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Five ways to think beyond the spreadsheet

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Andy Ruggles US Data Automation and Global Alteryx Alliance Leader, PwC US August 25, 2016

How are you going to reduce risk, eliminate waste or otherwise add value to your organization? As a corporate tax professional today, you are grappling with many forces — a complex regulatory environment, pressure from your leaders to develop a strategic vision for tax reporting, and more internal and external stakeholders. Many of you may ask yourselves, “How can I survive in a complex environment?” One approach is to think beyond spreadsheets.

The mandate to deliver more reliable information creates both opportunity and challenge for those of you tasked with reporting it. In a recent PwC survey, 56 percent of tax leaders said they spend more than 30 percent of their time preparing data. I’ve seen firsthand the tax directors at my clients wrestling with outdated, inefficient and manual processes that consume valuable resources and increase organizational risk — while under intensive time pressure.

Despite the infinite challenges, how can you, as a tax director, keep pace with your organization’s growing needs? In our most recent Driving Value through Tax Reporting paper, we explore several ways tax departments can overcome these challenges. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, I‘ve found that you can start to reimagine your tax department by first, taking a deep breath, and, second, exploring these five approaches:

  • Get to the data owners when the door is open: Finance functions are implementing enhanced enterprise resource planning systems (ERP) and investing in other process improvements to streamline time- consuming and error-prone manual tasks. You can do the same by using these existing systems to incorporate tax requirements (e.g., tax-sensitized charts of accounts and legal entity reporting). It might not be quite as easy as saying “Voila” but it will help you produce timely, tax-ready data for reporting. Your challenge is to make the business case to be part of finance projects, and then collaborate with Finance and IT so that you are part of the process and not cut out of scope due to time or cost pressures. Defining the value proposition is key.
  • Be open to tax data hubs: These powerful tools centralize data received from various ERP applications, consolidation tools, and disparate systems and data files into a standard, tax-ready format. If you use a tax data hub or other centralized solution, you might find you can quickly obtain a top-side view of key information points. Vendors are investing and the technology is rapidly evolving. Do you have an open mind to consider how this market has changed?
  • Integrate platforms: You can streamline your reporting processes by integrating data from multiple systems, applications and spreadsheets into a common information and reporting platform. Through integration, you’ll be able to retrieve data once and apply it to multiple scenarios. Online collaboration tools can help automate document management and internal controls — freeing you to spend more of your time on strategic analysis. Vendors are actively investing to bring about integration, so it’s important to stay current. Consider how you are managing the spectrum of vendors and tools, and use a trusted advisor to help you sort through the options.

  • Make it your business to understand the analytics. We are seeing emergence of analytics to manage risk, understand effective tax rate breakdown, and evaluate process management. Push for your tax team to employ data visualization to analyze the volumes of data already at your disposal to uncover trends and provide a new perspective to stakeholders beyond tax. It will get you a seat at the table with the finance function and other corporate executives.
  • Adopt alternative resource models: Consider collaborating with finance shared service centers, or using a tax center of excellence or a co-sourcing arrangement. It can free your team to focus on more value-added and strategic activities, such as tax planning and analysis, without giving up control or visibility into the process. But stay involved so you can be comfortable that the underlying data is timely and at the right level of detail.

Although integrating new technology and processes can be challenging, these suggestions can help you create a more streamlined and effective tax function. And maybe, for once, it will be the end of spreadsheets.

To learn more about the advantages of a technology-enabled tax department, follow PwC’s Tax Function of the Future series.

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Andy Ruggles

US Data Automation and Global Alteryx Alliance Leader, PwC US

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