While its roots are in Alberta, TransAlta Corp. has grown significantly to become one of Canada’s largest power companies with assets across the country and in the United States and Australia. It continues to evolve through mergers and acquisitions at home and abroad. So when the tax department was looking to automate its financial reporting, it needed a flexible solution that could evolve along with the business.
Prior to its transformation, the tax department was running largely on spreadsheets, which required the team to use manual processes to produce the quarterly tax provision. With a small team spending time on repetitive tasks like cutting and pasting data, meeting deadlines was a challenge.
With increasingly compressed tax reporting deadlines adding to the time crunch and raising the potential for inaccuracies, Kris Galay decided it was time to change when he joined TransAlta as Head of the Tax group. His goal was to automate tax compliance activities to free up time for his team of highly skilled chartered professional accountants to focus on analysis and more value-added projects.
“No one wants to come in and spend a day doing copying and pasting. They’re CPAs, they’re trained in tax, they’re smart people, and I didn’t hire people that would just be happy with the status quo. They’re excited to see that the company is behind them and trying to improve processes for them going forward.”
Helping Kris in his journey was the fact that TransAlta already had a culture of change and innovation, with a dedicated transformation office for all areas of the business. It’s Project Greenlight initiative takes ideas from employees in the field—including proposals to save time or improve efficiencies—from concept all the way through to execution.
With that culture of change coming from the top of the organization, Kris decided to approach the transformation office with the idea of automating TransAlta’s tax function. He knew PwC had a solution that would work with TransAlta’s existing software, which meant the company wouldn’t have to purchase a new program or an annual licence. Because the solution is based on Microsoft Excel, the tax team could modify it to meet its needs, rather than relying on a third-party consultant every time it needed to make a change. PwC’s Tax Data Hub also had the benefit of housing all historical tax information in one database, allowing TransAlta to generate meaningful analytics from visualization software showing trends and movements in tax balances over time.
Another factor in the success of the transformation was the fact that Kris was in a position to hire new staff. They included Lydia Giles, a tax adviser whom he tasked with leading the project alongside the PwC project team. Kris knew that if the team wasn’t on board with the transformation, it would be harder to make it a success. With new people joining, he was able to engage the team on the benefits of focusing on more value-added activities. He also looked to improve processes since he knew that technology would only take the transformation so far. To get the most out of technology and automation, it was important to address inefficiencies that were holding the team back.
Since the tax team is saving so much time through automation, staff can more easily meet tight reporting deadlines. Along the way, they’ve also found other areas where they can save time. For example, they file about 60 Canadian tax returns a year, which is a significant amount of work to do manually. Through automation, they’ve not only reduced the number of hours required to complete their tax returns, but they’ve also been able to pass some of this work on to junior staff.
The team now has more time to spend on analyzing tax returns before submitting them for manager-level review, which improves the quality. Staff can finish the compliance phase faster, which also frees up time to work on value-added tasks. Indeed, the transformation project’s success has sparked interest from other areas of the company.
The benefits of tax automation go well beyond the efficiency and quality impacts TransAlta has seen already. Perhaps most importantly, the tax team is excited about the changes. Kris believes this will not only improve workflow but will also help with recruiting and retaining staff by shifting the focus to more challenging and rewarding work. While the technology has provided a foundation, it’s TransAlta’s people who are driving the success of the transformation.
National Tax Leader, PwC Canada
Partner, Canadian Markets Leader, Tax, Calgary, PwC Canada