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How Analytics and Chicken Sandwiches Can Put Time Back In Tax Professionals’ Days

The Chicken Sandwich War of 2019 was such an emotional firestorm, decorum prevents us from officially weighing in on the suddenly critical debate of which fast-food chain offers the best fried chicken sandwich (but seriously, it’s Chick-fil-A).

We can, however, declare a winner in a different war, this time without the use of tongue-in-cheek parentheticals. In Chick-fil-A’s own private war against the complexities of the U.S. tax code, the Georgia-born chicken empire is emerging victorious—thanks in large part to a juicy analytics solution.

Among other accomplishments, Chick-fil-A employed analytics tools from Alteryx to reduce time spent processing tax data for 1099-Ks from 10 hours to 10 seconds. That means Chick-fil-A’s tax professionals (as will yours, if you follow the company’s example) have way more time to actually look through tax data and discover opportunities to increase revenue, widen margins, and reduce errors.

Alteryx is an ideal solution for organizations of every shape and size—combining the robust capabilities large enterprises require with the flexible pricing and ease-of-use needed by smaller companies. In the case of Chick-fil-A, Alteryx successfully manages the massive tax data flow of a fast-food empire. 

With more than 2,300 locations across 47 states (and Washington, DC) and a 2018 revenue of more than $10 billion, Chick-fil-A faces the stiff challenge of navigating thousands of sales tax jurisdictions.

Print this out and place a pin in every sales tax jurisdiction you’ve visited! Actually don’t do that, because it’s insane.

Like many companies, Chick-fil-A’s tax department was spending about 80% of its time on data preparation, leaving little room for analysis or validation. A few years ago, Matt Burton, Chick-fil-A’s senior principal team leader of tax technology, inquired if there was a better way for the company to crunch tax data and take advantage of its data.

“I asked, ‘Instead of me having to run a SQL query over and over, is there some tool that would allow other individuals within the tax department to access that data?’” Burton said. 

Burton’s colleague suggested analytics solutions from Alteryx, and the rest is history.

Today, Chick-fil-A’s tax department is much more agile and can adapt to changes quickly. In addition to 1099-K prep time going from 10 hours to 10 seconds, querying daily tax rates—a process which once required a staff of five to six people—is now performed daily by a single individual.

Chick-fil-A uses Alteryx to automate manual processes, put time back in tax professionals’ days, and improve overall business results. Let’s take a look at four key ingredients of Chick-fil-A’s recipe for tax success.

1) Blending tax data

Imagine standing at a Chick-fil-A counter and ordering a chocolate milkshake. You watch as the employee places the various ingredients into your cup—then gasp as he informs you that it will take about four hours to blend them all together.

That outcome would be unacceptable to just about any customer. Likewise, the amount of time it took Chick-fil-A’s tax team to prepare and blend 1099 data from various sources (AWS, spreadsheets, and Oracle ERP) was unacceptable to the company’s tax function.

To streamline the process, Chick-fil-A placed Alteryx analytics in the middle of its 1099 workflow. Now Alteryx quickly combines the data from the various sources—while also identifying components that are in one set and not another, which can alert the team to data errors they might otherwise never find. The platform then automatically formats, validates, and outputs the clean 1099 data onto a fresh spreadsheet.

The process is fast, efficient, and less error-prone than the methods Chick-fil-A used in the past. And the company’s tax team can now use the extra time to look through its data and identify opportunities for cutting costs and growing revenue. 

2) Running tax data simulations

Buttery buns and crunchy pickles will only get you so far. To maintain a successful business, Chick-fil-A must make decisions based on reliable, timely data. And that includes the ability to accurately simulate and forecast the tax implications of a decision before it’s made.

“Let’s say you want to simulate what the tax rate will look like in 300 different locations. With Alteryx, you can quickly do that,” Burton said.

Chick-fil-A uses Alteryx to transform tax rate data from a spreadsheet into an XML block. From there, the tax team can easily input the parameters of what they want to test, and Alteryx spits out an API call—a piece of code that requests data from another piece of software. That API call ultimately generates a new XML block that contains the results of the query.

“Alteryx gives you the ability to parse the XML so tax analysts can make sense of it,” Burton said. “You can even send various parts of the results directly into the workflows themselves.”

An example of an XML block generated by Alteryx. We don’t understand it either but we sure do like the pretty colors.

3) Deriving analytics from tax data

Data science doesn’t always move as smoothly as a Chick-fil-A drive-thru line. It can be easy to get “stuck in the data”—overwhelmed by the noise and unable to derive the insights you actually need.

Chick-fil-A uses Alteryx to avoid getting stuck, leveraging powerful analytics capabilities to uncover opportunities and errors within the company’s data in an automated fashion.

Blending data from multiple input files across databases, spreadsheets, and CSVs, Alteryx analyzes millions of transactions while automatically and dynamically updating certain parameters every day. The resulting analytics create all sorts of benefits for Chick-fil-A—and one of the most immediate is the ability to identify potential issues before tax returns are filed.

“If the system detects a potential problem, it will issue alert emails to various tax professionals. Everything is automated, so you don’t have to worry about it until you receive an alert,” Burton said.

Here’s what an email alert might look like. Coincidentally, “Tax Drift” is the subtitle of the next Fast & Furious movie. That franchise is really going downhill.

4) Leveraging robotic process automation for tax

You didn’t think we’d get through this article without the robots taking over, did you?

Actually, while robotic process automation (RPA) can help with a lot of things, it turns out the machines need a good deal of help to do their jobs intelligently. So we’re probably safe from a self-aware uprising for the time being.

“You still have to get the data into Alteryx for it to consume,” Burton said. “So we looked into ways to automate that.”

Burton and his team use an RPA product called Blue Prism to automatically move data from the company’s ERP system and into Alteryx—eliminating the need for tax and data professionals to manually input the data and putting even more time back in their days. Alteryx processes the data quickly and effectively, then spits it back to Blue Prism, which sends emails to the parties who need to know what was done with the data—again saving time by eliminating manual steps.

“Alteryx is the brains of the workflow, and Blue Prism is the hands feeding in the information,” Burton said.

Win your own war against tax complexities with Alteryx

“Alteryx is a very unique tool and a fun tool to use because it’s not just necessarily focused on data,” Burton said. “Yes, data runs through it, but it also helps you improve your business processes. It helps you analyze your data and just kind of see into that data and make it a little bit clearer. I think of it as uncomplicating the complicated.”

Your business can also benefit from the powerful, proven Alteryx analytics platform. Unlike most other analytics providers, Alteryx offers solutions that have been specifically customized to automate and enhance the tax processes most critical to business success. 

Isn’t it time your company took a bite out of the complexities of the tax function? Alteryx frees your organization from manual steps, allowing more time for the strategic analysis needed to accelerate business outcomes and gain a delicious edge over the competition.

Learn more about Alteryx and start your free trial >