Saving Our Tax Department Hundreds of Hours Each Year Through Automated Process Improvements

Dionna with her Innovator of the Year award. 'To get momentum going, build on small wins,’ Dionna says. 'It doesn’t matter how insignificant they seem. Maybe you switched to a new kind of pen that doesn’t smear, or someone on your team came up with an idea to reduce paper waste. Celebrate those wins, and ask yourself, “How can I achieve a similar effect that has a slightly larger impact?”’

Before our corporate headquarters moved to Seattle in 2016, our Tax department had 99 four-drawer cabinets at our Federal Way campus, each one stuffed full of paper that had to be whittled down. The team’s ultimate goal was to be paperless, but getting there would take buy-in, collaboration and a willingness to change — plus a whole lot of work.

“We’re very lucky we started the process before the pandemic hit, because it would have been awful otherwise,” says Dionna Stewart, tax manager and tax technology leader. “We went live with the first phase of our paperless plan in January 2020, which helped prepare us for the sudden shift to working remote.”

Charged with creating a new Tax Technology Roadmap, Dionna didn’t just help put the Tax department on its desired paperless path. She also helped eliminate the need for hundreds of hours of manual work each year through the introduction of a new ETL (extract, transform, load) platform called Alteryx, Robotic Process Automation, a platform designed to manage risk and compliance called AuditBoard, and innovative ways to use existing software better.

For her tax technology innovations, Dionna was recognized as one of six winners of the 2023 Innovator of the Year award. Launched in 2021, this annual award recognizes and celebrates employees who are driving improvements and fueling operational excellence through their ideas, actions and the innovative environment they help create on their teams.

Image of Dionna and her family at a falconry school while on vacation in Ireland.

Dionna and her family (husband Steve, sons Alex and Zachary and daughter-in-law Lavender) took a trip to Ireland and England last summer, and visited a falconry school in Ireland.


When the Tax modernization process first began, mergers and new tax laws had recently led to an increasingly unmanageable workload. Dionna and her colleagues had to figure out ways to be more efficient, as quickly as possible.

“We asked ourselves a lot of questions, like ‘What kind of automation software could we try? What hardware do we need to run it? How much training do we need to get everyone on board and up to speed?’” she says. “We started with a Microsoft Excel model for creating searchable files, but the formula was literally a page long, and there was a lot of room for error.”

Dionna soon discovered Alteryx, a powerful tool that compiles large datasets and automates analytics, filtering thousands of criteria and producing actionable insights. Complex processes that previously took an entire team hours to complete — with a lot of risk — could suddenly be finished in seconds.

“Once we got used to using Alteryx for tasks like our dreaded end-of-the-year tax depreciation updates, we were able to apply it to all kinds of things, like reformatting data from other programs, property tax reporting and hundreds of tasks associated with our annual tax returns,” Dionna says.

Image of Dionna and her husband while on a troll hunt in Seattle.

Dionna and Steve hunt for trolls in the greater Seattle area. Thinking about the advances in her department, Dionna says, 'Before these innovations, we all had stacks of five-inch-thick folders on our desks, and that’s the data we were working with. Imagine all those papers spread out in different people’s houses during the pandemic, and one person can’t find what they need.'


Dionna and the tax team built an integration between Excel workbooks and our tax return software to automate loading trial balances, tax entries, populating forms, state apportionment and more. The team also used AuditBoard for the quarterly collection of data related to lobbying hours and created the process of utilizing Robotic Process Automations to automate the steps needed to refresh quarterly and annual tax reports.

“It was a lot of new technology to adapt to in a short period of time, but the results are well worth it,” Dionna says. “We’re seeing clear improvements in efficiency and accuracy, and we’re building capacity to continue to innovate.”

Getting buy-in from her whole department was a key component of the Tax Technology Roadmap’s success.

“Change can be hard, especially when there are many changes all at once,” Dionna says. “You have to communicate the value of the change and really listen to every concern. Someone else may see a hurdle you don’t. That fresh perspective can lead to collaborative processes that get people excited to contribute.”

Dionna’s team implemented a new Tax Tech Tip program that encourages everyone to share their tips and tricks, however small and easy to implement.

“It could be a tip for using Excel, or an ergonomic device that makes us more comfortable,” Dionna says. “It’s a great way to keep technology and innovation at the forefront of our minds and give people the satisfaction of making a difference.”

Image of Dionna rescuing a baby turtle in Mexico last fall.

Dionna rescues baby turtles in Mexico last fall.


Dionna’s innovative mindset starts with constantly looking for ways to improve.

“The benefits of that attitude expand beyond your job and change how you approach everything in your life,” Dionna says. “It doesn’t just shut off at the end of the work day. I wake up every morning and think, ‘What can I do better today?’”

Some of Dionna’s ideas and improvements have already been used as examples in other departments for streamlining and improving processes. Many of them can be replicated in other departments, instigating ripples of innovation across the company.

“Dionna is the Tax department’s technology champion and an outstanding leader in innovation,” says Brian Chaney, senior vice president of Wood Products (and previously vice president of Engineered Wood Products & Innovation). “She recognizes every opportunity to make improvements and has the skills to get her ideas implemented. Her knowledge and passion for technology inspire others to think outside the box and come up with their own innovative ideas.”