Automation and digital workflow in a tax practice

By Steven J. Kurinsky, CPA, CGMA

To implement automation technology in a tax practice, as the old saying goes, "teamwork makes the dream work." Organizations will not achieve success with just one person championing the new software; team members at all levels of the organization need to buy in to the change.

RESEARCH AND DEMO

Planning for change is just as important as making the change. Consulting colleagues at various levels within the organization will help to develop a well-rounded perspective. Presenting a big-picture view helps everyone to understand why his or her task is important and necessary and how it affects other steps in the process. Consider forming a committee to research and try out the various software products available. This helps create buy-in at all levels. Additionally, the committee members can facilitate training, be the go-to people for questions or concerns, and act as a positive force within the firm.

As a first step, the committee should document the current processes and procedures involved in all tax engagements. This will help identify problem areas, any process duplications, and areas where the new software can create efficiencies and improve upon current processes. Along with documenting processes and procedures, indicate the amount of time currently allotted for each task. This will help to show where time savings are possible, especially by applying those efficiencies across all client work.

When firms consider how to make the leap to using automation technology, it is imperative that they understand all the steps involved with the current process. That can be overwhelming, but breaking it down into separate categories may help.

The next step is to explore software alternatives that could improve the areas identified above. A good rule of thumb is to explore between three and seven options and schedule a demonstration with each software's company. This will allow for comparing the features and costs among the identified potential alternatives.

During each product demonstration, be sure to keep in mind the firm's current processes and how the product will change, add to, or decrease them. Since committee members will be championing the new product, it is helpful to have different perspectives on how it will be implemented. For example, an administrative assistant will likely ask different questions than a senior manager, but they are both important to the new process's success. One important question is obviously the cost of the product. Be sure to understand all of the costs associated with the product, since deep discounts will likely be offered in the first year to win a firm's business.

COMBINING TECH TOOLS WITH ESSENTIAL TRAINING

New technology can certainly help with efficiencies and time savings to ease the burden on tax preparers, but it can't take over for them entirely. While software can virtually eliminate data entry and reduce errors, it is still vital to have a staff of technically trained professionals to review returns and advise clients. Firms that embrace working with new technology will find it easier to deliver "Wow!" service to their clients.

The AICPA Tax Section provides a go-to resource in the Tax Technology Resource Center for the information and tools you need to embrace technology trends and the exciting progression of the tax profession.

For a detailed discussion of the issues in this area, see "Tax Practice Management: Implementing Tax Automation and Digital Workflow" in the September 2019 issue of The Tax Adviser. — Steven J. Kurinsky, CPA, CGMA


The Tax Adviser is the AICPA's monthly journal of tax planning, trends, and techniques.

Also in the September issue:

  • A look at current developments in individual taxation.
  • An analysis of unclaimed property audits.
  • A discussion of the new business interest expense limitation.

AICPA members can subscribe to The Tax Adviser for a discounted price of $85 per year. Tax Section membership includes a one-year subscription to The Tax Adviser.

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