Automation for tax – You can have your cake and eat it too!

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Andy Ruggles US Data Automation and Global Alteryx Alliance Leader, PwC US June 26, 2018

Everyone is talking automation, but what does that really mean? We know we want it, but we want those “quick wins” along with an overall plan that is strategic plan so all the different parts fit well together. Well, some new concepts will allow us to have our cake and eat it too - driven by a new approach of small automation.

On our recent Tax Function of the Future webcast, Automation now: Achieving success by going smart, fast, and small, we discussed how small automation (that is in addition to “big enterprise automation”) can help Tax become better a strategic partner within the wider organization. In an effort to demystify Tax functions’ automation journey, PwC has identified five automation success factors to consider when framing any automation discussion.

Why should your company invest in small automation now?

A rapidly expanding trend in the economic and business environment is the increased emphasis on quality data and technology-enabled processes for Tax. Small automation allows companies to respond, but in a more measured and controlled manner, looking at processes within the Tax function, for fast implementation of flexible and adaptable technologies not easily accomplished by enterprise systems. The critical benefit here is that Tax functions, with less incremental budget, time, and IT reliance than per historical enterprise automation initiatives, can generate targeted quick ‘wins’ that in series can transform the function and bring to scale the automation discussion for larger enterprise wide consumption and buy-in. 

PwC’s five key automation success factors:

  • Understanding the business process and pain points
  • Putting people and culture at the heart of the strategy
  • Ensuring sustainability through robust governance 
  • Evolving the technology ecosystem to meet goals
  • Measuring business returns beyond financial return on investment (ROI)
Something else to consider 

With the growing demands and focus on tax, there is no doubt that automation is a crucial tool in the Tax function’s ability to deliver value for the company. Over the past few months, advising companies on implementation and scaling, we’ve identified a few challenges that companies should be mindful of as start implementing automation. 

There is more than one bottom line for small automation!

When developing the business case for change, and subsequently measuring success, stakeholders will undoubtedly want to have a clearly articulated value proposition for investing in automation. Stakeholders need to know that automation drives benefits that resonate with larger enterprise wide goals. As you consider your own small automation journey and scaling the impact beyond the Tax function, what’s top of mind for the C-suite should be built into the proposition for automation now. You also should consider all angles when developing the value proposition beyond obvious financial metrics to include benefits which address critical aspects of operating in today’s dynamic global business environment. Consider important benefits, such as improved quality, better managed risk, and a higher level of employee engagement and retention, that have a trickle down effect on the financial metrics of the organization. 

Initial deployment of Small Automation

Upon introduction of small automation, teams will be trained on the use of the automation tools. Teams gain hands-on experience with the application and identify ways to automate their day-to-day tasks. Initial use cases are implemented, and quick wins are achieved with select stakeholder participants. Often leverage external support to augment internal capabilities

Scaling of Small Automation

More teams become on-boarded to the automation tools as initial success stories are evangelized. Internal capabilities develop and automation deployment starts to become more efficient. Applications are shared in server / cloud for scaling and coordination.

Establishment of Center of Excellence (COE)

Governance model is formalized and managed by cross-functional COE. The COE defines process intake methodology and workflow priority, documentation protocols, and supports planning and deployment of automation projects. Internal capabilities allow companies to execute with limited external support. COE continues to explore and innovate with new emerging technologies. 

Measuring the elusive “ROI” question

It is also important to note that ROI for automation will change as you progress on your automation journey. It likely will not be the same at implementation as it will be at scaling. As advances in automation begin to take hold in your organization, related variables will adjust.

  • Time and cost associated with training employees will decrease as initial users develop necessary skills
  • Costs to execute small automation projects decrease as internal capabilities expand, streamlined implementation methodologies and best practices are refined, and synergies across projects are developed
  • Risks with implementation will decrease as you develop best practices and a vetted governance structure to rely on for future implementation/scaling
  • Quality of work will increase
  • Strategic decision making will be better supported as the time to manipulate data will decrease
  • Up-skilling naturally will increase as employees will be able to dedicate more time to more strategic tasks (over routine reporting tasks)

When we say we can have our cake and eat it too, it means that emerging technology is allowing us to take the benefits of small automation by targeting the gaps left behind by “big automation” (i.e. your enterprise efforts), and get the best of both worlds!

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Andy Ruggles

US Data Automation and Global Alteryx Alliance Leader, PwC US

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