COVID-19 has impacted all of us in our personal and professional lives, we decided at CBO Search to launch a series of interviews with the main influencers in Tax Technology and share with our readers how those events have affected their work, how they adapted to it.
It is with great pleasure that we welcome Peter Nolta, a senior SAP consultant specialised in Indirect Tax Technology in SAP, Plants Abroad functionality and highly complex VAT processes in ERP systems. Peter has built an impressive career in tax technology, he is reflecting on his 22 years of experience working in the industry.
For those who don’t know you, can you introduce yourself?
Hi, I am Peter and I live in Etten-Leur in the southern part of the Netherlands with my wife Suus and our two kids Nina and Thomas. I love to walk, play squash and mountain bike (even though we don’t have real mountains in the Netherlands). Over the last 12 years I have implemented tax technology with SAP software and add-ons.
Why did you choose to specialise in tax automation?
I didn’t choose to specialise in tax automation; it came my way.
After I studied Logistics and Information Technology I worked as a consultant for Tempo-Team It-flex where I was responsible for recruitment and training of IT consultants. That is where I decided to join a traineeship to become SAP Consultant. I started my SAP career 22 years ago as a purchasing (PTP) consultant, later followed courses in order to cash (OTC) and Finance. During a project I was asked to join the team implementing VAT and Intrastat for a Dutch retailer.
That is where I learnt that SAP itself does not have the required logic and I learned how to build the logic to determine the correct tax treatment. I like to translate the complex legal requirements which do not always have a clear logical answer to computer logic. Computer logic always must be yes or no, there are no grey areas possible.
There is never a dull moment as the Indirect Tax world keeps evolving, you learn something new every day. It gives me the opportunity to help people and solve problems.
I have noticed how often tax technologists define themselves as problem-solvers. What is the most challenging project you worked on?
Good question. Every project has its challenges as Indirect Tax requirements are constantly changing. The most challenging are new implementations of local authorities requesting transactional data.
I was part of the team that implemented Spanish SII, Italy SDI, Hungarian RTIR, UK MTD, SAF-T reports, e-invoicing and the recent Greek myDATA. What made it challenging was that not all requirements were clearly stated by local authorities from the beginning. Changes were needed, it was hard to build the solution with a moving target. We were lucky to work with a small senior team which consisted of technology, Indirect Tax and business experts.
It looks like it is the team who made the project achievable. Do you think that since the pandemic more businesses are adopting tax automation?
No, I believe that most businesses are adopting tax technology based on regulations from local authorities. I see that companies are putting out fires and search for country specific solutions. I believe it is better to take a step back and have a holistic view on the Indirect Tax and build the IT system, so it supports both the organisation, local requirements and can be used for analysis. Over the last years the main tax software vendors have improved their products and SAP itself joined them with SAP document compliance (edocument), SAP tax compliance, Advanced Compliance Reporting (ACR) and the SAP tax service.
One of the key factors is Master Data, make sure that you have the processes in place to ensure you are able to maintain correct master data instead of correcting the data at the end. Once you have a correct process in place, map out your business processes and the Indirect Tax logic.
I agree with you, there is a strong and steady demand from employers for advisory skills in tax technology, as for a project to be successful, it always comes back to the foundations themselves and the set-up of the right processes. What is your main advice for someone who wants to start working in tax technology?
Know what your strengths are, build a good knowledge on Indirect Tax and IT. Most important is the mindset, be curious and willing to learn new things. Start to understand business processes and how these can be supported by technology.
Besides this knowledge make sure you develop your social-and communication skills as it is important to be part of the conversation when changes happen within the organisation or its environment.
Have a seat at the table as early as possible when changes happen so they can be addressed in a correct manner. You have to be able to tell the story how Indirect Tax is impacted by business changes and explain what the risks and possibilities are.
Thank you for mentioning about strong communication skills as this soft skill and being able to communicate at various levels within an organisation is often requested from employers when it comes to a tax technology roles. Are there specific areas of training you can recommend in tax technology?
It depends on your background. I have seen two options.
Starting in Information Technology and learn more about Indirect Tax
Starting in Indirect Tax and learn more about Information Technology.
I do not prefer one above the other, I would advise to be the expert in the area you started in and learn as much as you can in the other area. I started as a SAP expert and learnt Indirect Tax later. It is important to know what you don’t know and be honest about it. In case of specific local requirements make sure to seek help of local advisors who know in-depth details of local regulations. It is always a team effort.
For theoretical Indirect Tax knowledge, I can recommend:
IBFD, for specific Indirect Tax subjects and transfer pricing
Free e-learning modules on VAT on ec.europa.eu for people who are starting in Indirect Tax and need to know the basic legislation framework
In SAP there are specific areas that are important to build your knowledge, the most important are:
Condition technique and pricing as this is where the tax code (tax treatment is determined)
Output control / Invoicing
Intermediate Documents (Idocs) / XML
Process knowledge (Sales process, Purchase/logistics process, Finance process)
SAP Tax compliance
SAP Tax service
SAP Document Compliance (E-document)
SAP Advanced Compliance Reporting (ACR)
Those are good suggestions and I agree that you can work in tax technology whether you come from a tax or an IT background. What did you achieve in terms of remote working during the pandemic and didn’t think was achievable before?
At the start of the first lockdown, we went live with five countries in Europe and that was supported fully remotely. Normally for an ERP to go live there is on-site support, to support the end users to start using the system. This time it was all supported by remote zoom sessions. We had teams in Europe, USA and India supporting and had a successful go live.
In my day-to-day work there has not been a big change as I already work from my home office most of the time. What did change is the fact that my kids are home more often due to online education. The main change is that I don’t travel at the moment.
I miss the face-to-face contact with clients and hope that we can meet in person again. In my opinion it is important to meet the relevant people in the organisation at the beginning of projects.
One of the parts I enjoy in my work is travelling and I can’t wait to jump on a plane again to visit my clients and project colleagues/friends when foreign travel is permitted.
A go-live performed remotely is a performance! Do you think projects will continue to be delivered remotely after the pandemic?
Yes, I believe that one of the upsides of Covid -19 is that we started to realize that a lot of the work can be done remotely. I believe that the start of a project should be face-to-face to connect to people and have requirement workshops. After that, most of the work can be done remotely. For training again, I prefer to have a workshop session as you get a better group interaction.
On the recruitment front, we have more employers offering roles which are completely remote, those employers were exceptional before Covid-19, now it is more frequent. If we fast forward 10, 20 years from now, what do you see will be the next big changes for tax department and how will they work with technology?
In the current environment I see the use of Robotics Process Automation (RPA) for repetitive tasks such as the preparation of the monthly VAT filing.
I expect there will be a big move towards transactional reporting. This allows governments to gain a good insight of the taxpayers purchases, sales and goods movements. With this data they are able to connect this information to other taxpayers and get the full picture.
The government can and will already prepare the Indirect Tax obligations and there will be no month end reporting required.
Instead of putting out fires, more focus will be on exceptions and the implementation of the control framework to find these exceptions and act on them. As said earlier I’d like to emphasise that master date is key here. Make sure that there is one source of truth and data is stored in one central system.
Thank you Peter for sharing your views of the tax technology market now and in the future, I am sure readers will also be interested in your answers on your training suggestions, as apart from some modules offered in universities, there are no courses yet to get into tax technology. At the moment, taxologists get trained by their employers but there is a growing demand for training from the candidates, especially the ones who want to get into tax technology.