Concept Markers: Sharpening the Checkpoint “edge”

Tad Simons

Several factors make tax research more difficult than other types of research. One is the sheer volume and complexity of tax-related information. The text of the U.S. tax code alone is 2,600 pages long, for example, and the case law surrounding the tax code has grown to more than 70,000 pages. Add in all the online analysis, commentary, articles, journals, books, and other writing associated with taxes, and the searchable page count jumps into the millions.

Another difficulty factor is that tax researchers don’t always know exactly what they are looking for, or where to find it. Often, the purpose of a search isn’t to answer an easily stated question, it’s to clarify a discrepancy, evaluate a related matter of case law, or determine which section or interpretation of the tax code applies to a specific (and typically odd) situation facing a client. In many cases the answer isn’t obvious, and often requires a great deal of hunting and hoping—that is, trying a variety of different search terms and hoping that the nugget of information one is looking for pops up near the top of the results page, where it can actually be seen.

Tax research made easier

When the Thomson Reuters AI and Cognitive Computing team began developing Checkpoint Edge’s search logic, it did so with a commitment to making tax research significantly easier. One innovation they introduced in Checkpoint Edge is the “Concept Marker,” a function that instantly helps users identify areas of possible interest directly related to their initial search. Concept Markers show up as tabs that users can click on to advance and focus their search. For any given search, Checkpoint Edge offers up to ten different Concept Markers, all of which connect in some way to the original search but take it in a different direction, one the user may not be aware of or had not considered.

For example, a search for “Real Estate Investment Trusts” in Checkpoint Edge will yield an initial list of results, but it will also be accompanied by several additional Concept Markers, such as “treasury regulations,” “mortgage deductions,” “itemized deductions,” “consolidated returns,” “retail.” A simple click on the “mortgage deductions” Concept Marker tab would refine the search to reveal the best information available on that particular sub-topic.

But Checkpoint Edge’s AI algorithm doesn’t just scan the internet and compile a list. Rather, it combs both public sites and applicable Thomson Reuters proprietary databases, and uses the search histories and behaviors established by thousands of Checkpoint users conducting similar searches to identify the sites and documents most likely to contain the most relevant information. This sort of algorithmic filtering is similar to what happens in the background during a Google search. However, the Checkpoint Edge algorithm is optimized to locate data that would interest a tax researcher. It's also backed by the combined expertise of hundreds of Thomson Reuters legal editors, and incorporates a vast wealth of institutional knowledge developed over 70 years of industry leadership.

FATCA - The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act or (FATCA), passed as part of the HIRE act in 2010, to target non-compliance by U.S. taxpayers using foreign accounts and holding other financial assets offshore in two ways: withholding requirements that are imposed on financial institutions and reporting requirements imposed on specified persons.

Built to help everyone

Another reason Concept Markers were developed was to solve a problem revealed by thousands of hours of behavioral study into the search habits of the average tax researcher. As it happens, most tax researchers are not power users who know how to drill down and locate obscure references that aren’t immediately obvious. No, most tax researchers are CPAs who occasionally run into a roadblock and need to research their way around it. Concept Markers offer instant access to the sort of related ideas and logical shortcuts that a more experienced researcher might know instinctively. If the topic has been showing up recently in the news, the algorithm will also recognize that activity and create a Concept Marker that ties related media activity together under a single clickable tab. Thus, Checkpoint Edge can help less experienced researchers think more like experienced researchers, and help provide similar results—results that would otherwise take more time to gather.

For example, most searchers start with a phrase or string of words, and if the information they want doesn’t appear on the first page of search results, they try to refine the search by adding a few more keywords or typing in a different phrase. In each case, the user is conducting an entirely new search, and the results of the initial search are abandoned. Concept Markers automatically suggest intelligent ways to extend and focus the search without requiring the user to start over.

Fast and friendly

Concept Markers are just one of the many technological advances that Checkpoint Edge utilizes to make the tax researcher’s job less cumbersome. Indeed, having Checkpoint Edge on one’s desktop is like having the smartest, most capable assistant imaginable waiting patiently nearby, always ready to go to work at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, the platform has been designed from the ground up to fit comfortably into the tax professional’s normal workflow. Checkpoint Edge does not compete with other programs or processes. It complements them by offering users a faster, friendlier path to the answers they seek. A simplified interface and innovations like the Concept Marker also flatten the learning curve to the point where almost anyone can make immediate use of the platform with little or no training.

To the user, Concept Markers are simply shortcuts to a more productive, accurate search. But in reality, they are the culmination of many years and thousands of hours of intensive effort by people with only one goal in mind: to relieve the stress and uncertainty of traditional tax research. Have they succeeded? You be the judge.

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