Top 3 Pros/Cons for Tax Pros Using Workflow or Project Management Tools
Are you a tax professional that has each and every tax planning, compliance and audit cycle managed with full automation, documentation and controls? Do you have step by step processes, dependencies and email reminder notifications? Do you have complete transparency to every process so that you can see who is doing what, when, and what status your various cycles are? Or are you like most tax departments out there struggling with emails, Excel checklists and spreadsheets tracking dates, payments, data requests, information document requests (IDRs), notice of proposed adjustments (NPAs) and revenue agent reports (RARs)? Did you know that there are finally solutions out there that can actually help you with your workflow, document management and ongoing management of each and every tax type lifecycle? There are solutions offered by:
- Thomson Reuters – ONESOURCE® Workflow
- CORPTAX – WorkSpace®
- Red Moon Solutions (yes that’s us!) – eTaxPortal™ (Workflow, Project Management, Notice Tracker and AuditRoom)
- Microsoft® SharePoint® – an enterprise solution which can be customized and configured to work for tax
- Microsoft® Project® – project management only – with resource constraints, dependencies, calendaring, etc.
As with any solution out there, you need to be cognizant of the pros/cons of implementing a solution and make sure that your pros are significantly outweighing your “cons”. In addition, as these types of solutions deal directly with people and process, and changing the way your team will work…careful attention to planning for change management will be essential.
Pro #1: Organization and Best Practices
- Project management solutions work to keep you organized from the planning and kick off of the project (or tax lifecycle), through the end. By identifying all of the activities and their duration, resources, dependency, accountability, and documentation, you never have to wonder what needs to be done next, who’s in charge, or what the current status is. Most solutions allow you to create best practice workflows (steps or tasks), and then modify them as the project progresses to accommodate for necessary critical path changes. Details are easier to track because they are written down, accessible to everyone, and marked when status changes or they are complete. In other words…completely transparent. Over the course of a project, better organization helps to mitigate risk, save time and stress, and avoid last-minute scrambling (or those late nights before deadline).
Pro #2: Collaboration
- Project management tools usually provide for one “dashboard” or view, that serves as the “project at a glance.” This project is easily shared with everyone working on its different components. Everyone knows the status of activities that may impact their work, and can provide comments and input along the way. Certain software solutions allow open-access editing so everyone can see all of the details of the project’s status as well. Tax specific software solutions also have the ability to create tax groups such as Federal/Domestic Income Tax, Sales & Use Tax, Property Tax, Foreign Income Tax/VAT groups, etc. so that work can be appropriately segmented and updated based on the appropriate team. These solutions can also provide for security roles that will delineate who has “read only” access versus “preparer”, “reviewer”, or “approver” status. They also typically have electronic files and file room integrated within the workflow that can be shared depending upon proper security rights.
Pro #3: Standardization (Best Practices and Succession Planning)
- This is a fantastic opportunity to create Best Practices if you don’t already have them in place, and/or to implement across your tax department the ones you think should be utilized by all. For those organizations that are also fighting potential intellectual capital flight, this is a great opportunity to capture that experience and intelligence that may be walking out the door or retiring. I can’t tell you how many companies I have worked with that have elaborate processes, tools, workpapers, and details that are locked into that one valuable employee that is about to retire.
Con #1: Time Investment – Learning, Implementing and Change Management
- There can be significant time invested in learning, implementing and creating the initial tax project-management tool of choice for your tax department. Certain tools are easy to learn, but others may be detailed and technical. Even the easiest tools require some measure of change management. This is usually highly underestimated in most cases. Everyone in your tax department (as well as tax lifecycle stakeholders and data providers) need to learn how to interpret and use the tool effectively. It also requires each team to have a “super user” or “champion” to be successful. This person should be responsible for learning how to implement, update, maintain and support the solution.
Con #2: Upkeep or Ongoing Maintenance
- Project management tools in general (never mind for tax), are only useful when they’re updated regularly. The initial task list or plan is valuable, but in reality, projects never go according to plan. When changes happen, such as new tasks or delays, the plan needs to be updated accordingly. Ultimately, it is best if each and every person is responsible for keeping all tasks updated. However, we know that in the tax department, this can be challenging with the sheer number of tasks and constant fire drills that are going on. Therefore, putting an “admin” or one key person in charge of regularly updating or making sure that folks are properly responding to and updating tasks is key! In addition, some solutions out there allow for end user customization of underlying metadata, workflow templates and other key elements to your project management, while others require customization by IT or deeper technical folks. So, make sure your “super user” thinks about this up front and knows what it will take to make bigger changes.
Con #3: Flexibility
- Going from spreadsheets and email to a more professional or automated solution will always make some feel that they have lost flexibility. You will have to decide if the pros outweigh the cons here!
Are you using a solution to automate your tax department’s workflow and project management? We would love to hear what is working for you!