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Tax functions set for disruption

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Advances in technology and digital automation are transforming the way in which businesses operate — and the tax process is not immune from these changes.
Robots that can perform repetitive tasks at super high speeds are making their way into the tax sphere. The tax function of the future will look very different than it does today, according to PwC’s “Tax Function of the Future” series — a spotlight on robotic process automation (RPA).
“Process robotics process large volumes of information and data over a shorter period freeing up tax professionals to do high-value activities. Although RPA is still in its infancy, it is expected that robots will ultimately take on higher-level tasks,” says Paul De Chalain, head of Tax Services for PwC Africa.
Achieving the right mix of people and machines in the workplace and the implications for business is the critical talent issue facing organisations today. According to PwC’s annual “Global CEO survey” 2017, 52% of CEOs (Africa: 53%) say they are considering exploring the benefits of humans and machines working together in the workplace.
Currently, the tax function has a lot of manual processes in place, is time consuming and costly. There is also much gathering of information and data, with an ever-increasing volume of transactions. Our focus on RPA explores the importance of technology in enabling tax function processes, focusing on emerging trends in RPA and its impact on the tax function.
RPA is the use of artificial intelligence and smart software to perform high-volume and repetitive tasks that are normally performed by people. The difference between process robotics and traditional robots is that these robots are trained by using machine learning capabilities. “Robotic processes bring a new dimension to the workplace in that they can perform relatively simple but nevertheless human functions — interpreting, deciding, acting and even learning,” adds Alistair Hofert, Intelligent Automation Lead for PwC South Africa.
How does RPA apply to the tax function?
Process robotics can apply in every area of the tax function where manual processes are still in effect. They can even be applied if tax has already implemented technology solutions for direct and indirect tax compliance and reporting.
Robotics will not replace tax professionals, but they will change what they do and the skills they’ll need.
What actions should tax functions be considering?
The route to RPA need not be a complicated exercise. The paper sets out a typical journey for an organisation. “Tax departments will need to start with an understanding of their underlying processes. The technology is an enabler and not a comprehensive solution in itself. RPA is one of the many digital tools that can be used to gain operational excellence,” Hofert comments.
Organisations will need to identify the manual processes that are suitable for automation. In addition they will need to assess whether RPA will bring benefits in terms of time, costs, and resources. They will also need to evaluate whether RPA is currently being used by other business processes.
“The time is now for tax functions to develop a roadmap for RPA working with finance, IT, HR, the supply chain and other functions that are likely to be impacted,” Hofert says.