The Tax Transformation Challenge – This is NOT a Drill … But first change the narrative and get ‘buy in’

Leadership that demands success before commitment will get neither…

Transformation is, in part, a psychological journey with a series of emotional responses. According to Lindsay Herbert*, these are in order denial, fear, anger, delight, and ultimately attachment to new technology and ways of working.

In the tax world currently, it’s safe to say that the denial phase is over. No one doubts tax authorities and organizations have taken technology adoption to the point where nothing will ever quite be the same again. A general acceptance has descended and digitalization can no longer be avoided.

The issue now is that we’re entering the fear stage.

However, it’s not a classic fear like in a horror movie. Instead, it’s more like the fear a deer feels when caught in the headlights and afraid of what to do next. This is especially true of senior budget influencers figuring out which way to turn in the face of tax’s digital onslaught. 

So, we need to help them. And to keep it simple, the best way to help them is with…

An Inspired Vision and Workable Plan 

This means that firstly, we must provide an insightful end-state vision – in other words, a depiction of what good looks like in the end, and why. Secondly, we must clearly describe how we plan to get there.

However, now there’s another problem – our vision & plan will change as we explore, discover & learn along the way, because this is the inalienable, and desirable, nature of innovation. Budget-holders naturally abhor this kind of uncertainty, leaving you with three choices:

  1. Hoodwink them – make promises that you yourself aren’t sure you can keep (some say this has been a fabulously successful business model for the big brands for years);
  2. Manipulate them – with HR or similar, but this then becomes a grudge purchase; or
  3. Work with them – because after the other options, they’re more than ready to hear a different story.

But they’re scared, and rightly so. Now what we need is a vision & plan that authentically conveys the following:

  • Low cost
  • Minimal disruption
  • Low risk
  • Not too time-consuming
  • Low impact, especially in the beginning
  • Based on accepted concept & principle
  • Has the best help available
  • Offers major learning experiences
  • Promises new outcomes
  • A real way to tackle ‘garbage in, garbage out’
  • Address root causes, not symptoms
  • Establishes future-proofing
  • Has independence
  • Brings short-term wins and…
  • Long-term strategic value.

And a few more advanced ones:

  • Harnesses technology without learning IT
  • Puts ‘data’ front & center
  • Values transformation over business process automation
  • A journey where success is created, not installed
  • Digitally empowers personnel & enhances career paths
  • Costs less than doing nothing!

Sound too good to be true? 

Well, it’s not. Not anymore. And we’re dedicating time, effort, and money to making absolutely sure you have a ground-breaking, convincing & compelling story for your stakeholders to ‘buy-in’ to.

Still not sure? Then put us to the test by joining our upcoming masterclass:

Tax Transformation Essentials   

3 Steps To Nirvana & Elevating Your Tax Career 

Tuesday 13th September 2022 @ 11:30 BST/ 12.30 CEST

I can tell you with absolute conviction that, 1) you need this, because it’s real and not a drill, and 2) I’ve got this, because it’s working now with your peers.

Come along and see for yourself. Prove me wrong if you can!

Last Few of 50 FREE Places Available!

* Lindsay Herbert, Digital Transformation: Build Your Organization’s Future for the Digital Age, Bloomsbury 2017 

Always a pleasure …


The Traditional vs Transformational View of the Impact of Technology on Tax … and why it matters more than ever

From 20th century data processing to 21st century digital empowerment

People like to think of “transformation” in terms of digital transformation, or the introduction of technology into the way tax works today. This typically translates into the notion that automation leads to transformation, but this is incorrect. In fact, if taken too far, that thought process can be quite harmful.

Possibly it’s the word “digital” that’s confusing, it’s hard to know. But on the other hand, it’s easy to see how the “digital” in digital transformation gets collapsed into a single idea of “technology”– after all, most of the relevant technologies today are “digital technologies” in any case.

However, that’s not the best way to think about it. Instead, the advent of digital information technologies to a knowledge-based tax industry (where information is king) is so profound it causes a complete revolution! Nothing remains untouched – the very definition of transformation and it involves people, process & technology.

It works like this – if information is knowledge, and knowledge is power, and information technology greatly increases the power of information, then knowledge workers like tax professionals are suddenly super-charged!  It’s like your source of propulsion being lifted from peddle-power to rocket fuel!

Conversely, without that power, the traditional tax professional is increasingly hamstrung in a digital world. The table below demonstrates this:­

However, there’s a big caveat before transitioning from the first column to the second – tax professionals must become digital natives. If this cannot be achieved, then rocket fuel is useless to them.

What’s more, they must do this without becoming “IT” people, which was never going to work in the first place. Instead, they need to become more like digital power users, and we’ve figured out how …

Ready to find out more?

Join us at our Masterclass, learn how to elevate the tax profession, leave your current funk behind, and send your career to the moon!

Tax Transformation Essentials

3 Steps To Nirvana & Elevating Your Tax Career

Tuesday 13th September 2022 @ 11:30 BST/ 12.30 CEST

Securing a space at my masterclass is FREE (usually $179) for the first 50 registrants but with over 60% of these tickets already gone, you’ll need to act fast…­

Until next time …

Innovation Needs Leaders, Not Managers

Managers Execute, Leaders Explore … and the Difference is Crucial to Transforming Tax

Tax professionals are skilled in the art of tax, but when it comes to working within their companies, they turn to the management profession for methods & tools. Historically this has worked well, but now that tax folk must innovate to stay ahead of the digitalization of tax, major cracks are starting to appear.

It’s no secret that large corporations are resistant to innovation, and this is reflected in the way they think, operate, and measure success. This is hurting tax at a time when the pressure to adapt & change is at fever pitch.

It all comes down to how people see the way forward. In general, business managers are hard-wired to start any effort with, “Tell us what you want and we’ll implement it for you.“. What they’re looking for is a clear specification so they can plan, ramp up, measure, and deliver against a well-defined destination.

That’s fine, except that in the digital realm tax managers cannot yet supply that level of clarity. They lack sufficient connection with that world to provide such information, so the knee-jerk reaction is to default to a form of automation called business process automation (BPA).

There’s no doubt it has a place in the world, but the premise behind BPA is not very innovative. In simple terms, it’s based on the blinkered stance that everything is a process and the manual pieces must be mechanized – in other words, the best way forward is machines replacing humans.

But today’s enterprise technology is not very good at replacing humans, nor is it an “IT” problem. Instead, today’s tools are far better at complementing upskilled humans! – a form ideal for the tax profession, and the origin of the phrase people, process & technology.

Even more concerning, however, is that the BPA mental mousetrap is shut off from the greatest prize of all – ‘data’ as a core strategic asset, the true motherlode for modern day tax. Taxologists put it like this:

As oil was to the energy industry in the 20th century,
so data is to the tax industry in the 21st century.

To cut a long story short, any “future of tax” plan must be built on a bedrock of ‘data’ and a platform of digitally upskilled humans! Anything else is the pre-digital mindset kidding itself that a firm grasp of ‘data’ is not required in a tax world where tax authorities are now highly data-driven.

Crossing the Digital Divide

Unfortunately, managers and their incremental approach are ill-suited to the radical recalibration of tax, so this is where true leadership & vision must step in.

The key differentiator here is that leaders do not assume they know the destinationHow can they? – they’ve never been there before! But this is an anathema to managers who – rightly in their world – see straying too far from home as too risky, so they predicate their toolset on a well-understood destination. Examples of such tools are:

Process maps
Gap analysis or fit-gap
MS Project
SOPs or standard operating procedures

And more controversially:


Now, these techniques & methods have been stock-in-trade across traditional businesses for decades, but when it comes to breaking the mold or responding to digital disruption, they are simply not the right tools for the job. Good leaders will sense this and know when the time is right to break from the pack and chart a new course.

Fortunately for them, help is at hand, because taxologists are not the first to discover these shortcomings (as tax is a latecomer to this game). In fact, the appropriate ways & means has been around for a while and most managers have heard of them or even tried them. To name just a few:

User stories
Scrum masters
Explore, discover & learn workshops
Wiki-style knowledge management
Jira & Confluence
Data catalogues
Pulse surveys

But the target use case for these tools is a leader’s journey, not a manager’s destination – so when managers try them, they fail to get good outcomes or sufficient value as they see it. The problem is that this toolset is out-of-kilter with their pre-defined, process-driven cultural imprint. After that, they typically give up and keep trying to use old-fashioned road equipment to breach the new digital superhighway. Needless to say, results are underwhelming and cause frustration all round.

Bringing it All Together

In summary, managers are good for getting from A to B, but leaders are needed when B sits in strange new lands – and the truth is there’s room for both. However, it has never been more important to use the right devices for the right challenge in a world where digital innovation is not an option. Transformation is achievable, and helping you navigate this is exactly what we do!

But just at the moment we’re currently away recharging our batteries, so next week’s article will be short & social to make up for this longer one. Also, no call to action this week – all that we ask is that you keep watching these articles for the exciting, breakthrough autumn we have in store for you.

Enjoy your summer …

To Teach Tax to ‘IT’​ or Teach ‘IT’​ to Tax, That is the Question. Or is it?

Our Response to This Age Old Question – Do Neither!

Twenty years ago, at the first tax & tax technology conference we ever attended, there was a presentation called …

Teach Tax to ‘IT’ or ‘IT’ to Tax – Which is better?

The same question came up in one of the spring conferences a month ago, which put in sharp relief this hamster wheel that industry leaders have been stuck on for a long time.

In the meantime, it occurred to us that it’s the wrong question in the first place. Here’s why:

Reason #1: It doesn’t really work for the learner

Let’s say for example, as a dedicated tax professional, you go away and start learning SQL (the language of data), relational data modelling (how the real-world of tax is represented in data), and XML or JSON (the languages used to communicate electronically with tax authorities). All really important topics, but here’s what will happen:

  1. You will learn just enough to be dangerous
  2. You will only learn what you think is relevant for your job and therefore interests you
  3. Anything beyond that you are likely to find utterly tedious and boring.

By the way, it’s the same for IT persons trying to learn the intricacies of tax law.

Reason #2: You will never truly get there

It takes years of training and experience to become either a good tax person or a good IT person, never mind a great one (and we only work with the best!).

You need to get a feel for it, a sixth sense, so that it becomes part of who you are and how you define yourself. It takes a lifetime of work & dedication to reach this uber-expert level in one arena, let alone two disparate ones.

And assuming that was even possible, how would you maintain that level in both when each changes so quickly? Not easy.

Reason #3: It’s the wrong question to start with

The problem is not a lack of skills. There are great tax people and great IT people – the real problem is getting them to work together. And yet, the way the question is worded, it implies that the only answer is to have both sets of skills in one person.

Even if this made sense in the first place (which it does not) there’s a better way …

… a much better way, and here’s how!

Borrowing heavily from the world of Agile

The Agile manifesto, created in 2001, was aimed at software development but the principles invoked were so powerful that they’ve pervaded almost the entire world of work, including tax. Here’s why:

  1. It assumes knowledge is one thing, but making it actually work in a digital world is another
  2. It believes that only teamwork across a wide range of skills leads to good solutions (no one person can know it all, nor should they)
  3. It accounts for skills from vastly different arenas, and effectively brings them together
  4. It knows that these days we’re all learning all the time anyway (no argument there!)
  5. It leaves no room for assumption, grandstanding, or guesswork, and strongly promotes innovation through people, process, technology & ‘data’.

So perhaps the real question should be:

How do we get two vastly different skillsets & viewpoints to work together
and create a whole far greater than the sum of its parts.

We consider this joined-up thinking for the digital world

join us to learn how you can make this work in your tax world.

Tax on the Brink – The Need to Inspire

How to Halt the Downward Spiral of In-House Tax

The backdrop for this is simple. It works like this:

  1. Technology is driving tax into the digital realm
  2. Tax professionals are not keeping up with this shift
  3. Tax is now too complex for IT or others to do it for them
  4. Business leadership perceives tax as a growing strategic issue
  5. In-house tax attempts to address this but misses the mark
  6. Faith is lost in the ability of in-house tax to help the business.

The symptoms of this are everywhere. For example, tax is sidelined or consulted late in the game – and when they are finally & reluctantly consulted, they are treated as troublemakers.

This is a tragedy, because the power & reach offered by digital capability around the ‘data’ & information that is tax’s bread ‘n’ butter is immense. In other words, tax should be moving in the opposite direction– that is, elevating itself, now that it no longer has to operate blind.

But this is a two-way street. The digital realm is also a threat if that’s where tax now ‘lives’, and the tax professional is not there to look after it on behalf of its sponsors & paymasters.

The Conventional Approach to Tax Falters

Conventional tax must still be mastered of course, but this now carries the “burden of IT” to make it work.

International tax & trading laws are the fibres out of which the past decades’ tax profession is woven, but over the past 5-10 years the tensions pulling at this fabric have been growing stronger for the in-house tax professional – namely digitalization, systems, projects, new operating models, escalated expectations, and data management & insight, to name just a few disrupting influences.

Something needs to be done, and quickly.

Halting the Tail Spin

Fortunately, the backdrop for halting this decline is equally simple (after spending many years distilling it down to its essentials) – we call it the 3 Steps to Nirvana:

Insight   >   Inspire   >   Impact

Two of the three steps are easy to grasp – Insight is about understanding the digital world differently & better, and Impact is turning that into reality, but what’s Inspire all about?

“It’s Not Me, It’s You”

After Insights and the Smart Tax Technology training program you will already be inspired (as dozens of graduates tell us), but what’s next?

The next step is to inspire those around you with what you’ve seen – your peers, leadership & sponsors – but this involves a skill set usually reserved for businesspeople, that is, influencing, persuading, and even deal-making. After all, digitalized tax is a team sport, so the people in your sphere of influence must be enrolled and our framework offers you the best means available to do so.

It may not surprise you that this typically involves a well-put-together PowerPoint on the “Future of Tax at {insert company name here}“, but would you be more surprised if we told you we’ve been working with a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) expert for months to help with this?

The 3 Steps to Nirvana may be purchased off-the-shelf, but the solution itself is a long way from an off-the-shelf answer to tax’s technology problems (which don’t really exist anyway). Because it starts with people such as yourself, and has many more surprises instore for you. We want you to be inspired!


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