Sink or Swim: A Guide to Surviving Sales Tax in 2017

Businesses may feel out of their depth as states look to test the waters on tax compliance in the coming year.

Sales and use tax compliance can be a complex problem for many businesses. It almost feels like you need a bowie knife to cut through the regulatory red tape, although knowledge may be a better weapon in this case. So stay sharp with Avalara’s 2017 Sales Tax Survival Guide.

Published every year to help businesses better understand the challenges they are up against when it comes to complying with sales and use tax regulations in the U.S., Avalara’s latest Survival Guide is refreshed for 2017 with insight into what’s new and what’s changed at the state and federal level, common challenges around sales tax compliance, and tips for staying on top of your tax obligations.

sales tax

States are testing the waters in 2017

States are facing budget deficits and they need revenue from taxes. Sales and use tax is one of the largest generators of this revenue, but collecting it has become more difficult as how Americans buy, sell and consume goods and services has evolved beyond what’s defined by state tax laws. For example, Congress has yet to act on outdated federal internet sales legislation; services now outpace goods in consumer spending but aren’t taxed with the same consistency; and digital delivery of software, books and other media and streaming services have states perplexed when it comes to setting standards for taxability.

This has led many states to get aggressive – hiring more auditors, expanding nexus definitions (a connection with a state that triggers an obligation to collect and remit sales tax to that state) to target out of state sellers, implementing use tax reporting policies, increasing state and local sales tax rates, and extending sales tax to more products and services.

Survival of the fittest

While not every aspect of managing transactional tax causes pain for every business, it’s pretty certain that at least some areas will pose a challenge given how quickly the rules changes.

The 2017 Sales Tax Survival Guide walks you through 10 critical compliance challenges, from determining nexus to managing exempt sales to understanding the implications of drop shipping on your business and dealing with audits and lawsuits. Each section is also buoyed with best practices for overcoming these challenges, and links to addition information should you need to go more in depth on a topic.

It’s a must-read reference for anyone who is responsible for tax compliance in their business. And it’s available for download here.

Shore up compliance

As helpful as it is, no guide is a replacement for good practices. The most valuable takeaway from the Survival Guide is a greater awareness of just how burdensome tax compliance can be on a business – large or small. Trying to keep up with ever-changing state tax rates and rules puts a strain on accounting and finance teams in terms of the research and due diligence required.

You can remove that burden with tax automation software like Avalara AvaTax. Much of the work that goes into proving sales and use tax compliance – calculating tax rates, verifying customer information, updating taxability rules, applying exemptions, remitting sales tax and even filing tax returns – can be handled easily and efficiently in your accounting system with little to no manual work required. It’s easy to set up and use, guaranteed accurate, and budget friendly. Avalara is a preferred provider of tax software for more than 500 e-commerce, shopping cart, ERP and accounting systems and used by more than 20,000 companies worldwide. Talk to your system or application provider about using AvaTax to manage transactional tax.

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Permission to reprint or repost given by Avalara. Content previously published at www.avalara.com/blog.

Don’t Get Fooled by Nexus Rules

April 1 is commonly known as April Fool’s Day. It’s also the date when Amazon started collecting sales tax in four more states — Maine, New Mexico, Hawaii and Idaho —bringing the total to 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Amazon is no fool and sales tax nexus is no joke. States are tired of losing revenue from tax-free remote sales and are starting to crack down on businesses who fail to register or collect sales tax when their sales activities are deemed substantial enough to warrant it. Amazon’s decision to volunteer to register to collect sales tax in more states may simply be pre-emptive to ensure that, should their sales into that state meet nexus thresholds in the future, their bases are covered.

While merely speculative as to motive, it is a smart move – and one that other companies may want to consider. The Quill v. North Dakota decision is decades old now, and the physical presence standard for nexus doesn’t adequately cover e-commerce. Congress still has yet to rule on new federal online sales tax legislation, despite multiple opportunities to do so. As a result, states are starting to reinterpret nexus to their own benefit in an attempt to collect tax revenues they feel are owed them. Under these broader terms, businesses can establish nexus through such activities as attending trade shows, engaging drop shippers, hiring remote employees, and (yes) online sales.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Amazon was one of the first e-commerce sellers to challenge remote seller nexus rules – an action which dubbed those policies “Amazon tax” or “Amazon laws.”  In the nine years since the e-commerce giant took New York to court over its 2008 Amazon tax law, the floodgates have opened to even more nexus changes at the state level, first with affiliate nexus and click-through nexus, and more recently with economic nexus laws.

The penchant for states to change or introduce new nexus laws has made it increasingly difficult and risky for businesses who sell online or into multiple states to keep track of their sales tax obligations. While it may not make sense for smaller to mid-size e-commerce sellers to volunteer to collect sales tax as universally as Amazon is now doing, it would be wise to have a solution in place to help you manage sales tax nexus — one that will scale with your business as it grows or changes.

Know your nexus

Nexus is an issue that Avalara gets asked about a lot. So much so, that they created a page on their website dedicated solely to helping companies understand nexus and even find out what nexus laws apply to each state where they do business.

Companies frequently engage Avalara’s professional services tax experts to help them determine their nexus obligations. And complying with multistate nexus is one of the biggest motivators to companies deciding to onboard Avalara’s tax automation solutions. Avalara’s software makes critical sales tax decisions automatically, pulling from the largest and most comprehensive tax database in the world and applying accurate, verified, up-to-the minute rates and rules to all your transactions. In most cases, Avalara is a simple integration to existing financial systems so setup is fast and easy. Avalara can also assist with exemption certificate management, as well as filing and remitting of sales tax returns.

For a refresher on nexus obligations, read Avalara’s guide, Everything you wanted to know about nexus (but were afraid to ask).

Permission to reprint or repost given by Avalara. Content previously published at www.avalara.com/blog.

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Cloud Technology is the Future – Time to Upgrade (Part 2 of 2)

This is the sixth in a series of six blogs, which attempt to provide airport accounting managers with information on how they can improve their financial management processes.  The previous blogs covered the following topics:

This blog continues the discussion from blog number 5 on cloud computing and describes how airports can take advantage of advances in cloud technology.

In addition, readers are encouraged to read my white paper (Modern Airport, Modern Tools) that covers the same topics in a summarized form.

What about Security? Is my data secure on the Cloud?

Security is a big issue whether you are using on-premises or cloud computing. Many companies think their data is safer on-premises, but the opposite is usually true.  There are many issues that impact security, including:

  • Firewalls to prevent hackers from getting into you network
  • Data backups, including storing some backups off site
  • Disaster recovery and business continuity
    • What happens if your IT server room catches fire and burns to the ground? How do you recover your data even if you have an offsite backup? You would need another server to restore your data onto and bringing up a new server can take time.
  • Anti-virus protection
  • Manage and control user access and identity
    • Comprehensive identity management is the linchpin of any secure system. You must ensure that only authorized users can access your environment, data, and applications.
  • Encryption of data as it travels between devices and your server
  • Protection against malware and phishing emails

The chances are that your local IT services do not offer the same security as a multi-million dollar data center, let alone the billion dollar data centers operated by Microsoft.

My favorite analogy to the question of whether your data is safer on-premises or on the Cloud is whether your money is safer in the bank (Cloud) or under your mattress (on-premises).

The Future of Accounting Software…

Microsoft launched a new cloud service in late 2016 called Dynamics 365.  I decided to include some information on this new service in this blog post since it is a great example of cloud computing and represents the future of accounting software. If you haven’t already heard about this software as a service, read on….

There are two flavors to this service, Dynamics Enterprise and Dynamics Business.  The Enterprise version is intended for larger companies and is based off Microsoft Dynamics AX 7. The Business version is based on Microsoft Dynamics NAV and is intended for smaller businesses with up to 250 employees.  Dynamics 365 adds accounting software to other services that are already offered by Microsoft such as Office 365 or new services that are being created such as sales and marketing applications. The Business edition would be suitable for most airports.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is the next generation of intelligent business applications in the Cloud. Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Financials is the accounting application within the Business edition and is priced at around $40 per user per month, making it very competitive and compelling for many airports.

Dynamics 365 for Financials includes the following:

  • Workflow Management
  • Financial Management
  • Purchasing
  • Sales
  • Inventory Management
  • Project Management
  • Requisitions and Quotes
  • Timesheets
  • Personal Information (HR)

The menus are very simple and the system is designed to be easy to install so that you can get up and running very quickly.

Dynamics 365 is integrated with Power BI, which was discussed in a previous blog, and can be accessed from a laptop, tablet or smart phone.

The system also integrates with Office 365, so that you can create purchase orders within your email system and send them to suppliers – this is extremely cool!  If you would like to see this, contact me.

Microsoft is updating the software every month so users are constantly using the latest version of the software. This software is only available on the cloud. We have developed an airport version of this product – contact me for more details.

What are the Economics of Cloud Computing?

In order to decide between a Cloud or on-premises solution, I recommend you take a look at the cost of the two different models.  When I prepare a quote for a customer, I usually do this for them and look at the total cost of ownership over a period of 5 years.  Why 5 years?  Because some of the costs are monthly or annual costs (monthly subscription fees or annual maintenance costs) and some are up-front initial costs (consulting fees for implementation). Once you decide to implement a new system, it is going to last you for at least 5 years, if not longer. Most companies stick with their system, good or bad, for a number of years since the cost and disruption of making a change can be significant.

Let’s take a look at an example. The following table shows the cost of an on-premise system compared to a PaaS and a SaaS Cloud service. These numbers are made up and there may be other costs that should be included in a real cost-benefit analysis, but this example illustrates how you could compare the different solutions.  The big difference between an on-premises and cloud solution is the cost of local IT personnel and other IT costs relating to an on-premises system such as the cost of the servers, disk drives, data center costs and other hardware and software costs.  If you outsource your system to the Cloud, these costs will mostly go away since you could re-deploy these resources or eliminate them.

cloud technology cost of ownership

In a SaaS solution, you will pay for the software on a subscription basis, which means you will not need to pay for annual maintenance of the software and you won’t have to pay for the up-front purchase cost of the software.

The cost of the PaaS and SaaS models needs to be looked at carefully. It may be less expensive to purchase the software and have it installed on a cloud server rather than pay for the monthly subscription for the software over the next 5 years. However, if you purchase the software, you will be responsible for any upgrades.

Ask your vendor to help you with this cost analysis.

Take Action…..

There are many advantages to implementing a cloud solution, and you could reduce the cost of your system while improving the performance, services offered and security of the system.  Contact me if you need help with understanding the benefits of cloud computing, or help with any of the other topics covered in this series of blogs.

Paul Fernandez B.Sc., ACMA, CMA
SBS Group Pacific Canada

About Paul
paul-fernandezPaul Fernandez is the general manager of SBS Pacific Canada, which is part of the SBS Group. He has worked as a professional accountant in industry for 25 years in various senior financial positions. He founded his consulting practise 15 years ago and has worked as a consultant implementing accounting systems at many companies, drawing on his own experience to advise clients on the design of their chart of accounts and multi-dimensional reporting structures. Contact Paul at pfernandez@sbsgroup.ca.

 


Looking for a modern financial management solution for your airport?

white paper download

Cloud Technology is the Future – Time to Upgrade (Part 1 of 2)

This is the fifth in a series of six blogs, which attempt to provide airport accounting managers with information on how they can improve their financial management processes.  The previous blogs covered the following topics:

This blog post and the next post, coming next week, will describe cloud technology and how airports can take advantage of this new technology.

In addition, readers are encouraged to read my white paper (Modern Airport, Modern Tools) that covers the same topics in a summarized form.

Introduction: What is the Cloud?

There has been much discussion in the media about cloud technology, but it can be confusing since each vendor has their own terminology and description of what their cloud service offers.  I will attempt to clarify what it all means in this post, and show you how you can take advantage of the new technology at your airport. Before we start discussing the cloud, let’s first take a quick look at how computer systems have evolved over the last 40 or 50 years to the current cloud technology that we have today.

How did the Cloud evolve?

Some of us may remember the old “mainframe” computers, which were large multi-million dollar centralized computers that were accessed by “dumb” terminals.  They were called dumb terminals because they had no processing capability – all the processing was done at the mainframe.

Then came the “mini computers” which were an attempt to offload some of the processing load onto smaller distributed computers which may have been located in local offices of the company, or even in departments.

Next, we had the rise of the “personal computer” which provided processing capabilities at the client level.  PC’s were connected to local area networks and servers were connected to these networks to handle various tasks like file serving or application hosting or acting as email servers. This is essentially what we have today in many companies and is called a client-server model.

In the last few years, cloud technology has developed, which essentially puts the processing capability back into a centralized location which is called a “data center”.  Data centers can be huge facilities the size of 10 football fields, with thousands of computers connected together and controlled by software to provide you, the user, with a host of services.  Microsoft is a global leader in the data center market, and has invested over $15 billion building dozens of these large data centers around the world.  The old mainframe architecture was the best design in terms of providing centralized services, but communications technology did not support this architecture 40 or 50 years ago and remote users experienced slow response times.  We have now gone full circle, in my opinion, since the technology has now evolved to the point where communications are fast enough to allow processing to be centralized again with access from any device that can connect to the internet.

The concept of cloud services is similar to the idea of outsourcing any service that can be done more efficiently and at a lower cost than you can do yourself.  If providing a data center is not your core competency, then the idea is that you will be better served by outsourcing your IT needs to a company that specializes in this service.

2015 was the tipping point in the adoption of cloud services. According to Microsoft, more than 50% of new systems were implemented on the cloud instead of on-premises in 2015. Some of Microsoft’s business application systems are now offered only on the cloud, for example Dynamics 365 (covered in the next blog).

Cloud vs. Hosting

What’s the difference between a cloud service and a hosting service? A hosting service is a basic form of cloud service – a company provides service remotely by allowing you to install software on their server for a monthly fee.  Cloud computing takes this simple approach and extends it by offering all sorts of different levels of service (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS) as well as providing the capability to scale the service that you need.  A hosting service can be thought of as the first generation or forerunner of cloud computing in its most basic form.

Cloud Services Explained

Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and more—over the Internet (“the cloud”). Companies offering these computing services are called cloud providers and typically charge for cloud computing services based on usage, similar to how you’re billed for water or electricity at home.  You are probably using cloud computing right now, even if you don’t realize it. If you use an online service to send email, edit documents, watch movies or TV, listen to music, play games, or store pictures and other files, it’s likely that cloud computing is making it all possible behind the scenes.

The following diagram shows the three different types of cloud computing paradigms according to Microsoft. The blue-shaded boxes indicate on-premise computing and the green boxes indicate cloud computing. On-premise computing is the traditional model where each company has their own server or servers installed locally on-premise.

In the right-hand bar, labeled “Software as a Service (SaaS)”, all the services are on the Cloud. For an airport using SaaS solutions, you would not need any local servers — just workstations or laptops on a local network with a connection to the internet. In this case, you would typically not need substantial, full-time IT staff to manage the software, and could outsource any IT support that might be needed to support your local network and computers.

Cloud computing is a confusing topic since different companies talk about their cloud services in different ways. However, one thing is certain: cloud computing is the way of the future. Microsoft’s vision for the future is highly focused on cloud computing and they have invested approximately $15 billion dollars in their cloud data centers. Some of their new business software only works on the cloud. Other companies like Amazon, Google and IBM are following the same path.

The following diagram shows the three different types of cloud computing according to Microsoft:

  • IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service
  • PaaS: Platform as a Service
  • SaaS: Software as a Service

cloud services

IaaS: You manage the blue-shaded boxes (applications, data, runtime, middleware and O/S) and you rent the infrastructure (virtualization, servers, storage and networking) from the cloud provider.  This is the most basic category of cloud computing services. With IaaS, you rent IT infrastructure—servers and virtual machines (VMs), storage, networks, operating systems—from a cloud provider on a pay-as-you-go basis.

PaaS: You get more services from the cloud provider compared to IaaS, to the point where you only manage your applications and data.  PaaS refers to cloud computing services that supply an on-demand environment for developing, testing, delivering, and managing software applications. PaaS is designed to make it easier for developers to quickly create web or mobile apps, without worrying about setting up or managing the underlying infrastructure of servers, storage, network, and databases needed for development.

SaaS: This is a method for delivering software applications over the Internet, on demand and typically on a subscription basis. With SaaS, cloud providers host and manage the software application and underlying infrastructure, and handle any maintenance, like software upgrades and security patching. Users connect to the application over the Internet, usually with a web browser on their phone, tablet, or PC.

For an airport using SAAS, the airport would not need any local servers other than a server to provide the local network but instead would just have workstations or laptops with a connection to the internet. In this case, you would typically not need any IT staff and could outsource any IT support that might be needed to support your local network and computers. In a true SaaS environment, all you need is access to the internet and a device with a browser like a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Don’t be confused by the terminology since the acronyms can mean different things to different people depending on who you are talking to.  Notice that I said the above diagram shows the three different types of cloud computing according to Microsoft.  If you spoke to a different vendor, they might have different definitions for IaaS, PaaS and SaaS services, but at the end of the day you are paying for services and you can decide which services you want.

What is Azure?

It would be difficult to talk about the cloud without mentioning Azure.  What is Azure?  Microsoft Azure, formerly known as Windows Azure, is Microsoft’s cloud computing platform. Azure provides a range of cloud services including those for databases, business intelligence, storage and networking. Users can pick and choose from these services to develop and scale new applications, or run existing applications, in the cloud.

Azure is available in 34 regions around the world, with plans announced for 4 additional regions. Microsoft places a high priority on geographic expansion to enable higher performance and to support your requirements and preferences regarding data location. For example, if it is important for a Canadian airport to keep its data within Canada, there is an Azure region in Central Canada.

Azure has the most comprehensive compliance coverage of any cloud provider with 50 compliance offerings.  Azure has been recognized as the most trusted cloud for U.S. government institutions.

Take Action…..

There are many advantages to implementing a cloud solution, and you could reduce the cost of your system while improving the performance, services offered and security of the system.  Contact me if you need help with understanding the benefits of cloud computing, or help with any of the other topics covered in this series of blogs.

Paul Fernandez B.Sc., ACMA, CMA
SBS Group Pacific Canada

About Paul
paul-fernandezPaul Fernandez is the general manager of SBS Pacific Canada, which is part of the SBS Group. He has worked as a professional accountant in industry for 25 years in various senior financial positions. He founded his consulting practise 15 years ago and has worked as a consultant implementing accounting systems at many companies, drawing on his own experience to advise clients on the design of their chart of accounts and multi-dimensional reporting structures. Contact Paul at pfernandez@sbsgroup.ca.

 


Looking for a modern financial management solution for your airport?

white paper download

Bring Your Data to Life with Microsoft Power BI

This is the fourth in a series of five blogs, which attempt to provide airport accounting managers with information on how they can improve their financial management processes.  Previously, I wrote about the benefits of using a multi-dimensional accounting system like Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2017, the key to improving productivity and accuracy of data by integrating your accounting system with other airport systems, and how to improve your reports by capturing key statistical data and combining this data with your financial data.  In addition, readers are encouraged to read my white paper (Modern Airport, Modern Tools) that covers the same topics in a summarized form. This post continues this series and discusses the benefits of implementing a data visualization product like Power BI.

What is Data Visualization?

Data visualization is a term used to describe products that present your data in a graphical format so you can see patterns and trends that might go undetected in standard financial statements like an income statement.  There are many data visualization products in the market, also known as business intelligence (“BI”) products.  Typically, these BI products cost a lot of money to implement, but this has changed with the advent of Microsoft Power BI.

Microsoft Power BI

This blog will focus on Microsoft Power BI, a suite of business analytics tools that allow you to analyze data, monitor your business and get answers quickly with rich dashboards available on every device.  Power BI was launched in July 2015 and has been rapidly adopted by organizations and now has millions of users worldwide.  Power BI can be used on all your devices, including laptops, tablets and smartphones.  Just think how amazing it would be to be able to see a dashboard showing your airport’s financial data and key performance metrics on your smartphone while sitting in a coffee shop or hotel lobby.

power bi mobility

There are two versions of Power BI:

  1. Power BI is a free version, which offers basic functionality.
  2. Power BI PRO offers additional functionality and data capacity and costs $12.20 per user per month (at the time of writing).

Although the basic version is free, you may need some consulting help to connect Power BI to your accounting data and design and develop some dashboards.  You could do this yourself, but this would take time to learn the product and it is recommended that you retain a consultant who has this experience since you will get it done much faster.  SBS Group can help you with this if needed.

What is a Dashboard?

A dashboard is a graphical representation of your key data.  A dashboard is something you create or something a colleague creates and shares with you. It is a single canvas that contains tiles, with each tile displaying a single visualization that was created from a dataset and pinned to the dashboard.  You can combine data that is stored on-premises with data on the cloud into the same dashboard, for example, you could combine your accounting data and airport key performance metrics, into a single pane of glass, providing a consolidated view across the organization regardless of where the data lives. Each metric, or insight, is displayed on the dashboard as a tile.

The following simple dashboard has three tiles and shows revenue for a helicopter company in Western Canada (the data is not real).  The tile on the left shows a map with circles, which show the helicopter bases.  The tile on the top right shows the revenue for each base broken down by individual helicopter, and the tile on the bottom right shows revenue by individual helicopter.  If you click on one of the bases on the map, the two tiles on the right will change to display data for that specific base. You can then drill down to the transactions from a bar or slice of the pie chart. As you can see, this is called “data visualization” because it depicts your data in a visual way.

power bi dashboard

By using an accounting system that has dimensions (please refer to a previous blog for an explanation of dimensions), you can use those dimensions in the dashboard. The above dashboard was created using two dimensions, one for “base” and one for “helicopter”.  Microsoft Dynamics NAV has 8 dimensions so you can start to see the power of using dimensions to help create stunning dashboards that will give you a visual view of how your airport is running.  With a well-designed dashboard, you can see your whole business on one dashboard.  What is more amazing about this new technology is that you can see this dashboard on a laptop, tablet or smartphone from anywhere as long as you have a connection to the internet.

Take Action…

Millions of users are now using Power BI to help them understand their business performance.  Download Power BI today from https://powerbi.microsoft.com and start using it.  Contact me if you need help with Power BI, or help with any of the other topics covered in this series of blogs.

Paul Fernandez B.Sc., ACMA, CMA
SBS Group Pacific Canada

About Paul
paul-fernandezPaul Fernandez is the general manager of SBS Pacific Canada, which is part of the SBS Group. He has worked as a professional accountant in industry for 25 years in various senior financial positions. He founded his consulting practise 15 years ago and has worked as a consultant implementing accounting systems at many companies, drawing on his own experience to advise clients on the design of their chart of accounts and multi-dimensional reporting structures. Contact Paul at pfernandez@sbsgroup.ca.

 


Looking for a modern financial management solution for your airport?

white paper download

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