The largest development project in history completed on schedule and budget

Completed in March 2020, the VALMIS project replaced some 70 end-of-life tax systems with a single off-the-shelf software product. At the same time, legislation was also amended and the Finnish Tax Administration’s internal operating processes were updated. The MyTax e-service was launched to customers.

It was the largest development project in the Tax Administration’s history, and also unique considering the whole of Finland. The project has raised international attention and, on the basis of its experiences, the Tax Administration has written a manual on the deployment of the off-the-shelf tax software for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

LinkedIn articles on the VALMIS project (in Finnish only):

New technologies open up opportunities to meet the needs of taxation

The Tax Administration has various routines that our specialists need to carry out in different parts of our administration. By using new technologies, such as software robotics, we can automate routines more easily than by using conventional data system projects, allowing our specialists to focus on the interpretation and deduction of tax-related matters that require expertise.

Robotics opens up excellent opportunities to develop our work, such as analytics and software development, so that we can be more agile and professional in responding to the needs of taxpayers and stakeholders.

Chatbot Virtanen had more than 300,000 conversations with customers

Chatbot Virtanen started working in November 2019, first by helping customers in tax card-related matters, and soon afterwards it also started to provide guidance in other tax-related matters for individual taxpayers. In April 2020, Virtanen also started to help customers in MyTax, resulting in a significant increase in the number of conversations. In May, Virtanen also started to provide guidance in Swedish.

During 2020, Virtanen had a total of 318,974 conversations with customers. Of these, Virtanen forwarded 57,873, or roughly 18.1% of all conversations, to human officials. The busiest day was during the tax return season in spring: on May 4, Virtanen had 5,827 conversations during a single day. Based on the calculated average of 120 conversations per day, providing a similar service with human officials alone would require additional personnel resources of 12 person-years.

Virtanen’s skills are being developed and expanded continuously, with corporate tax matters being the next in line.

AI learns

The Tax Administration participated in the campaign to donate speech, because we want to do our part in developing speech recognition, covering Finnish in all its various forms – including dialects, pauses and any hesitations. The campaign to donate speech collected samples of freely spoken Finnish until the end of 2020 so that we can all teach speaking smart devices and robots to truly understand Finnish. As a result of this development, we will be able to use voice-controlled devices and services even better.

One interesting AI experiment carried out at the Tax Administration is also related to speech recognition. The Tax Administration receives some two million calls a year. We want to use these calls to better understand our customers in tax-related matters so that we can develop our operating methods. Calls involve loads of manual routines. Our goal is to harness AI so that voice is first converted into text, then classified automatically and finally analysed.

Robots test tax software and monitor emails

Software robotics is ideal for situations where data is in digital and organised format, and the workflow involves unambiguous rules.

For example, the Tax Administration has used software robots since 2016 in testing the GenTax software. Currently, testing involves close to 30 software robots. The purpose of these robots is to ensure that GenTax works as intended, even though its different parts undergo constant changes. One of the advantages of automated testing is speed: a similar testing volume would not be possible manually, as it would require hundreds, or even thousands, of people. However, it is more useful to conduct some tests manually, also in the future. These include situations that are subject to consideration.

Robots can replace various manual routines. For example, a software robot was deployed in 2020 to monitor the tax collection email inbox. Every month, some 1,500–3,000 messages are received in the inbox from collection stakeholders, such as courts of law and estate administrators. The robot transfers these emails and their attachments directly to the GenTax work queue for processing. It is estimated that this saves 1.9 person-years of manual work.

APIs make data transfers between taxpayers and the Tax Administration smoother

An application programming interface (API) is a bus built between software to transfer data from taxpayers to the Tax Administration, or the other way round.

When software is directly connected to the Tax Administration through an API, filers do not need to separately log in to MyTax, complete a return and then submit it. Data can also be used the other way round through APIs: for example, payers of wages can check their employees’ current tax rate through their software, without employees needing to send their tax card to their employer.

Through APIs, the Tax Administration receives reported data quickly and in the correct format directly in its systems. APIs also reduce the need for services, as data can also be sent outside automatically.

The Tax Administration is already providing different APIs for its software, and there is more to come. At the end of 2020 and at the beginning of 2021, APIs were deployed for checking the tax rate and for submitting reports on the platform economy and car taxation.