Part II of V – Oscar Caicedo, Vice president of product management for VAT Americas, Sovos

Click here to read part I of the series. 

Government-mandated e-invoicing laws are making their way across nearly every region of the globe, bringing more stringent mandates and expectations on businesses. Inserted into every aspect of your operation, governments are now an omni-present influence in your data stack reviewing every transaction in real time as it traverses your network. Real-time monitoring has also brought about real-time enforcement that can range in severity from significant fines to shutting your business down completely. All of this has created a new reality for IT leaders who need a strategy to deal with these global changes. We asked our vice president of product management for VAT, Oscar Caicedo to offer his guidance on how this will affect IT departments and how they can best prepare. 

Q: With government authorities now in companies’ data and demanding real or near real-time reporting, what impact will this have on IT departments? 

Oscar Caicedo: For me, this breaks down into four distinct categories: 

1. Business Process Architecture – As regulatory entities become more advanced, it is important to look at the overall functional business process, not only the technical mechanism to report. Many business processes were solidified much before current capabilities were readily available. It is important to revisit the business process to be able to determine the best technical path forward.

2. Source of Truth – With the complex environment IT departments must navigate, you need to redefine the expectations of data/process source of truth. Back-end system ecosystems were not built with current compliance/regulatory needs in mind. In mature markets, where governments continue to advance technical capabilities, it is critical to have a clear strategy to protect against source-of-truth risks. Otherwise, local regulatory entities tend to become the ultimate source of truth.

3. Data Aggregation/Reconciliation – A lack of clarity on the source of truth for each functional business process can lead to major risks. Registering data in real time with local regulators was the initial challenge. The current challenge is ensuring all systems involved are maintained in sync and are always fully harmonized. IT departments must recognize it is now a must-have to navigate the current environment.

4. Master Data – Data in back-end systems was already complicated enough to support in a centralized manner. Once real-time regulatory needs were introduced, the data issue got exponentially larger. Data structures, data libraries and extraction programs are all attempts to solve the problem, but normally these attempts fail due to gaps in understanding what is mandatory vs. optional. Clear guidance on the local needs is critical before deciding on a technical strategy.

Q: To meet government mandates and ensure operations continue uninterrupted, what should IT prioritize? What approach would you recommend?  

Oscar Caicedo: I would prioritize a clear regulatory understanding of the markets/geographies in which you operate. This seems obvious, but it is not always the case. Ninety-nine percent of the time when I speak with a large multinational organization, they are not clear on the needs of the local market. Efforts to centralize or take a cohesive approach fail because key IT decision makers didn’t understand the regulation.

In addition, you need to focus on business processes and the data requirements to make them successful and solve the problem end to end. The challenge does not end with registering data. The problem ends when you have the proper visibility, maintenance, support, reconciliation and intelligence to be fully prepared.

Don’t take chances. The regulatory environment is very dynamic, so it is important to ensure the proper testing of all business scenarios needed to operate. Failure to have clear testing scripts can lead to surprises in production environments, which can carry large implications for the operation.

Finally, consolidate as much as possible. This means simplifying end points, communication protocols, data structures, etc. This will allow for a more efficient way to manage the mandated processes in the different jurisdictions.

A lot has changed in the world of government mandated e-invoicing. Continued investment in technology by government authorities has put regulators in the position to demand greater transparency along with more detailed and real-time reporting. To meet these demands, companies are looking to their IT organizations. The good news is you don’t need to go it alone. Sovos has the expertise to guide you through this global evolution based on our experience working with many of the world’s leading brands.

Take Action

Need help keeping up with global mandates? Get in touch with Sovos’ team of tax experts.

Find out why it makes sense to invest in tech and automation to streamline tax processes and alleviate the burdens finance teams face.

The shift towards digitisation necessitates a radical adaption and shift in existing tech for industries across the board. As this occurs, tensions and anxieties rise around automation and job losses. With Oxford Economics predicting that 12.5 million manufacturing jobs will be automated in China by 2030, a partially automated workforce is indeed on the horizon.

Human expertise and technology

But human expertise and technology can go hand in hand, with tech supporting teams and boosting productivity tenfold. As a result, for businesses, the only way to thrive in an increasingly digital world is to invest in the right technology.

For organisations operating globally, this is of particular importance as an extensive knowledge of governmental financial legislation in many countries is needed. Financial frameworks are complex to navigate and are constantly changing. Real-time VAT reporting is increasingly prevalent worldwide, with continuous transaction controls (CTCs) tightly constricting many different jurisdictions. Without automation, the hours required to manually keep pace with new rules would far exceed realistic human capacity.

For global companies, manually submitting the paperwork for audits and reports is neither sustainable nor sensible. But an additional problem for those operating in multiple jurisdictions is how to keep pace with ever changing rules and government regulations required for business transactions.

Digital governments

Global governments are reviewing how they measure and collect tax returns. The aim is to improve economic standards in their countries. Digitising return processes gives way for a much more forensic and accurate view of a nation’s economic health. So it’s unsurprising that automated invoicing and reporting has pushed its way to the top of the agenda in recent years.

How the approach is taken to upgrading many transactions and interactions is contingent on specific country viewpoints – certain jurisdictions enforce varying levels of CTCs, real-time invoicing, archiving and reporting of trade documentation. Therefore those operating internationally will feel the additional pressure to accurately track and comply with multiple and complex laws with threatening hefty non-compliance fines. Trading and operating within the law now requires intelligent technology and infrastructure.

Approaches across the globe differ; Latin America pioneered mandatory B2B clearance of e-invoices, and Brazil requires full clearance through a government platform. In Europe, the EU-VAT directive prohibits countries from introducing full e-invoicing – though Italy bucked this trend in 2019, following a lengthy derogation process. As economies shift to a data-driven business model, the move towards a digital tax regime is inevitable.

Machine learning

The VAT gap continues to confound governments across the globe. Therefore to combat it, many nations have created their own systems. In turn, this makes a patchwork of mechanisms unable to communicate with each other. To add to this, the slow adoption of e-invoices in many countries has caused a completely fractured picture – VAT information is still being reported periodically in many countries, with each jurisdiction setting its own standard. We’re a long way from consistency in global digitisation.

As more countries develop their own specific take on digitising invoicing, things look increasingly complex. New regulatory legislation continues to surface and keeping track can cause headaches and accidental noncompliance. Global firms must maintain a keen eye on developments as they happen in all the countries where they operate and its essential they apply systems which can track and update new legislation as it happens.

Flexible APIs

But tech also needs to give an accurate reflection of an entire business’ finances. It needs to link together all the different systems to accurately report tax. This is why flexible APIs are the first order of priority. Programmes with sophisticated APIs enable tax systems to ‘plug in’ to a business and gather vital information. In turn allowing firms to showcase the necessary data, display accurate results and avoid government penalties. It’s essential that technology can integrate with a number of billing systems, ERPs, and procure-to-pay platforms when approaching sensitive government interactions. The volumes of data created and handled are enormous, and increasingly out of the realms of human possibility.

Likewise, tech can assist in formatting information as per the requests of each country, which is essential for digital reporting. Technology exists to monitor and adjust invoice formats. For example, to suit the country a business is operating in and avoid non-compliance penalties. With time usually of the essence and in short supply, tools that automate admin and free up time for strategic elements of business finance pay for themselves in dividends. Effectively, as machines are increasingly ingrained in operations, manual analytics become more challenging. Both governments and businesses are leaning on automation and advanced technology to ease the resulting administrative burdens.

Automate to comply

A truly digital future is in the grasp of many economies, but it comes at a price. To capitalise on the rapid wave of digital transformation, businesses must arm themselves with technology. It’s time to manage the increasing realm of complex and data-driven regulations. It makes sense to invest in tech and automation to handle labour-intensive analysis and research, streamline processes, and alleviate the burdens faced by finance teams. That is without the need for costly expert staff or outsourced support. On the verge of a fully digital way of working, manually submitting the paperwork for audits and reports is no longer practical.

It is important to carefully select technology to synchronise and communicate vital information across a business’ IT infrastructure. In the current recession driven context, the pressure on finance teams is intense. The pressure to perform at their best, safeguard against any financial leaks and strictly monitor expenses and outgoings. In the face of adversity, tech can guide and support us – and could become business critical.

Investing in automation and tech doesn’t have to cost finance jobs. It can instead go hand in hand with human expertise. It can manage arduous and complex tasks. While also freeing up time and energy so businesses can concentrate on what they do best.

Take Action

Find out how Sovos can help you central, standardize and automate your VAT and fiscal reporting obligations.