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Accounting Today - - Technology - From page 29

the South Dakota vs. Way­fair case.”

“We also re­cently in­tro­duced CCH An­swer­con­nect Tax Cuts and Jobs Act guides to pro­vide a primer on the changes that im­pact spe­cific tax­pay­ers, or sit­u­a­tions cov­er­ing top­ics like cor­po­rate tax­a­tion, high-net worth in­di­vid­u­als and small busi­nesses,” he said. “In ad­di­tion, we are de­vel­op­ing and re­leas­ing prod­ucts which will al­low CPAS to find spe­cific clients im­pacted by any law changes or guid­ance from the IRS and Trea­sury. This will al­low CPAS to con­tact clients through pre­pared and cus­tom­iz­a­ble com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­tail­ing the im­pacts of any changes as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Bloomberg Tax has also in­tro­duced a host of new prod­ucts, in­clud­ing adding in­sight into the im­pact of the tax re­form through prac­ti­tioner in­sight ar­ti­cles, on­go­ing news cov­er­age, and spe­cial re­ports, as well as a con­tin­u­ously up­dated set of fre­quently asked ques­tions. Also avail­able is a time­line to track IRS guid­ance on the im­pact of tax re­form as it is re­leased, a se­ries of “Jump­start” pod­casts that al­low cus­tomers to quickly un­der­stand the im­pact of var­i­ous ma­jor changes made by tax re­form, as well as a Tax Re­form Watch land­ing page that in­cludes full-text doc­u­ments, news, anal­y­sis and more on tax re­form.

The goal is to pro­vide sub­scribers with an easy-to-ac­cess, cen­tral­ized place to find all things re­lated to the TCJA, ac­cord­ing to Far­rah.

Thom­son Reuters hasn’t been idle in this area ei­ther. “We in­tro­duced the Com­plete Anal­y­sis of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which pro­vided a com­pre­hen­sive anal­y­sis of all the com­pli­cated changes, client let­ters, and find­ing ta­bles to help users find the cov­er­age they need,” Gretz said. “In ad­di­tion to the Com­plete Anal­y­sis, we have added Tcja-re­lated in­ter­ac­tive tools to our plan­ning and ad­vi­sory guides, such as the Qual­i­fied Busi­ness In­come De­duc­tion Work­sheet, the Busi­ness In­ter­est Ex­pense Work­sheet, the Kid­die Tax Cal­cu­la­tor, and the Choice of En­tity An­a­lyzer. In par­al­lel, we have also pub­lished new Check­point Cat­a­lyst top­ics, such as qual­i­fied busi­ness de­duc­tion from part­ner­ships, S cor­po­ra­tions, LLCS and sole pro­pri­etor­ships (IRC Sec­tion 199A) and Sec­tion 965 tran­si­tion tax on ac­cu­mu­lated for­eign earn­ings.”

Tell it to the ma­chines

We were also cu­ri­ous about what tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances ven­dors have seen in the past few years. Much of what we were told in­volves the im­ple­men­ta­tion of ma­chine learn­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, es­pe­cially in the area of nat­u­ral-lan­guage queries and search­ing. While Boolean queries are still fairly preva­lent in tax re­search ap­pli­ca­tions, the huge in­flu­ence that Google and other nat­u­ral-lan­guage search engines has had on the use of com­put­ers has cer­tainly had an in­flu­ence on tax re­search as well. And the abil­ity of the ap­pli­ca­tion to learn and adopt to a user’s tech­niques, work­flows and needs is an im­por­tant step up in ease of use.

Bloomberg Tax is on board with this tech­nol­ogy. “We have em­ployed ar­ti­fi­cial/ma­chine in­tel­li­gence to im­prove search per­for­mance, help­ing re­sults be­come more rel­e­vant. Our search al­go­rithm is con­tin­u­ally be­ing im­proved based on ma­chine learn­ing and us­age,” said Far­rah. “The next ad­vance­ments will be in the ap­pli­ca­tion of AI in de­vel­op­ing work­flow tools to as­sist prac­ti­tion­ers with tasks like the doc­u­men­ta­tion of tax re­search, as well as data anal­y­sis of fi­nan­cial state­ments and dis­clo­sures to pro­vide bet­ter busi­ness in­tel­li­gence for firms and their cus­tomers.”

“Check­point In­tu­itive Search ex­tends nat­u­ral-lan­guage search be­yond key­word match­ing, in­ter­prets mean­ing,

‘The next ad­vance­ments will be in the ap­pli­ca­tion of AI in de­vel­op­ing work­flow tools ... as well as data anal­y­sis of fi­nan­cial state­ments and dis­clo­sures to pro­vide bet­ter busi­ness in­tel­li­gence for firms and their cus­tomers.’

and dis­plays re­sults that can be scanned eas­ily to get to the most use­ful in­for­ma­tion. Nat­u­ral-lan­guage search­ing is a com­mon­place ex­pec­ta­tion of to­day’s users,” added Gretz.

But Tax Ma­te­ri­als’ Meyer isn’t quite as en­thu­si­as­tic about hand­ing the reins to tech­nol­ogy.

He pointed out that, “AI cer­tainly is help­ful and good at point­ing peo­ple in the right di­rec­tion, but it’s on the tax pre­parer to de­ci­pher the re­sults and find the ap­pro­pri­ate answer.”

Just ask Alexa

Also start­ing to make their way into re­search soft­ware are voice-as­sist sys­tems such as Alexa. While Alexa (and Google’s ver­sion, Google Home) are be­com­ing ever more com­mon in the day-to-day world of con­nected de­vices, they de­pend on “skills” that are the pro­grammed al­go­rithms that op­er­ate in the back­ground. These need to be de­vel­oped to do spe­cific types of op­er­a­tions, so im­ple­ment­ing voice search ca­pa­bil­ity for de­tailed Tax Code searches is not some­thing that comes stan­dard with your Ama­zon Echo.

Given the ex­ten­sion to nat­u­ral lan­guage ca­pa­bil­ity that voice-as­sis­tant sys­tems like Alexa of­fer, three of the four ven­dors we sur­veyed are in­ves­ti­gat­ing this tech­nol­ogy or have al­ready added it to their tax re­search reper­toire.

“Bloomberg has voice as­sis­tant func­tion­al­ity and we are ac­tively ex­plor­ing ways to lever­age this tech­nol­ogy in our tax prod­ucts,” Far­rah said. “Our goal is to em­ploy this tech­nol­ogy in a man­ner that will pro­vide tax pro­fes­sion­als with real ben­e­fits, such as in­creased ef­fi­ciency and greater un­der­stand­ing of tax law. As with all of our en­hance­ments, we are work­ing closely with tax prac­ti­tion­ers to un­der­stand how this tech­nol­ogy can best be used to ef­fec­tively save them time and in­crease the qual­ity of their re­search.”

Thom­son Reuters is also in­ter­ested in be­ing able to of­fer its sub­scribers this kind of search ca­pa­bil­ity. Ac­cord­ing to Gretz, “We ex­pect there will be a place for voice as­sis­tants in tax re­search, most likely in the quick ref­er­ence arena or tied to work­flow or sched­ule man­age­ment. It’s also im­por­tant to con­tinue to evolve search ca­pa­bil­i­ties so that pro­fes­sion­als search­ing for an­swers or guid­ance in com­plex, de­vel­op­ing or un­fa­mil­iar ar­eas of law can search broadly and still find what they are look­ing for by hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with the search en­gine.”

And Wolters Kluwer has al­ready im­ple­mented voice-as­sist tech­nol­ogy to some ex­tent. Ac­cord­ing to Kniphorst, “We col­lab­o­rate closely with cus­tomers and wit­nessed first­hand how pro­fes­sion­als call out ques­tions to col­leagues across a room to get the answer to a tax re­search ques­tion. We re­al­ized we could aug­ment our CCH An­swer­con­nect with a voice-en­abled Tax As­sis­tant. Al­low­ing users to get their an­swers — find a rate, look up a thresh­old — with­out leav­ing their work­flow is a great achieve­ment in pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

Still a ways to go

As far as tax re­search tech­nol­ogy and ca­pa­bil­ity has come, as tech­nol­ogy im­proves, so too will the ac­cu­racy and ease of use. Our ven­dors had some very def­i­nite ideas of where tech­nol­ogy will go. Ac­cord­ing to Wolters Kluwer’s Kniphorst, “In the fu­ture, AI will un­der­stand free-form text, make an anal­y­sis, and then place it in the right place in a re­port or com­pli­ance doc­u­ment. Tax plan­ning and op­ti­miza­tion strate­gies for in­di­vid­u­als or even multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions will be pos­si­ble. AI will au­to­mate many work­flow pro­cesses, like mon­i­tor­ing changes in le­gal and reg­u­la­tory dis­ci­plines, and up­dat­ing previous doc­u­ments or sys­tems with the rel­e­vant changes.”

He con­tin­ued, “In the mid-to-large area where we see many merg­ers, en­sur­ing the health of the firm will be crit­i­cal. As such, tax pro­fes­sion­als will need tar­geted prac­ti­cal guid­ance based on the sit­u­a­tions their clients face and be aware of any new laws or pro­grams that af­fect their clients specif­i­cally. For a pro­fes­sional to be able to send key in­for­ma­tion di­rectly to a client — as it is hap­pen­ing — is para­mount. Con­tent de­liv­ery com­bined with pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics will be ar­eas to con­tinue to watch over the next few years.”

Fi­nally, Thom­son Reuters’ Gretz added, “Sev­eral tech­nolo­gies are likely to trans­form our in­dus­try, in­clud­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, blockchain, big data and data an­a­lyt­ics. These ad­vances will set the foun­da­tion for new prod­ucts and ser­vices along with po­ten­tial new busi­ness mod­els.”

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