The global pandemic has seen an acceleration in the use of technology to facilitate the continued operations of a largely remote and increasingly globalised workforce. We all are, sometimes painfully, aware of the amount of time now spent in video conferencing and utilising messaging platforms like Microsoft Teams to communicate with our colleagues.
Nevertheless, the innovation in the tax space is going further and faster, and the current environment has created new opportunities for technology and innovation in the tax department. For years we have spoken about it – now it is real.
In my previous article, I outlined how tax is a key facilitator in achieving the ambition of governments, societies, businesses and individuals to collectively strive to “build back better.”
Tax leaders, too, have a direct role to play in driving the innovation needed to achieve “better,” and in this period of continued change, it’s crucial for tax leaders to be cognizant of the key trends that are transforming not only tax, but also technology.
A globalised and digitalised way of working
The pandemic may have made us much more conscious of physical borders, but while barriers to travel have been put up, those that have siloed teams within their own offices have fallen away.
Now it doesn’t matter if a colleague is in London or Lagos; if they have a good broadband connection they can fully participate, especially as cloud platforms facilitate greater collaboration across geographies and tax processes.
New ways of working are also being reflected in a closing of the technology expectation gap.
Increasingly tax teams rely on globalised systems and end-to-end process integration, replacing tried and tested localised administration. Fast networks and 5G have enabled teams to work from anywhere, and increasingly products and solutions, using the cloud, allow for all necessary data to be available in one place.
Previous hours spent reconciling information like transactional reports and indirect taxes is becoming a thing of the past, with tax leaders able to direct their focus on proactive reporting and delivering real added value.
Furthermore, in addition to improving personal productivity, technology like video conferencing, used by hundreds of millions daily, is also breaking down barriers between tax teams and their corporate colleagues. The result is an increasing appreciation of the role tax can play in ensuring resilience and recovery, through greater connectivity of tax across businesses, as well as the opportunity of tax teams to escalate issues earlier.
Augmented reality and citizen developers
While daily interaction has transformed, it is the more advanced technology that may really prove transformative in the medium term for tax leaders and their teams.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and augmented reality are already changing the way we interact with computers, and we can expect to see this accelerate as cloud-based solutions and remote working become ingrained in the norm. We are already seeing more voice and audio led programming, something likely to jump forward due to Covid, along with the use of haptic screen technology.
This growth and increasing familiarity with technology platforms is also enabling the growth of analytics as a service, with tax teams increasingly plugging-in data to digital platforms that can create mature data repositories to address specific customer demands. Increasingly tax leaders are utilising new tools to redefine the role of the tax team and the input it can provide.
An example of this is the Digital Gateway tool developed by KPMG to empower tax professionals to become citizen developers. Powered by Microsoft Azure and built on the cloud, it does this through an offering that brings together a combination of tools to help tax teams create personalised platforms, address regulatory change, turn data into value and streamline compliance and planning.
It is one of the many tools now available to tax leaders that help address the increasing need for always on, instant access to information, and increasing demands from outside the tax department. And while we know tax can often be used to create efficiencies, we are also aware that when costs are being cut, tax departments can be under the microscope too.
In it for the long term
While just getting through the pandemic may be the focus of many businesses right now, it pays to think bigger picture and longer-term.
We are increasingly in a world where the ‘internet of things’ is part of the everyday, with connectivity built into everything from cars and watches to homes and perhaps soon even ourselves. New ways of working accelerate and facilitate this too, even if there are legitimate concerns about the wellbeing impact of being ‘always on’.
For those of us working in tax this offers huge opportunities to transform how we operate and to attract new talent into our field. Tax accountancy has often been stereotyped as relying on wading through Excel sheets to reconcile data sets, being about administration as much as innovation.
Thanks to technology that’s changing, AI and cloud-driven software solutions are taking up the administrative slack, freeing up headspace for tax to take the lead in coming up with solutions rather than just solving problems.
Together tax and technology can enable businesses to be fit-for-future and ensure best-practice can be delivered while thinking creatively too.
By David Linke, global head of tax and legal services, KPMG International.