For the best business results, it’s essential for the tax, IT and finance departments to develop strong working relationships based on a clear understanding of everyone’s day-to-day roles. Our Head of Services, Stephen Tucker, gathered a group of inspirational tax leaders around the table recently to discover how they have achieved this in their organisations.
A common theme that arose, regarding conversations between Heads of Tax and their colleagues in IT, was a language barrier. Tech specialists often don’t speak tax.
One of our roundtable tax experts, Paula Mason – Head of VAT for UK and Europe at a global investment bank, mentioned that her central IT function has to deal with departments in various countries which can exacerbate the issue. Even if the tech person has a reasonable grasp of tax issues it may not be relevant to their jurisdiction.
There must be some give-and-take in the relationship between tax and IT, to help both parties understand each other’s respective positions, roles and responsibilities, better.
Upskilling the tax and IT department
One method to help improve communication between the two teams is to deliver tax training to the IT and systems teams in his organisation, in the hope of creating a common language that everyone can work with. These accessible, high-level sessions can help to break down barriers.
There’s strong evidence to demonstrate the value of this approach. Willis Towers Watson research shows that companies with high effectiveness in change management and communications are three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers than firms that are not effective in these areas.
The constant upskilling required to work within the ever-shifting sands of tax means that those in the tax department have the aptitude to do some work in the other direction – by familiarising themselves with the IT department and its day-to-day issues.
And if all else fails when dealing with the IT department, you could do worse than fall back on Tucker’s tongue-in-cheek advice: “In a previous job of mine, we used to say that the only way to get something done urgently was to tell the IT team that it was a statutory filing requirement.”
Easing IT investment
Interdepartmental conversations take on an extra frisson when they centre on IT investment, requiring the technical expertise of the IT department and the financial approval of the CFO.
Overcoming these tensions is exacerbated when IT and finance are often at loggerheads. A recent report by Financial Times Focus and Apptio found that 69% of US business leaders saw digital transformation as deepening the divide between IT and finance functions.
Demonstrating value can be an incredibly hard task when presenting potential new investments. While highlighting the benefits of a new system or plug-in is simple enough – it’s developing a compelling narrative of the tangible return on investment and how that will actually play out in practice which can be the real challenge.
Jayesh Rajyaguru, Global Head of Tax for a premium listed group, commented: “CFOs are always under pressure from different quarters wanting their piece of the pie, so how do we in tax get a large enough piece to do things properly?”
Creating a detailed roadmap of the investment and implementation process to educate CFOs about the benefits of your proposed upgrade can help to sell the idea to senior management. It often requires outside help from other departments, though Head of Tax, Meena Shah, cautioned against focusing all of your efforts on its impact on just the finance function.
“It takes up a lot of people’s time and they already have a day job, so this is an addition. You need to get that buy-in and additional resource to help you get where you want to go. The whole business needs to be on board,” she advised.
There is something to be said regarding the proliferation of cloud solutions and how this can simplify those conversations with CEOs and CFOs. Additionally, the full-service nature of cloud solutions reduces the level of resource required for implementation and maintenance, helping build a compelling argument for your tech needs.
Finance Operations Manager and IT whizz, Zuheir Alghafeer, made a great point when he mentioned that “asking a financial director for £300 a month on an ongoing basis rather than asking for £30,000 upfront is a much easier conversation.”
The joy of collaboration
When you have secured investment and need to select a system, the IT department’s experience at integrating new suppliers can provide vital reassurance.
Most IT departments will require suppliers to fill out forms, these can range from simple one-pagers to in-depth fact-finding documents. Many of the tax leaders agreed that this detail enormously helps to uncover whether the solution is the right choice for the company and that they meet the IT departments requirements
Whether dealing with IT or finance, an appreciation of the other department’s struggles and aspirations is the key to having meaningful and beneficial interactions. Why not try speaking some IT today?
If you’d like to watch the full roundtable and get involved in the tax transformation discussion, head over to our YouTube channel. Or, if you’re wondering how you can implement a digital tax solution in your business, why not get in touch?