The nascent body of knowledge required by a taxologist is under fire, despite showing real value spearheading tax into the digital era.
“I resent the pseudo-profession that claims to be taxology − it muddies the waters when my focus is meeting customer needs“, exclaims a seasoned consultant. We disagree, but then again, it’s easy to see why he thinks this way. Besides the commercial aspect, the vast majority of people that call themselves taxologists are in fact tax technologists − familiar with specific tax technology products rather than digital environments for tax as a whole − or have only painful experience as a teacher. Either way, it’s not enough.
Never-the-less, 2019 is experiencing a sea-change in this area. Several universities on both sides of the pond have added technology modules to their tax curriculum and students are writing post-graduate dissertations in it. In Amsterdam, IBFD are running a tax technology course this summer as are Yetter in Chicago, Illinois.
Conversely, others are holding back. The idea has taken hold that tax authorities will soon be telling taxpayers what they owe and therefore need only wait. This view is blinkered and, quite frankly, untrue. The authorities may take away a few last-link-in-the-chain computations, but their new business-meaning aware technology will squeeze taxpayers to death if their data is not right.
Others hesitate for different reasons. Maybe robotics (RPA) or artificial intelligence (AI) has magical powers, or finance will fix it with their transformation effort, or cloud, or some other technological fairy godmother. There’s certainly enough confused turbulence out there, never mind current workloads, skills shortages, cost constraints and market obscuration.
Unsurprisingly, universities focus their technology in tax efforts on the legal side. For example, one doctoral thesis explores how AI might sift through mountains of legislation and case law for rapid and new-world discernment of insights. Alternatively, they teach IT 101 to budding tax professionals. These are great developments, but do little to help existing tax solution owners at major companies facing today’s pressing challenges.
Taxology, on the other hand, is distinct and aimed squarely at the corporate tax arena where the majority of us battle on a daily basis. It needs to be quick, easy-to-understand, practical and relevant.
PawPaw Taxology is evolving and now focusing all its efforts on exactly this. That seasoned consultant is unaware of how the concepts, knowledge and vision offered both illuminate customers’ true needs in the digital era and accelerate the value of his own products and services in today’s environments.
Look at it this way − even if customers insist on applying industrial-age thinking to information-age problems (which they frequently do and, of course, must be delivered as requested), it’s still critical to have the difference in your back pocket when they finally get tired of the suboptimal status quo, or worse.
The self-study Smart Tax Technology certification program is that difference, so if nothing else, stock up your storm shelter now.
Your impact on corporate tax systems may be far greater than you think.
@Courtesy Michael Sporn Animation, based on original images from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians
Alex has a special skill. He can read systems. This was not a talent he set out to acquire; one day it just happened. Perhaps it started some time ago when he remembers a financial whizz reading a balance sheet. “Your accountant is stealing from you”, the whizz declared to a startled entrepreneur with only the balance sheet in front of him. Alex wanted to learn this skill, but sadly finance at this level was not his forte. He was a systems guy. But then, a few years later, the following happened.
Alex was at a new client evaluating their systems for a major global indirect tax automation upgrade. After a week or so he turned to his tax manager and said, “Your distribution channels are killing you!” The conversation that followed revealed that this hi-tech consumer electronics company, where the average product has the shelf-life of a banana, was entirely focused on R&D and supply chain. They had never sought to negotiate hard with their distributors, and ended up assuming more risk and responsibility through their sales channels than might otherwise be expected, including for tax.
Then, a couple of years later, it happened again at another client. He declared, “You don’t have the support of your senior management for technology!”. This time his tax counterpart, who had made an effort to acquire some tax technology skills, described how a new boss had told him to engage in more tax technical (meaning traditional legally-based) projects in order to save his career. Disappointed but deferential, Alex mused to himself, “turning your back on technology to save a career when it’s becoming so important is debatable at best, but as a service to your company, it offers them no favours at all“.
… and this matters because … ?
Apply some simple extrapolation and it’s easy to see that Alex has stumbled upon something important. His special insight reveals that digital systems reflect the organization and the people that work within them. On further investigation, it turns out that they somehow reflect the structure, culture, mindset and modus operandi of the companies in which they exist to such an extent that it can be detected by a talented person like Alex. Let’s examine how this is even possible in the first place.
Have you wondered why, in the age of Apple products, enterprise software and applications are still so difficult. The cost of getting technology such as ERP (the cornerstone tax tool for most corporate tax functions), tax engines and tax data repositories to work remains extraordinarily high, while for Apple products it’s all but zero. That is because corporate tax tools are just that, tools! They require skilled workmen/women to construct the final product, a task that is more akin to making custom furniture than self-assembling a flat-pack.
But how much work must they do? The following diagram represents this by tool type:
The diagram represents four major tax tool types. Programming languages are included because of the number of corporate tax solutions that, at least in part, are built from scratch. In this case, the tools (programming languages, a database, user-interface platforms, etc.) are low-level, and IT engineers have a great deal of work to do (represented by the area in orange) before a business-ready product emerges.
Point solutions, on the other hand, are those that solve a single business problem in isolation. They are high-level and can be rolled out quickly and easily. External tax engines and some compliance tools fall into this category (as would most Apple products). But these tools are rarely standalone. They rely on their relationship with ERP and the quality of source data. As garbage-in, garbage-out is pandemic in our industry, this puts a damper on their ability to plug ‘n’ play like it says on the tin. Their connection with ERP frequently ends up needing quasi-programmer skills to meet the required quality levels.
Because of its ubiquity in our profession, Microsoft Excel is a tax tool type on its own. The genius of Excel lies in what can be achieved by a non-technical person without specialist IT assistance. However, it remains a low-level (or generic use) tool and leaves acres of room for errors and intractability. Even according to Microsoft themselves, Excel excels (excuse the pun) at information presentation but not enterprise data management, where it quickly hits natural limits. Here, the very flexibility that makes is so popular in the first place becomes its undoing.
This leaves ERP, which is far more generic and flexible than most people suspect—it needs to be, given the broad Byzantine market it serves. On the diagram, the width of the columns represents the importance of the tool for tax. For most, ERP is by far the most important, creating an orange area large in size. This allows plenty of space to inadvertently paint in your own special quirks into its characteristics and behaviours, creating a dog that looks remarkably like its owner.
So, it’s my fault the corporate tax solutions suck—?
Well, not entirely. ERP and the major dedicated tax tools are beasts, and few know how to tame them. Nobody read the manual because there aren’t any (install guides don’t count). With such a big knowledge gap, there’s a tendency to under-estimate or over-simplify the problem. The industry has not adjusted yet. This also explains why the dream-scenario of pressing a button and out pops a completed tax return is such a forlorn one—because the distance between a multi-purpose, generic set of digital platforms and full, tailored business-solution readiness is so great.
Some wonder why IT can’t do it, especially if they have specific experience. However, traditional IT anchors itself in process and technology management, and the final gap between them and tax business is just as big a mystery from their side of the fence. What is needed is a new level of tax industry professional, and Alex’s ability to “see” systems gives us clues about its nature. Think of it this way—if Alex could define and describe what it is that enables him to read systems, encapsulate it, write it down, bring it to bear, make it repeatable, predictable, measurable, and teach others, we would have a very powerful new capability in the tax world.
Well, it’s here and it’s called taxology, and its protagonists are called taxologists. It neither removes the need for tax specialists or IT skills, but augments both and drives innovation. It offers clarity, insight and vision, the lack of which is reflected in the systems clearly enough to be seen by someone like Alex. They really do match their owners and it’s not the software’s fault.
Historically, there may have been valid reasons for this state of affairs, but that is no longer the case. There are no more excuses but beware the impostor taxologist. Click here for a simple way forward on both fronts.
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Tax is moving into a new phase. The usual strategy for technology no longer delivers. Companies must look beyond simply selecting the next product to install or service to buy for new ideas. There’s a strong sense that something is missing, which makes taxology more important than ever.
So, what’s missing? Certainly, the “people” part of people, process and technology is grossly under-served. Without the right understanding and thought processes, all tax technology strategies lack foundation and are destined to deeply disappoint.
The Smart Tax Technology Certification Program uniquely addresses this problem, and today we are pleased to announce our latest release:
Four Ways to Implement a Tax Engine
Most people don’t know there’s more than one way, and yet how you implement a tax engine can make the difference between confidently stepping full-bore into the digital-era or being a huge waste of time and money. This non-technical document first explains why, and then provides a basis for vast improvement in clear, business-focused terms.
It’s a must for all stakeholders in indirect tax and their service providers at large organizations.
Act Now! One week left before Smart Tax Technology’s price increases to $1,200 (currently $900 for lifetime membership). For tax professionals, there is no greater value to be had in the industry right now. It cannot last!
It introduces the PawPaw “Y”, an easy-to-grasp diagram that depicts the basic principles for improved technology adoption. It offers vital grounding for the forthcoming Part #3 as well as the entire program.
It is available now to existing members. For those yet to purchase, here again are the key benefits of Smart Tax Technology:
How to streamline local and international tax processes
How to meet the global tax digitalization challenge
How to make technology & enterprise data work for you
How to thrive in the information-age as a tax professional.
Discover the secrets of taxology now!
“I learned a lot!”
– International Tax Director and Smart Tax Technology member
Tax professionals are becoming aware of two things: their dependency on digital systems, and that they must know more about this area themselves. Handing this responsibility to others has proved largely unrewarding.
Increasingly embedded as business partners within companies, the tax team is assuming more responsibility and ownership over systems, projects and processes as they relate to tax, but there are concerns.
For a group of people used to high standards and consistent results, the current merry-go-round of trial & error and faltering baby steps with technology is risky, expensive and turbulent. Is this avoidable?
Yes, it is. Taxology is the missing piece of the puzzle, but what is it?
Taxology is knowledge, a skill-set and basic principles that underpin a rethink and recalibration around technology. What’s new this time (and this is key) is that its starting point is today’s professionals in today’s organizations.
Out of necessity, the full-stack tax department of today needs broader vision and competencies than previously. To learn new ways to speed up and improve this journey, click here now.