps make it work. Planning in phases also allows for prioritization. It is critical, especially in cases where you have limited resources, to determine what aspects of the technology solution are most urgent to your organization. Forming a plan with your exact needs in mind will result in an implementation that feels more natural to your organization.
Giving your Tax Team Time to Focus on Implementation
No matter how strategic your plan is, you must find a way to free up time for your tax team to focus solely on the implementation. Fortunately, there are several ways that Jeff has seen this done. Freeing up time for your tax team to focus solely on the implementation can be done in several ways. Some organizations choose to assign a project leader to the implementation. Doing this ensures that the rest of the team knows exactly who to go to with questions or concerns. This decision also makes certain that there is always someone driving your implementation forward.
However, for some organizations, dedicating specific members of the tax team is not always realistic. Because of this, some organizations opt to hire a service provider to help with tax compliance and other obligatory functions of the tax department. This frees up some time for the tax team to focus on the implementation project. In his years of experience, Jeff can attest that tax teams often think it is the provider’s job to dedicate time to learn the new technology. By clearly defining everyone’s role in the process, you can avoid this confusion and continue moving forward with new processes after that additional support is gone.
Jeff has seen situations where the tax team successfully pulled in resources from other areas of the company that was able to help with project management, coordination, documentation, and other activities that don’t require specific tax or technology experience. This made implementation smoother by allowing the tax team to focus on the technical aspects rather than the administrative. Any of these tactics can provide your tax team some extra time to learn.
Getting All Stakeholders Involved with your Implementation
When planning a tech implementation, it is important to realize many stakeholders are involved so include them in your planning. Additional stakeholders might include your IT department, your finance department, or your audit firm. For example, if you want to implement a tax provision solution, you might need to go to your IT team and get them to build output from their general ledger system that’s going to be compatible with the tool that you’re implementing. By communicating this right away, you are giving your IT team time to do some planning as well and make sure that this project gets on their calendar and their radar. You would also want to notify your audit firm in this case, as they will need to sign off on the new process as part of the audit. If they are not informed, you risk going through the implementation only to have your audit team notify you that they’ve found a problem with it. Jeff has seen instances where his customer has brought the audit firm to design meetings for the software implementation, and that helped get everyone in alignment right from the start. At the end of the day, careful consideration of all stakeholders before implementation helps to avoid any roadblocks along the way.
As corporations work through the impact of COVID-19, our survey found that many tax departments are putting new technology projects on hold, which may set corporations further back. While we found that the median spend on technology was 10% of the total budget for corporate tax departments, we found that those departments that allocate more than 10% to technology tend to have less overall spend in relation to revenue — a clear testament to the direct benefits of investing in technology, and the new skillsets needed to go with technological advancements.
Read the complete 2020 Corporate Tax Departments Survey.