Our current environment is magnifying pressures on tax functions to take action in a changing regulatory landscape characterized by marketplace uncertainty, demands for accelerated reporting, better risk management, and greater use of technology in day-to-day operations. There is no perfect time to take the first step toward implementing new automation strategies—should we accelerate investment in “being digital” in light of the changes and uncertainty around us?
Editor’s note: The PwC CFO Pulse Survey reflects that, as of June 11, 2020, fifty-six percent of CFOs believe that technology investments will improve their companies in the long run.
Question: How can a technology-enabled workforce prepare tax functions to operate digitally while working remotely?
No two digital transformations will look or feel the same, but many achieve similar outcomes with similar strategies. Consider these six strategies for taking the first steps toward or a new look at transforming your workforce into flexible, productive tax professionals who can handle uncertainty and unexpected challenges. One thing we have seen over the last several months is that the strategy is generally the same, and we have merely adapted how we achieve these goals to accommodate working virtually across many locations.
- Invest in digitally upskilling your people—an easy first step. Upskilling refers to expanding people’s capabilities and converting that knowledge into results, allowing people to grow into new roles as the business changes and to become what LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman calls “infinite learners.” As an example, we at PwC are committing US $3 billion over the next four years to upskilling initiatives both to train our own people and to develop technologies for our people and our clients.1 One of the many approaches that we share with our clients is our Virtual Digital Academies. It’s a hands-on approach to learning that focuses on applying the latest data automation and analytics technology to business processes. We recognized that getting the tools into the hands of the users in a collaborative learning environment allowed people to start owning their development while experiencing firsthand the impact they can have on their personal growth and the business. People come out of the training feeling empowered with the foundational knowledge to immediately start applying their new skills to their own work and identifying other challenges to tackle and solve.
Obtain higher-up endorsement. Messaging and driving change leveraging a top-down approach helps address the fear of the future, which can significantly drain productivity and engagement. In PwC’s 23rd Global CEO Survey, CEOs believe that upskilling has increased productivity and generated growth. CEOs of organizations with more advanced upskilling are far more optimistic about global economic growth—thirty-four percent expect improvement.2 Leaders also have to invest in their own upskilling. If they commit to upskilling themselves, they will better understand the benefits and the time, energy, and commitment upskilling takes across the organization.3
- Think big, start small to drive immediate value. Digital transformation can take place at the level of a company, an industry, or a community. Setting broad goals for an enterprise-wide digital transformation can help drive teams toward a common purpose, but the true transformation happens in the small wins. These small wins also allow for adjustments to the approach and the cultivation of an agile culture. We see many successful digital transformations start in the tax function, which is a heavy consumer of downstream data and processes and is often burdened with staging data for use with little or no time for analysis. There are boundless opportunities for people to rethink their processes for automation. Starting with a few pilot use cases can give teams the motivation and freed-up time to move on to the next use case. The momentum and energy in those small wins will get other people invested, and change will spread quickly throughout the organization. It is as simple as deciding, “What should we tackle this week?”
- Slow down to go fast. This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s necessary to avoid remediating automations after establishing automation governance guardrails and best practice standards. The time invested upfront to set standards is conducive to empowering more people to use the technology effectively and provides a framework to scale up and out across the organization. Implementing automation governance standards offers a new level of transparency, controls, and documentation for automated processes that allow people to quickly transfer knowledge and processes within and across teams.
- Capture value and feedback. Establish a cadence and methodology early on, not only to measure quantitative and qualitative metrics of deploying automated processes but also to gather insights from your people. What has worked best for individuals, and what has not provided expected results? A digital transformation that enables teams to perform more meaningful work will boost productivity and increase engagement, which in turn creates lasting and sustainable changes, unlike a short-term initiative with limited impact.
- Don’t let remote working be a barrier. We have all been challenged to work differently in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. However, we have seen that organizations that maintain their strategic priorities while shifting delivery tactics are still able to obtain the benefits of digital transformation and the use of technology. PwC has shifted how we deliver training via virtual academies that support a highly interactive experience, offering breakout rooms to simulate how we help individuals and make progress on specific goals.
Rather than allowing uncertainty to be an excuse to remain in a defensive position, use it as a catalyst for change. A new need is sure to arise requiring problem-solving, adaptability, and technology skills. Tax functions and organizations that move toward a technology-enabled workforce can be better prepared for those uncertain times and will continue to reap the benefits of investing in their people—even in this working-from-home environment.
Andy Ruggles is a PwC partner advising clients on automation. Allison LeClair is a PwC senior manager and PWC’s US Digital Academies lead.
“Navigating the Rising Tide of Uncertainty: 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey,” PwC, accessed July 22, 2020, www.pwc.com/gx/en/ceo-agenda/ceosurvey/2020.html.
“Upskilling: Building Confidence in an Uncertain World,” PwC, Talent Trends 2020, accessed July 22, 2020, www.pwc.com/gx/en/ceo-survey/2020/trends/pwc-talent-trends-2020.pdf, p. 9.
“Upskilling: Building Confidence in an Uncertain World,” p. 17.