May 14, 2018

Guest blog: It all starts with data - Information is everything

Markku Heikura

Director General, Finnish Tax Administration

For almost any organization, information management shouldn’t be a mere support function. In business, data runs everything; it’s the basis for not only offering purposeful services, but also processes like logistics, research and development, marketing and analytics.

The Finnish Tax Administration is, in essence, a factory for information management. We receive a minimum of 80 million notifications from, for example, employers, banks, and pension insurance companies. Managing all this information efficiently and reliably has been a decades-long road that’s taken plenty of perseverance and, first and foremost, visions as well as goals and ambitiously aiming to meet them. 

For example, the Tax Administration used to receive all tax reports handwritten on paper and opened, handled, and stored by hand. In comparison to today’s largely automated online systems, we’ve come a long way in efficiency. I’m thankful for my predecessors for their hard work, as it’s not always been easy to pursue changes in something as essential and critical as tax practices.

The Tax Administration has achieved its current level of digitalization by setting annual goals ever since the early 1990s, renewing processes step by step. We’ve developed minimum viable products, brought them into use in phases and gradually increased their volume. In order to succeed, we’ve needed to collect vast amounts of information at every stage of the process, thus being able to make changes and simplifications to further improve the services.

For example, next year we’ll see the introduction of the Incomes Register, which streamlines and simplifies the collection of salary data and uses APIs to automate information management. This not only removes the need for separate annual fillings, but also makes the information almost real-time.

Creating tax services that are easy to use and accessible is essential, and it can be achieved with the help of digital tools. However, at the same time digitalization also affects the environment in which the Tax Administration operates. It brings in international players and platforms that make monitoring the flow of money more difficult and risk taxes going unreported.

No one can predict for sure what’s bound to happen next, as things are developing so rapidly and new technologies, such as blockchain, can take unpredictable directions. It’s a bit like looking at a foggy sea through binoculars: the visibility just isn’t great.

This is where software and services companies like Tieto, celebrating its 50th birthday this year, have played a remarkable role throughout the changes in the scenery. As organizations focus on their core functions, Tieto and other technology experts keep an eye on the horizon and beyond to be able to see what’s ahead and react accordingly. Their development facilities are prepared and building products that haven’t yet seen the daylight but are ready and able when the time is right. 

With five million individuals and hundreds of thousands of companies as our customers and the funding of our shared public services at stake, there’s no room for hiccups. Digitalization is our helping hand, but nothing can or should be done merely for the sake of technology. Hence, we need to maintain people and their needs as the guidelines of our day-to-day job.  To know what they want, we need to collect data – and learn from it.

The Finnish Tax Administration collects 95 % of Finnish taxes and tax-like charges. The purpose of the Tax Administration is to collect the right tax at the right time, so as to ensure the Finnish society has the financial resources it needs to function. Proactive guidance, excellent service and credible tax control ensure the accrual of tax revenues. The goal is to have taxpayers handle tax-related transactions independently and in the correct manner.

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Throughout its history Tieto has been an integral part of building the Nordic societies. Tieto has created some of the very first digital services and paved the way for a smoother, healthier and more equal future. Check out the interactive timeline of Tieto's history and the development of the IT-sector >>>

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