Digital regulation and the road to automation and integration

Digital regulation and the road to automation and integration

Simon Kershaw, Development Manager for Wolters Kluwer, analyses how digital regulation is moving the accounting industry toward greater automation and integration.

Digital regulation and the road to automation and integration

For decades we’ve been in a race to become a paperless society, particularly across government and payments. Progress has perhaps been a little slower than originally predicted, but we shouldn’t knock the efforts we’ve put into digitisation so far. Consider initiatives like Making Tax Digital (MTD) for example. As of April 1st, 2019, UK businesses over the VAT threshold started to travel a new path to filing digital tax returns; one of many steps the government is making as it accelerates towards the complete digitalisation of the UK tax system.

MTD is one of many examples of regulation that has been the tipping point for driving automation and technology integration. It’s the end of the paper tax return as we know it, and companies have had to take real steps to what will be an increasingly integrated digital communication landscape connected to HMRC. In the case of MTD, it’s driving integration between receipts and bookkeeping which is really changing the landscape of what accountants can and will spend their time doing.

Accelerating digital data capture

It’s also representative of a greater movement around digital data capture, which spans all industries and roles, especially those in professional services. Lack of efficiencies surrounding data capture, often caused by lack of strategy behind data structure, have really impeded digital transformation in many industries.

Whether its driven by regulation or just by the need to achieve greater efficiency, companies are investing more in how they organise their data so that, simply put, it’s not so hard to find and not so hard to collect. It’s encouraging open integration amongst software tools and infrastructure, and it’s also driving companies to actively consider how they may implement the automation of processes. Once the issue of data collection is solved, companies are in a strong position to consider the processes they may want to automate, and, even better, the services they can begin to provide to clients as a result of transactional activities being taken off their hands.

What can be automated?

Many people have questions about automation, but what’s interesting across professional services is that while the processes different industries are looking to automate will differ, the approach and workflow regarding automation will be the same. The collection and gathering of data and pulling it into a system will be a commonly automated process. Once you have that data, validating it and manipulating it can also be automated, as can reacting to it. All of these processes can be mapped and automated through workflows.

What about new tools?

As a result of better integration and a move towards automation, we’ll begin to see new tools emerge across professional services. Chatbots have already started to emerge in support use cases, and we will see more of this. For example, as an accountant, imagine if you’re in the middle of a tax return and you’ve collected data from HMRC.

Perhaps HMRC says your P60 figure is £30,000. Your chatbot could relay this information to the client and could ask them to confirm accuracy. The client could relay (via the chatbot) that that information is accurate and the chatbot, in turn, would communicate to the accountant. In the past, accountants have written letters or picked up the phone for each and every one of these types of communications. The future is all about fast, efficient processing and doing it in real-time.

Portal technology is another area that will continue to advance as a result of digital regulation. The key aspect being that portals are able to securely exchange data and documents. It’s about removing manual transactions and doing everything very securely, and regardless of what industry we’re talking about, it’s about having a collaboration hub between advisors and clients to communicate digitally.

So, will professional services teams need to acquire a new skill set to work in a more technologically integrated, automated world as digital regulation progresses? The simple answer is no, they shouldn’t have to. Data science should be left to the data scientists, and we should be making software work for us to ensure that we’re focused on automation and integration. In this way, we will provide more value-added services both internally and externally.

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