As tax & accounting professionals pursue greater efficiencies as a top goal, they understand that adopting and utilizing the best technology tools are a big part of the solution
Demand for tax & accounting services were high throughout the pandemic, and given the complexity of the regulatory environment, globalization, and the transfer of wealth and businesses to the next generation, this demand does not appear to be easing.
Add to this the tight labor market, it is no wonder tax & accounting professional leaders are making achieving greater efficiency their top priority in the coming year, according to the Thomson Reuters Institute’s recent 2023 State of the Tax Professionals Report.
Not surprisingly, technology plays a significant role in developing greater efficiency in the workplace. In fact, the report revealed that about one-third of respondents said their firms (independent of firm size) have automated up to one-quarter of their tax processes, and another 23% of respondents said their firms have automated up to half of their tax workflows. However, Canada (29%) and the United States (18%) reported the most tax professionals that said their firms have not automated any portion of their tax processes.
There are numerous tools and technologies that can reduce the number of steps a tax professional has to perform. To capitalize on these features, however, requires an investment in time to learn about them, to train on how to use them, and to redesign workflows to maximize the impact. Successful tech adoption also requires strong leadership to hold the team accountable for implementing the change.
Of course, not every person is as receptive to new technology, or change in general. Tax & accounting leaders cannot hold back improvements to accommodate for those who are the least receptive to change within the organization. The need to increase capacity for production is too great, and filling that need solely with additional talent is not a viable option.
The report also revealed that tax & accounting leaders’ top two investment priorities are prioritizing improving processes and workflows (with 69% of respondents citing this) and using more functionality of existing systems (67%) — two initiatives that fit hand-in-hand.
Therefore, to best implement and utilize additional technology, leaders have to acknowledge that firms’ work processes would have to change as well. Here are some steps that leaders can take to drive this kind of change:
Foster an atmosphere of improvement
Tax & accounting firm leaders will make greater strides in these initiatives by empowering a wider group of participants across the firm to look for areas of improvement. The professionals who daily perform various tasks will have unique insights and perspectives into how their processes can be made more efficient.
Curiosity should be encouraged and incentivized, even (or especially) if this means long-standing processes will be questioned. Of course, this may put some team members on the defensive as they may have created the current methods; but leaders should remind the team that technology changes quickly and the firm would seek to continually improve.
To ensure that each technology and process is being optimized, assign a champion, whose role would be to stay on top of update release notes, training, and is the point-person in the organization for any questions about that specific technology or process. These individuals would be the ones responsible for proactively communicating with the rest of the team about changes and updates.
Implement new features
Naturally, not every feature that’s released will be applicable to every firm. Variabilities in services offered, niches served, and size of the team also will impact the application. Firms should be sure to do a test run of applicable features with a subset of the team.
Also, team leaders should incorporate those individuals that are most enthusiastic about technology and at least one person that tends to be more resistant to the subset group. The tech enthusiasts can be the ones that perform the test run and dig into the tool to learn how to set it up. The person who is more resistant will offer invaluable input on the questions that may arise from other team members and how legacy processes will be impacted by this change. The collaboration will undoubtably create a more fool-proof rollout.
And, of course, any rollout plan should be carefully designed. Teams should identify how all affected parties will be trained — and they shouldn’t forget about training clients on aspects of the technology with which clients may interact. Leaders also should develop a timeline, asking key questions such as, “Is this a feature that can be rollout all at once? Or does it need to be done in phases to ensure there is capacity to train everyone on how to use the new feature?”
They should also develop a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document — a living document that evolves overtime — that users will be able to reference for further details.
Communication also is key for a successful implementation. Any efficiency gained only happens if everyone involved uses the new feature or process; therefore, accountability is a must. Set expectations as to by when everyone should be using the new feature and processes. Add an agenda item to team meetings to discuss feedback and questions. And leaders should follow up with the team to confirm adherence to the new procedures — and never forget that as leaders themselves, they need to lead by example by learning the new technology, where applicable.
Finally, as tax & accounting leaders focus on innovative ways to use technology, they have to be careful to not take on too much at once. As ideas are generated, have a committee meet to discuss interdependencies that may exist with the proposed changes and prioritize the ones that will have the greatest impact on efficiency gains.