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Informatica and Exterro have announced a partnership in the market for discovery of electronic data and documents (known as e-discovery). Exterro has made its reputation in e-discovery workflow and legal holds management while Informatica is a leader in data integration that our Value Index finds as the top and Hot rated provider. The partnership is designed to provide users of Exterro’s Fusion E-Discovery software with a single point of control for organizing and managing legal and preservation holds (that is, preventing electronic data from alteration or deletion) of unstructured and structured data that are held in Informatica’s Data Archive. Informatica specializes in the efficient management of information assets, which our benchmark research shows is not easy for most organizations to do because they have data spread across multiple applications and systems: Two-thirds of organizations said that this makes it difficult to manage information. By consolidating in a single repository the storage of information that is likely to be the subject of discovery, companies can simplify and cut the cost of the search process as well as reduce risk. Orchestrating legal and preservation holds can be complex since multiple people or groups within a company may be legally involved with the same data over an extended period of time. Moreover, it’s important to ensure that once the holds are no longer needed, all data that can be eliminated is eliminated.
This situation brings to light an increasingly sensitive predicament for many businesses. Corporations are required by law to retain records for a given period. These times differ from one jurisdiction to the next and vary according to the type of information in the records. For example, retention periods for general business matters tends to be the shortest, while information related to pharmaceuticals and radioactive materials require long retention. Traceability – the ability to determine and verify the history, use or location of an item and its constituent parts across an entire supply chain – is a fixture in some in some businesses such as those providing critical materials used in aerospace parts and to an increasing extent food. Failure to preserve data or to be able to produce it a timely fashion can lead to heavy fines or expensive judgments. The flip side to retention is that corporations must take care to delete records that no longer have business value and are not required to be retained, since even innocent items can pose a needless threat in litigation and add to the cost of maintaining and finding information.
Once mainly an issue in the United States, the increasing volume of litigation worldwide and ever expanding regulation of businesses has expanded the breadth and amount of information that parties may have to produce in the discovery phase of litigation and regulatory actions. Along with this trend, e-discovery has grown exponentially in importance as more and more of everyday business is captured in electronic systems. Hence the need for software to manage the e-discovery process and the underlying data.
A great deal of the information needed for e-discovery is unstructured – documents and email are particularly common. But especially in financial services, information contained in structured databases also is important. Banks, brokers/dealers and insurance companies all generate a considerable amount of structured data related to operations that can be subject to discovery. The volumes of data that are exposed to discovery continue to grow in lockstep with the growth of data created by today’s IT systems.
Law and regulation by the book prescribe processes that must be managed and documented carefully. Workflows handle processes affect the efficiency with which discovery management is executed. Legal holds require tagging of documents that have to be available in the discovery process to ensure that they are not inadvertently removed or deleted from a repository. For example, if a set of transactions and related email messages are germane to a regulatory action, they must be preserved until the issue is resolved, regardless of whether under ordinary circumstances they would be destroyed because their legally defined retention period had expired.
Exterro’s Fusion E-Discovery Suite incorporates the necessary capabilities as well as data mapping and data management to make processing records efficient. Exterro competes with IBM and Hewlett Packard/Autonomy, among others, in the e-discovery market. It positions itself as providing a more open portal than the others, enabling customers to have greater freedom to decide where the data is held. The company will benefit from the new partnership by having tight integration with a key information storage provider. Informatica for its part has acquired another important use case that provides durable value to its existing and prospective customers.
Companies – especially their legal departments – often fail to recognize the negative impact that poor data management has on their ability to execute consistently and efficiently. Usually, they recognize they have a problem only after an expensive or embarrassing failure. It’s important that organizations regularly review their data assets and data management practices to determine where they can be a source of failure or inefficiency and address these issues immediately. They should consider how Exterro and Informatica can help them reduce a potentially dangerous risk exposure that our research confirms that over half (51%) of organizations indicate as their top ranked concern in governance, risk and compliance.
Robert Kugel – SVP Research
Technology for the Office of Finance can have transformative power. Although progress has been slow at times, today’s finance organizations are fundamentally different from those of 50 years ago. For one thing, they require far fewer resources (chiefly people) to perform basic accounting, treasury and corporate finance tasks. In addition, public corporations report results sooner – sometimes weeks sooner – than they could in the mid-20th century. And finance departments are able to harness substantially more data and a wider array of analytics to promote insight and support more agile decision-making.
Even in this context, in many corporations the tax function remains a backwater in its use of technology. Most of their tax professionals are awash in desktop spreadsheets, tools that they initially thought would promote efficiency and accuracy. But the inherent problems with desktop spreadsheets make tax processes not only needlessly time-consuming (even using macros and other spreadsheet automation techniques) but also prone to errors and inconsistencies. This is especially true if people must enter the same information multiple times, which increases the chances of mistakes. In addition, assumptions made and rationales behind formulas used in data transformations may not be documented or readily accessible to others in the organization. This legacy can be problematic years later in an audit, especially if the individual who prepared the spreadsheet is no longer employed at the company. And with spreadsheet-driven processes, auditing taxes and the underlying data and calculations is difficult and time-consuming. On top of all this, the effects of the desktop spreadsheet’s inherent shortcomings multiply with the size of a corporation. By their nature, these spreadsheets hinder a corporation’s ability to understand tax issues and optimize related decisions.
Organizations do not have to put up with these outdated, counterproductive practices. New tools can help streamline tax processes. One is Vertex Enterprise (which I reviewed earlier this year). Vertex recently was awarded Ventana Research’s 2013 Innovation Award for the Office of Finance for this suite of application and integrated use of tax data and analytics. Vertex offers a single-platform approach to managing all types of taxes (direct and indirect) across the entire tax life cycle, from analysis through provisioning to audit defense, using a single data source. Direct (income) tax management is still a largely manual process involving a plethora of desktop spreadsheets. Calculating and accounting for direct taxes is complicated, largely because income tax laws can be quite convoluted, especially in certain industries. As well, the larger the number of tax jurisdictions it operates in and the more numerous its subsidiary legal entities, the more complex tax management becomes.
Vertex Enterprise includes tax provisioning software for both indirect and direct taxes. Indirect Tax is managed by the company’s O Series software, a single platform that handles sales-and-use-, VAT- and goods and services taxes on a global scale. Direct taxes is handled by Vertex Tax Accounting, global tax provisioning and reporting software that works with multiple general ledger systems in multiple currencies and across multiple years within the context of multiple accounting regimes such as US- and other national generally accepted accounting standards (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The web-based software supports a distributed, collaborative, enterprise-wide tax decision cycle process that can achieve more optimal tax-related decision making. Direct taxes exist in a parallel universe, and one advantage in having a single system is that it facilitates the process of reconciling the business accounting performed in ERP systems with the tax accounting governed by law. Vertex automates tax account reconciliation and reporting and manages adjustments that span multiple time periods.
One notable advance for corporate tax departments offered by Vertex Enterprise is its tax data warehouse (TDW). Because a TDW can automate much of the painstaking work that occupies much of the tax practitioner’s time, it can free these trained individuals to focus on making the best tax decisions possible. Also, because a TDW can increase visibility into tax analyses and calculations, corporations can be more confident in their tax-related decisions. And with this greater visibility and confidence, tax departments can become a mainstream participant in the finance function. This is especially important in an era of increasing cooperation between tax authorities worldwide. More than ever, corporations that operate globally must be able to optimize their tax positions over time and across multiple jurisdictions. A TDW enhances that capability.
Conceptually, a TDW is simple: It’s a data store that makes all tax data readily available and can be used to plan and provision a company’s taxes. However, in larger companies (those with more than 1,000 employees) that operate in multiple tax jurisdictions and have even moderately complex legal entity structures, tax-related data structures and calculations become fiendishly complex, as I noted in an earlier perspective. For that reason, the first attempts to create TDWs proved unworkable because the sheer complexity of the direct (that is, income) tax domain overwhelmed the available information technology. These limitations forced companies to take shortcuts, which meant that each TDW had to be a largely custom effort and therefore expensive to build. And because these shortcuts rendered the systems brittle and difficult to change, they were expensive to maintain. Today, however, technology is available to make TDWs practical.
A TDW has several purposes: to ensure accuracy and consistency in tax analysis and calculations, improve visibility into tax provisioning, and cut the time and effort required to execute tax processes. The technology is especially useful because data management is one of the biggest operational challenges facing tax departments today. That is, the information necessary for tax provisioning, planning, compliance and audit may not be readily available to the tax department because accounting and other information is kept in multiple systems from multiple vendors. Our benchmark research shows that 90 percent of companies with 1,000 or more employees use financial systems from multiple vendors, and 43 percent use four or more. In addition, not all of the data necessary for tax department purposes is captured by the ERP system. As well, data collected in a general finance department warehouse or pulled together in a financial consolidation system may not be sufficiently granular for tax department purposes.
Moreover, most companies’ ERP systems (the core technology for gathering transaction data) are not inherently “tax aware,” so tax departments repeatedly need to perform transformational steps to ensure that data is formatted and organized properly. Sometimes the data must undergo multiple transformations because, for example, the transaction information collected in an overseas subsidiary must be reported locally using the local currency and accounting standard but translated to the parent company’s tax books in a different currency using a different accounting standard. In some industries (such as financial services) there may be multiple local reporting standards, one for general statutory purposes and another reflecting specific rules for that industry demanded by some regulatory authority. In short, there are numerous data-driven headaches tax professionals have to address before they even get down to work. A TDW addresses this problem.
Ventana Research is dedicated to helping organizations enhance the effectiveness and strategic value of the Office of Finance. Tax departments, CFOs and controllers in larger, more complex corporations should examine how the tax organization spends its time and determine to what degree more enterprise automation and fewer desktop spreadsheets would enable the company to understand and manage its tax needs more intelligently. Vertex Enterprise can be a useful foundation for transforming the tax function, which is why it received our Technology Innovation Award for Office of Finance for 2013.
Robert Kugel – SVP Research