Creating new generations of tax software and software developers

Case Nextens Visual

Cornel van der Heiden’s office at Nextens still has a copy of Elsevier’s tax cassette from 1984, the prehistoric era of tax return software. Today, the tax software of Nextens, part of information group RELX (formerly ReedElsevier), is used for about forty percent of the returns for corporate income tax, personal income tax, VAT, and gift and inheritance tax. Nextens and Betabit have maintained a mutually valued and fruitful cooperation for several years.

Tax Advice as a Service

As Head of Technology, Cornel van der Heiden leads a team of about seventy people who develop software for Nextens’ three product pillars: tax returns, advice, and knowledge. “Our customers expect us to have the correct tax return program ready every year. But we don’t just want to provide software that is used by accountants and bookkeepers as a workflow tool, we want to be more of an insight company, offering Tax Advice as a service."

We link the data from customers’ accounting packages to our tax return software and to the tax knowledge stored in half a million articles in our database. Based on machine learning, we generate insights and advice that our customers can benefit from. We are now developing the system behind it."

Closing gaps and developing further

For several years, several Betabit developers have been working continuously at Nextens: in the tax team, on the development of new products and software. What contribution do they make to the success of Nextens, according to Van der Heiden? “We can make pretty good software ourselves. Of course, in our own team, we never have exactly enough or the right capacity to maintain existing things and develop new ones. Betabit closes these gaps for us. That may sound disrespectful, but it is crucial.”

Betabit provides us with specialists who are versatile, pick up things quickly and have the communicative and social skills to quickly find their feet in new environments. This gives us a stable structure of teams with the right composition. If you don’t have that, you can never develop.”

Valuable ideas, feedback and criticism

The Betabit consultants at Nextens are modest in describing their role but they do feel particularly valued. “Outsiders” don’t find it self-evident that they are seen as equal to ‘internals’ everywhere. “For me, it really makes no difference whether you are employed by us or by Betabit,” says Van der Heiden. “Betabit’s developers are an integral part of our team at every level. They celebrate after a major go-live and are invited and paid to participate in the hackathons we organise. In one of our teams, the most senior developer is from Betabit, so he has a major say in how the new code is put together. More importantly, I think they fit into the open culture we have here and they feel free to come up with new ideas, feedback, and constructive criticism. That is extremely valuable to us. Nextens also benefits from the knowledge and experience they gain with other clients and in the contacts with their own colleagues.”

A pleasant working environment

One of the aspects that makes Nextens a good match for Betabit is the opportunity to work in a technologically advanced environment. “We have almost no physical machines left,” says Van der Heiden.

Development, acceptance, and production are all already in Microsoft’s Azure cloud. I can imagine that for software developers this is a nice working environment. For us, the cloud means above all that we can speed up. This applies to scaling up our capacity during the seasonal peak in tax returns and in developing and marketing new products.”

Educating the new generation

Cornel van der Heiden himself emphasises how important he thinks it is to also provide a learning environment for software developers. “Of course, everyone is looking for the impossible, a youngster with twenty years of experience. But I see it as a great task for Nextens to bring junior developers on board too and guide them in their development. The fact that they leave after a few years and apply what they have learned at Nextens to other companies is part and parcel of the responsibility you have to train a new generation of software developers.”

To me, the innovative character that we and Betabit try to give to our cooperation is something very beautiful and important. As far as we are concerned, we will keep that going for years.”

Questions? Marjolein will be happy to help