One block at a time

Glen Eades describes his job as being like that of the character played by Bill Murray in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, in which Murray, as the TV weatherman, finds himself reliving Feb. 2 over and over again.

“”Each year it’s like, ‘Here we go again,'”” says Eades.

There’s even a designated

“”season”” Eades gears up for every year if you listen to the propaganda issued by financial institutions and accountants as tax time rolls around.

Eades knows this season all too well, but for him, it seems to run all year. In fact, just as most tax centres are closing down and the refunds have been spent, he’s getting ready for next year. As the manager of information technology for H&R Block in Canada, each tax season is something of a replay of the last as his IT team works to ramp up for the rollout of H&R Block offices across the country. Even when the season is over, it’s not really ever over.

“”When I started working at H&R Block, my friends would ask, ‘So, you’re only busy three months of the year?’ Well, no. Different areas of our IT group are going to be busier at different times.””

There are about 850 H&R Block offices nationally and the company prepared more than 900,000 tax returns during last year’s tax season. The Calgary-based company has been a Canadian institution for almost 40 years, but increasing competition has forced it to focus on delivering added services to clients to keep them coming back year after year. While use of home tax software has taken off over the last few years, Eades says that isn’t the Block’s greatest threat. Instead, it’s competing national and regional tax preparation companies that are taking an increasing share of the pie. Of the more than 24 million returns filed in Canada last year, more than half were done by someone other than the individual taxpayer.

“”That’s been our biggest challenge —other competitors in our segment of the tax preparation business. It’s actually been fairly stable with the number of people doing tax at home versus with a service,”” says Eades.

That kind of growing competition prompted the Block to add a customer service system that tracks when someone has visited a tax office. Head office grabs that data not only for revenue tracking, but also to follow all interactions to better serve the customer. “”We know what tax service they received last year and who they saw,”” says Eades.

While the Block’s executive vice-president of IT oversees the whole department including the business analysts, Eades’ focus is on the delivery side. He is responsible for applications developed in-house as well as the network infrastructure and set up of those networks. In the field he relies on the IT co-ordinators to make things run smoothly. “”They’re closer to it and understand the regional issues and take our delivery ideas and turn around and implement them. They’re the ones running around getting everything set up for the tax season.””


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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