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Accounting giant boosts efficiency with Alteryx automation

Two years after starting a pilot program with the data and analytics vendor, the accounting firm has saved more than 100,000 work hours by automating repetitive tasks.

In the nearly two years since it first began using automation capabilities from Alteryx, BDO USA has gained efficiencies that have led to cost savings and developed applications that it now sells to third parties.

Binder Dijker Otte is an international accounting, tax and consulting firm founded in 1964 and based in Belgium with a presence in countries such as Australia, China and the United Kingdom. Its U.S. operation -- BDO USA -- is based in Chicago.

Alteryx, meanwhile, is a data and analytics vendor founded in 1997 and based in Irvine, Calif., whose platform is designed to automate much of the data preparation process.

The vendor rebranded its suite of tools in 2020 to reflect its focus on automation, and it is now called the Alteryx Analytics Automation Platform. Alteryx formed a partnership with robotic process automation vendor UiPath in 2021 to further its automation capabilities.

Simultaneously, Alteryx has been transitioning its platform to the cloud, releasing its first cloud-native capabilities in February 2022, and remaking its C-suite to include leaders with cloud experience.

A new direction

Two years ago, BDO USA wanted to build customized applications for its tax data to both use internally with its own clients and sell to external organizations.

At the time, the company's different departments were using different data management and analytics platforms for preparing and analyzing data and developing analytics applications but hadn't standardized operations on one platform, according to Dan Fuller, managing partner of tax automation and innovation at BDO USA.

And few of its operations were automated, meaning that the company had to do repetitive, time-consuming data preparation tasks manually.

In 2019, BDO USA acquired TAXPE, a firm whose tools automate aspects of the income tax reporting process for large firms. That acquisition served as an impetus for BDO USA, sparking interest in automating more processes and beginning its search for a platform that could enable more automation.

Industrywide, the number of CPAs is declining, meaning that the talent needed for an organization like BDO USA to continue growing is becoming harder to find. And that decline in the talent pipeline also contributed to the firm's interest in process automation -- particularly with low-code tools -- potentially completing more work with fewer people.

"During that time, we evaluated what we wanted to do strategically. And as we were looking out there and talking to [vendors], we could see that low-code/no-code is where the future was going," Fuller said.

Fuller and his team narrowed their choice down to Alteryx and the Microsoft Power Platform, which includes Microsoft Power Automate to enable process automation.

Ultimately, the low-code/no-code focus of the Alteryx APA led BDO USA -- which wanted a tool that was easy to use and easy to be trained on -- to choose the vendor.

The firm began a pilot program with Alteryx in 2020 and fully deployed the data and analytics vendor's tools in September 2022 with expanded use of Alteryx Designer, Server, and Intelligence Suite.

"What we were trying to home in on was our technology strategy, and from a low-code standpoint, Alteryx is [platform] that you can pick up very quickly," Fuller said. "And from an efficiency standpoint, it allows us to understand the value stream in a clear and concise way. What we're trying to do is cut out the routine tasks that lead to high turnover."

One example of a routine task BDO USA targeted for automation in hopes of increasing efficiency and reducing staff turnover was filing K-1 tax forms to report an organization's finances, which involves uploading of data, data entry and a slew of calculations.

An Alteryx automated workflow.
A screenshot displays a workflow combining Alteryx's Analytic Process Automation platform with robotic process automation capabilities.


In the nearly two years since BDO USA first began using Alteryx on a trial basis, the firm has accomplished what it hoped for when it first chose the data and analytics vendor's tools over the Microsoft Power Platform, according to Fuller.

By automating what were previously manual tasks, the firm has saved about 100,000 work hours, Fuller said.

Alteryx has essentially taken over BDO USA's data management, letting the firm transition its focus away from mundane accounting tasks and make technology that leads to efficiency and a new focus.

"We're no longer a tax firm that uses technology -- now we're a technology firm that does taxes," Fuller said. "That's a real statement about what we're looking to do. We have to operate in a [technologically advanced] environment, and we have to think in technological terms."

Those technological terms include a strong development operations program and a focus on enabling agile decision-making.

"Understanding data is critical, and we have so much data as an accounting firm," Fuller said. "We want to harness the power of that data to create efficiencies."

In addition to increasing efficiency, BDO USA has used Alteryx to build applications it is now selling to third parties.

The firm has a partnership with Thomson Reuters, which – despite being a media conglomerate -- also builds tax and accounting software. The companies have worked together to build tax automation products with the Alteryx platform that they're now selling to third parties, resulting in about $2 million in extra revenue, according to Fuller.

"We've used [Alteryx] in that space and continue to grow that space now that we have the knowledge base," Fuller said.

We're no longer a tax firm that uses technology -- now we're a technology firm that does taxes. That's a real statement about what we're looking to do. We have to operate in a [technologically advanced] environment, and we have to think in technological terms.
Dan FullerManaging partner of tax automation and innovation, BDO USA

Meanwhile, use of Alteryx is growing quickly throughout BDO USA.

Despite only deploying the platform on a pilot basis until September, Fuller estimated that about 15% of BDO USA's employees are already using Alteryx.

The low-code/no-code structure of the platform makes it easy to learn, as has Alteryx's willingness to work with BDO to train the firm's employees on use of the platform's automation capabilities by setting up an Alteryx university to educate its userbase, according to Fuller.

"Their willingness to educate us was one of the big wins for us and one of the things that attracted us to work with Alteryx," he said.

Eventually, within the next 18 to 24 months, Fuller hopes that about 50% of BDO USA's employees will be using Alteryx as part of their normal workflows.

The firm is just beginning to train what will become a group of "Alteryx champions." Those employees will then become analytics and automation leaders within their departments and train others.

"With the success of [training], our goal is to ramp up extremely fast," Fuller said.

Wanting more

While BDO USA has already been able to automate processes that resulted in greater efficiency and can monetize the development of tax applications, it hopes to do more with Alteryx's automation capabilities overseas.

BDO USA is just one part of BDO International. And many of BDO USA's own clients don't only operate in the United States; they're multinational corporations.

Alteryx has offices in 11 countries in addition to the United States -- including in the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan -- and Fuller said he'd like to see Alteryx add more to its overseas operations.

"I would like to see a stronger base from a global standpoint," he said. "They're building out their global capabilities in various countries, but as a global firm, we're looking to expand the Alteryx solution."

That said, Fuller noted that he likes the recent moves Alteryx has made to focus on automating data management and making cloud-native capabilities a priority.

The vendor was late to develop cloud-native capabilities compared to other data and analytics vendors like Snowflake and Domo, which were cloud-native from the start, and Qlik and MicroStrategy, which revamped their platforms. But Alteryx's recent push toward the cloud under new management has it seemingly positioned well.

"I think they're headed toward the right future," Fuller said. "We looked at their adaptability, their usability, and going to the cloud [was smart]. They've been around for a long time, but they're growing by leaps and bounds. They're listening to their customer base."

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