This is the first installment of a new column called Tax Technology Corner. As a corporate tax professional, you know how important technology is and how it’s evolving at warp speed. With new regulatory and compliance initiatives in the federal, state, and international areas, landmark tax reform legislation, and globalization of tax monitoring and enforcement, keeping up with tax technology is not a luxury—it’s a necessity. Each installment of this column will pair a taxpayer with a service provider. Together, in Q&A format, they’ll tell a story about how they have worked together to solve a specific tax problem, implemented a better solution, cut costs, or improved productivity. In our first installment, Sandhya Edupuganty, tax compliance and technology director at Texas Instruments, and Matt Madden, director of product marketing at Alteryx, discuss a particularly intriguing tax issue that they successfully handled together. Michael Levin-Epstein, senior editor of Tax Executive, moderated the discussion. We hope the advice in this column can help you tackle situations involving tax technology. Let us know what you think.
Michael Levin-Epstein: Sandhya, could you provide a brief description of Texas Instruments?
Sandhya Edupuganty: Texas Instruments is a multinational corporation in the semiconductor industry. We have manufacturing, R&D, and sales and distribution activities in thirty-five-plus jurisdictions; this number continues to increase with the advent of additional business opportunities. Similar to other tax departments, we at TI tax are faced with shorter timelines and limited headcount while addressing the complexity that expansion of our business and increasing global changes in tax law and regulatory requirements entail.
Levin-Epstein: Matt, could you do the same for Alteryx?
Matt Madden: Alteryx is a software company that delivers an end-to-end data science and analytics platform. What we do is help companies turn their data into actionable insights, which, in turn, will improve their businesses. A lot of people know us for our ability to take data from various data sources, regardless of the type or structure, prep and blend that data, analyze it, model that data, and then publish it out to visualization environments; but we go much beyond that. We have the ability to discover and share analytic assets across your organization, and make near-real-time decisions through the use of predictive models.
Challenges Faced by Texas Instruments
Levin-Epstein: Sandhya, tell us about the issues you faced and why Alteryx was able to provide an effective tool for your team.
Edupuganty: With the advent of Sarbanes-Oxley in 2004, most companies have been faced with additional requirements and formalization of controls in tax internal processes. Given that tax is a highly complex and specialized technical area, it becomes very important to have simplicity and clarity in the way we communicate our results—whether it’s to management, internal audit, government auditors, or our financial statement auditors. An Alteryx workflow can be set up with relative ease, as a visual audit trail that allows the user to pull inputs from multiple structured and unstructured sources with the ability to check the computation and filters at every step of the way. I know that there are similar tools in the marketplace, but what this provided us was an ability to map our processes in a manner that made sense, not just for the current team working on a process, but for anybody who were to pick up that process and try to understand what was done. The fact that we can take data from multiple disparate sources and, as Matt indicated, prep that data, filter it before it’s processed, and be able to look at all aspects of the processing of that data—like a before and after—in a very clear format was appealing and something that was necessary. Lastly, I would say that, as with any organization, we have limited IT resources. Given the limited resources, it made sense for us to look for tools that allowed us to bring all of our processes together in a manner that was easy to set up, replicate, and update without requiring any coding. I don’t have any coders on my team, and so this was a tool that helped us manage our risk better as well as be more independent.
“As tax professionals, we need to spend our time monitoring changes in our business, changes in tax law, regulations, etc., and not on updating our spreadsheets.”
Solutions Offered by Alteryx
Levin-Epstein: From your perspective, what kinds of solutions did Alteryx offer Texas Instruments?
Madden: I think Sandhya said it perfectly clear there. One of the benefits that Alteryx brings in an area like tax is auditability and transparency in the analytics processes taking place. The Alteryx Designer product provides a drag-and-drop, code-free environment that allows people to simply build out an analytic process without having to write sequel code or without having to write R code or whatever code they’d need, and it provides that transparency across the organization so that if you’re in IT, you can pick up that workflow and understand what processes are taking place in that report in an output. The other benefit is it removes the manual processes that a lot of people dealing with spreadsheets have to go through. With Alteryx, you build the workflow once and can automate it, speeding up the end results twofold, threefold, sometimes ten times faster than you could before.
Levin-Epstein: Sandhya, what impressed you the most about working with Alteryx?
Edupuganty: At Texas Instruments, we license a lot of tools. We’re very judicious in the licenses we obtain, and we obtain these licenses in a manner that helps us be comprehensive in our roadmap of products and their ability to integrate with one another. Having said that, a lot of these tools didn’t allow us to really integrate across processes and, as Matt indicated, take the manual out of the effort. With Alteryx, once we set up a workflow, we are able to focus our efforts on analyzing the output, because the trick with applying technology well is that you have to first understand your process, identify the weaknesses, and make sure you are applying the right tool for that particular process. What Alteryx allowed us to do is set up a process and then step away and make sure that it was addressing all of the facts that we have in our particular process and manage it in a holistic manner with the additional ability to update it easily as our facts change. That is a given with tax—your facts are continually changing. So where we need to be spending our time is in monitoring changes in our business, changes in tax law, regulations, etc., and not on updating our spreadsheets. The latter is not a value-add for our company. The Alteryx team has been very responsive to our requests for assistance, not just in the U.S. but with some of our foreign sites as well.
“You build the workflow once and can automate it, speeding up the end results twofold, threefold, sometimes ten times faster than you could before.”
Levin-Epstein: Matt, what was the best part about working with Texas Instruments?
Madden: Well, unfortunately I’m not going to be able to answer that directly, because I was not the one involved with working directly with Texas Instruments, but what I can tell you is that one of the things we pride ourselves on at Alteryx is our community and our support. We have a tremendous community that has thousands of members who can help answer complex questions that people might have. A lot of organizations that we deal with, whether it’s tax or audit, start out with rudimentary manual processes and automating of reporting. Then they move into more complex things. We have tax and audit departments that are doing things like fraud detection, streamlining sales tax regulatory filings, and even things like robotic process automation to help save potentially millions of dollars in claims and funds. I think that’s one of the things we pride ourselves on: helping organizations solve more than just one use case. Moving from simplicity to complexity is something we feature—being able to solve the hardest challenges that organizations have.