As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the U.S. and around the world, we’ve heard from numerous clients concerned about whether the disruption will adversely affect our property tax software and data extraction service, and by extension, their tax practices. The foundation of our business has always been about giving you, our customers, the digital tools you need to thrive in any situation. Today, that mission has become more important than ever, as so many tax teams need support in continuing to work effectively away from the office, on their own terms.
Below is a description of the business continuity systems we have in place currently, and areas where we might be able to provide extra support for you if your own situation requires it. We encourage all our customers to think through their processes around our software and services and get in touch if there’s anything we can do to help. Our priority is you—to ensure your mission-critical operations remain smooth and continuous while your team navigates this threat safely.
5 Critical Tax Processes For Continuity Planning
1. Getting Data Into The System
Customers using our MetaTaskerPT software are familiar with the process of getting data into the system: Tax returns/notices/bills come in the mail, those documents are scanned, MetaTaskerPT extracts the data and formats it, then uploads it into TotalPropertyTax (TPT).
All our applications are web-based, which means they can be accessed from any computer and any browser, as long as you have the credentials to log in. (Users can easily access the applications from home.)
However, you still need a way to obtain the necessary information from physical documents that arrive in the mail and convert it into electronic form. Mailrooms may not be operating at normal levels at the moment; your internal processes of preparing, sorting, and/or delivering the mail could be disrupted. Even if the mail is delivered to the tax group, you may still need to send one or two workers into the office a couple times a week to pick up mail, and scan and upload tax documents. If your employees who normally complete this task use public transportation, it may be preferable to send employees who live near office locations or have means of personal transportation.
If you don’t receive an expected tax document in the mail, we can help you get the information you need. We can compile a report of missing documents, including web-accessible links to prior year documents. This is useful as these images include account numbers, online sources, and jurisdiction contact information so you can contact assessors or jurisdictions on your own. Alternatively, we can collect this data on your behalf if this is a service you need—just let us know.
2. Accessing The System
The continued availability of our applications is, of course, crucial. Our systems are accessible from your home without requiring access to your office infrastructure. This is possible because all our applications are web browser agnostic, in the cloud, and hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), the largest, most reliable cloud service provider.
Our applications are replicated in multiple areas of the cloud. For example, If the Oregon data center for AWS goes down, we’ll be up and running in the Virginia center in a matter of hours. Also, the system replicates all data every 15 minutes. So if you’re working in the application when the database crashes, you’ve lost only 15 minutes of your work and you’ll be up and running again in an hour or two. We’re diligent about ensuring system availability, and our procedures are audited annually. We can provide you a copy of our SOC 1 Type II report if you would like to know more.
3. Extracting Data From Tax Documents
A key part of our service is our software’s ability to extract data from unstructured tax documents. Our approach to extracting data includes a combination of three elements: machine learning, traditional OCR extraction, and human verification. Should a disruptive event occur, not only do our systems have multiple backup strategies to make sure automation remains in place, we also have strategies to ensure there are enough people available to process the data:
- We have multiple operation centers—one in Ghana, West Africa, and a third-party data center that has multiple locations around the world. All the centers we use are also digitally-enabled and can work from anywhere. But in the event that one operation center fails entirely, there are multiple offices to provide backup.
- In the extremely unlikely event that all our operation centers fail, we have a plan to leverage on-demand labor. Our business was built on crowdsourcing; in the past we’ve had as many as 20,000 people performing tasks for us online. We can quickly ramp this up in a matter of days, giving us access to over a million online users. Outsourcing work in this way does not degrade the quality of the work or the time it takes to perform it.
4. Printing & Mailing Payments
Once you’re ready to file your returns, you need to be able to print and mail them. If you’re working from home, you might not be set up to print the volume of documents required, and you may not have access to printers at your office.
Our software allows you to stay in compliance by using virtual printing and mailing. We’ve developed an API connection to third-party printers that allows you to virtually print your checks and copies of your tax bills. And if you need to, we can also help you file your returns virtually. Just let us know, and within a few weeks we’ll have you set up with a virtual printer.
On the payment side, our software is already integrated via API connections with a third-party accounts payable organization called Anybill. Anybill issues and sends checks; all you need is an account with them to get started. We can also integrate with other payment and printing providers who offer API connections.
5. Accessing Support
CrowdReason has always been known for our exceptionally high level of support. The volume of customer calls has increased in recent days as clients are rapidly trying to print and potentially even prepay taxes to avoid the further implications of shutdowns. Especially in times of uncertainty, we will continue to be there for you to answer questions and do what we can to keep your processes running smoothly.
For safety reasons, CrowdReason employees are currently working from home. However, you can reach us as usual via email and we’ll strive to respond in under an hour. Our applications also include libraries of self-support resources, such as videos and articles. Simply click the Help icon to access the knowledge base, and type a question; our advanced search logic should yield a variety of helpful resources.
We hope our support libraries are useful, but that doesn’t mean we’re limiting your ability to contact support directly in our applications and request to speak to a team member. Reach out with your questions and concerns. We’re committed to ensuring uninterrupted service and success; let’s work together to get the job done.