The business world is changing dramatically and at an unprecedent speed. You are a tax practitioner and has no protagonism in this scenario. Why? Possible explanations: you know nothing about technology, you are too accomplished already, this is someone else’s job, maybe because nobody told you to do it, transformation is for repetitive type of work only, your work is too intellectual to be affected, your experience is valuable and more than sufficient to execute your work, you are too old to learn new skills.
Guess what? Transformation ifs for all. If you are not dead - or at least completely retired - you are going to be affected by transformation and this is going to be faster than you imagine.
But why should tax professionals care about it? There are several reasons for you to be concerned and engaged.
- All companies are (or should be) pursuing transformation. Unless a company has already born digital (such as Apple, Google and Uber), companies urgently need to transform their businesses. This is crucial for survival. Either you transform or you die. This is because you may become obsolete, a competitor may transform faster and kill you, a start-up may disrupt you or your client may perceive you as old-fashioned, inadequate, manual, inefficient and below its standards to say the least. If you run or is part of a tax department, chances are that your company’s business area will expect or is already demanding the adoption of the company’s digital culture from its back-office areas as well. You are part of a whole and there is no way you may be preserved.
- If you interested in career change, professional advancement and professional success, it will be rare to achieve any of them if you do not demonstrate you understand and have the new necessary skills. From executive search and human resources professionals in general to c-level executives.
- If you are an external lawyer or consultant, clients have already raised the bar and are looking for more digital and innovative service providers. Technical knowledge and past reputation continue to be core, but they do not guarantee per se client loyalty or a winning position in a bid. Transformation of law firms and tax advisory firms is equally important.
So, what is the concept of digital transformation? Some confuse digital transformation with technology adoption. Technology adoption is very important, but it does not produce the same results of digital transformation because technology is cold, is a dead body that requires the human intelligence to produce significant benefits. That being said, even when disruptive technology is available, it has to be accompanied with professionals who may understand how they work and how they can improve the customer experience and reach by generating value by means of efficiency, digital experience, new business models, digital solutions and services and data-driven decisions, for example.
The next question is then who are these professionals that may help companies to transform. If you believe they are the IT experts, you are wrong. These professionals are valuable and as essential as good technology but, again, they are not the end users, they are not the clients/customers, they do not know the business as you do - taxes, in our case - and therefore, they may not see the actual benefits of applying technology to your business and therefore they may not by themselves build an ideal vision and strategy for transformation.
Another crucial aspect surrounding transformation is culture. A good digital transformation strategy is nothing without the required digital culture. So, if you are not yet a tax transformation protagonist you may start by evaluating your readiness for the process. Some critical elements for successful transformation include customer centricity, extraordinary collaboration, agility, passion for learning, risk acceptance and learn from failure, embrace changes, forward looking vision, innovation and digital mindset.
This means that even if you do not master technology you may well be a tax transformation protagonist. However, the transformation process may need to start with your own transformation. Ask yourself some questions to find out whether you and your team have the necessary skills and profile to follow the changes we are all facing and to lead the process in your organization. Then, create a development plan, engage with other professionals who may contribute to the achievement of your goals and start studying more the required concepts.
If you are ready for starting a tax transformation journey in your company/firm, there is no single formula as each company has a different maturity level (as well as budget and leadership support). The most common approach is to design the desired future scenario and a roadmap that takes gaps, impact, complexity, timing and execution costs of the different actions into account.
It is important to identify where the problems are in order to focus on how technology and innovation may help to create solutions. Look for internal and external support. Identify quick wins that may help you to fund the project, gain support, visibility and traction. Data & Analytics, for example, may unlock significant tax credits. If you cannot engage in a big project, create steps but make sure you are running in the right direction and see the process as a journey.
Marienne Coutinho is a tax partner of KPMG in Brazil and a member of the Innovation & Enterprise Solutions Committee. She is a lawyer and has been a tax practitioner for the past 26 years, mostly in the international tax area. Currently, she leads the tax transformation initiative.