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True Insight: Communicate, Collaborate, and Keep up with Technology – A 2020 Synergy Recap

By: James T. Hedderman Anli Chen |

Synergy 2020 – A Recap

True Partners sent more than 20 team members to the virtual 2020 Synergy ONESOURCE Conference, November 10-13, 2020.  While the event was supposed to be in Dallas, TX where we hoped to have many of you join us for dinner, we all connected safely from our remote locations.  Similar to past years, our team identified some key takeaways we want to share.  From seeking platforms to collaborate and connect with one another remotely, to timesaving technology enhancements, this True Insight has you covered.

A “New Normal” Remote World

It’s 2020” has become the phrase of the last year in many respects.  The year 2020 saw many finance professionals literally pick up their most necessary tools for success back in March, head home, and adapt to meeting goals with little in-person communication and occasionally unreliable technology infrastructure. The world had to pivot in the direction of a remote work force, almost overnight.

In the blink of an eye, we all had to become experts at online collaboration platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.  In-person collaboration with life sized humans was replaced by minimized screen shots of our colleagues that only showed the upper torso and face, unless something went wrong (wink, wink.)

The in-person connectivity limitations gave rise to more, and more, and more, virtual meetings.  (Do we need to add a few more “mores” to that sentence?)

New Collaboration and Communication Tools

Microsoft Team Course – What did we learn?

The transition to less in-person connectivity taught us the importance of communication, collaboration, and increased transparency.  We have seen the creation of individualized group platforms to document and share knowledge with one another, such as using MicroSoft Teams’ Channels to identify key topics within each of the respective Teams.  Within your organization, are you repeatedly educating various team members on the same topics (technical topics or technology)?  Consider setting up chat functions or channels for those topics.  Did a topic come up that you want to notate for future use? Just bookmark and save those messages. We think this is great functionality that we can certainly use more.

Do you have a response that requires urgent attention?  Mark it “urgent” and MS Teams will remind the recipient every two minutes for the next 20 minutes.  (But be sure to use this sparingly so you are not equated to the FitBit reminders.  By the way, mine just went off.  I’ll be back after I walk for 10 minutes to recap on the new, new normal.)  Are you using MS Teams?  What is your favorite productivity tool? Tell us in the comments below.

Keep the K-1s Coming

Remember the first time you sat down to prepare an individual or trust tax return that had multiple investments located in multiple states? Remember compiling all the different Schedule K-1’s, opening up your ONESOURCE software, and realizing you had to manually enter all the data? Do you recall that feeling of despair, staring at the hours of tedious data entry ahead?  Don’t run away just yet because TR is here to save you!

Thompson Reuters listened to your feedback and is rolling out a brand new application called the K-1 Analyzer. Utilizing a “Drag and Drop” format, the K-1 Analyzer will increase overall data accuracy and reporting, and eliminate hours of tedious manual data entry by allowing for the aggregation of complex Schedule K-1 data, all in one place. This new program will also allow for much greater integration between Schedule K-1 data entry/review and ONESOURCE Trust Tax.

The K-1 Analyzer was built on the foundation of artificial intelligence and nearly a decade of research.  Synergy attendees were pretty excited about this new product and functionality.  Are you?  Tell us more in the comments below.  How much time will this free up for you and where else will you spend your time?

Tax Technology and Automation

Implementing automation in your tax processes is essential to keep up with industry best practices. Defined processes augmented by automation tools reduce time spent on mundane, repeatable tasks and the opportunity for human error. However, there are important steps to consider prior to starting any implementation project:

  • Assess current processes and determine which ones are suitable for automation
  • Structure and document these processes ensuring all steps in the workflow are represented
  • Determine what team members are needed to ensure successful automation
  • Create and deploy automation tools; train staff
  • Measure and communicate the savings/benefits

Before starting any automation initiative, all current processes should be assessed to identify which processes are suitable for automation.  How exactly does one do that?  First, the process must be redesigned and restructured, with supporting templates to compliment the process, so that automation tools can be integrated easily.  Once the process has been redesigned, automation tools can be created to help streamline and increase the efficiency of the new process.

Employing new technology is not enough; your team needs to know how to use it! Don’t skip training – it’s critical in order to realize, measure and communicate the benefits of technology implementation. Additionally, a subject matter expert should be directly involved with the automation development process not only in applying the technology, but also the coaching of it.  For example, when creating an Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) automation flow for wrangling sales and use tax data, a sales and use tax subject matter expert should be directly involved with the automation development to ensure the proper application of the tax rules.  Including a team member (or members) with specialized subject matter understanding and knowledge will allow your team to reap the full benefits of automation technology faster.

What processes can and should be automated?  During the assessment phase, consider processes that are:

  • Repeatable
  • Rules-based
  • Consistent
  • Mundane
  • Manual

These aren’t all required in order to implement automation, but are a good place to start.

Even with all the automation tools available on the market today, Excel is still instrumental and used by a large number of companies today. Excel should not be abandoned but utilized in your process to perform ad-hoc calculations and as a medium through which data can be passed from one technology tool to another.

ONESOURCE Software Application

ONESOURCE Dataflow allows companies to streamline their tax package data collection processes.  In addition to collecting data from Controllers, Dataflow will also automatically push the data into ONESOURCE Income Tax (OIT) and ONESOURCE Tax Provision (OTP).  This software is ideal for companies who either have already invested in ONESOURCE, or are seeking to adopt a software tool.

Are manual entries slowing your path to success?  Consider implementing Tax Accounting System (“TAS”).  One large benefit is the ability to push data from Excel directly into the tax software, thus avoiding manual data entry.  Through TAS, users can import many items such as federal balance sheets, Schedule M-1/M-3 adjustments, state modifications, estimated tax payments, apportionment information, and much more.  Additionally, further efficiencies can be gained through utilizing TAS as all data entered into TAS can be exported, and the subsequent export file can be utilized as an import file for future years.  Making this initial investment can drive long-term efficiencies to your team.

Improved Return Processing

Over the past few years, one of the most frustrating aspects of the tax return process has been the final step- the process of creating an XML file and transmitting the final product to the IRS. Thankfully, Thomson has made a few changes this year in order to make the return process simpler for preparers.

I’m sure everyone reading this has been there; you are up against a tight deadline and you clear all diagnostics, relieved to finally press the button and send the return off to the IRS after a long busy season. A few hours later, you check on the return status to verify that it has been accepted, and are shocked to see that it has been rejected. To make matters worse, the explanation for the rejection is in code and you are left to guess why your return was rejected. This can create countless hours of extra work during an already busy time of the year. To combat this issue, Thomson has created a direct go-to link for rejections. Each rejection will provide a link to a webpage which will describe the rejection and how to remedy it so the return is accepted. This simple upgrade should save a lot of hours and stress during the busiest time of the year.

Another improvement to the return process this year is the combination of validation and creation of files. Previously, in the e-file process, the returns would have to be validated before the return could be created. This process creates a bottleneck during a busy time of the year. Combining validation and creation into one step will expedite the return process.

Updated User Interface for Locator and Bridge

ONESOURCE is making plenty of updates within the locator itself to make the experience more user friendly. These updates will expedite the return process, as well as making it easier for preparers to review their returns and ensure that all items reconcile internally.

One item that can be especially complicated is state apportionment. With unique rules in each state, it can be difficult to keep track of the total of the apportionment factors and ensure that they are reconciled with the Federal return. In order to simplify this process, ONESOURCE will now have a state factor reconciliation that compares the state allocation and apportionment totals for all categories to the federal totals that are stated on the Federal return. This makes it easier to review allocation and apportionment since this comparison is now displayed on one screen.

Thanks to Thompson Reuters for hosting yet another great conference and we hope to be back, in person, this year.

Interested in chatting about technology? Reach out to your engagement team, or contact our Technology Lead, Anli Chen. We look forward to collaborating on your tax technology journey.