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.”