Why automation will help clear your end of financial year backlog
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Deadlines have a nasty habit of sneaking up on us. It’s bad enough when we’re completely in control of our own workload, but when people dump things on us at the last minute, that’s when stress levels can go through the roof!
With personal tax deadlines in January, and around 25% of corporate tax returns due in December, accountants tend to be amongst those most familiar with this issue. This heady combination of recurring deadlines and a notoriously time-pressed professional services industry is perhaps why automation and digitisation technologies are only increasing in importance in the accountancy world.
Digitalisation and automation are not quite synonymous, though, with automation systems arguably being the more significant development. Starting with digitisation, systems like Teams and Zoom help us to communicate remotely and more safely, turning a manual process into an electronic one. Similarly, any firm using cloud file storage (like Google Workspace) is avoiding bulky, physical storage of information and instead benefitting from easily searchable and processable information. In neither case is the work being done for us, it’s just ‘doable’ in a more convenient or cheaper way.
Automation, meanwhile, represents work being done for us, and decisions being made on our behalf. Examples of this are machine learning (ML) systems (which fall under the broader umbrella of Artificial Intelligence) that have been trained to spot patterns of fraud in large datasets. The strengths of ML systems are that they are very consistent, and once trained are often better than experts at spotting very specific outcomes. Their weaknesses are that they need to be trained using a large number of examples and counter-examples, and users can mistrust the recommendations of what they see as a faceless and inscrutable ‘black box’. They also tend to be very expensive to develop, and work only in very specific applications.
So, while machine learning is exciting, it’s perhaps not directly relevant if you’re looking at the calendar and wondering how you’re going to process the contents of your inbox before you close the office for Christmas!
Automation systems, those that can take a manual task and do it for you, are likely to be far more useful in clearing your desk and inbox. Our own software, WhisperClaims, is a great example of this (if we do say so ourselves!). Say you get approached by a client who wants you to prepare a claim for R&D tax relief, all you’d need to do is to invite them to the software and let them work through the question set. If they’re ineligible for whatever reason, the system tells them why (saving you from being the bad guy). And if they are eligible, you can prepare their claim documentation at the touch of a button (see how this works here), as the system creates a report for HMRC directly from your client’s data. Our system isn’t asking you to do your manual process electronically, as with ‘digitising’ systems, but instead takes the load off you by gathering information from your client and writing the reports itself (for your approval, of course). After all, after the abject craziness of this year, everyone needs a break this Christmas, and automation helps that happen.