Growing and establishing a tech startup is hard work. With the small team we have at the moment we need to not only be innovative engineers and developers, but also accountants, lawyers, HR managers and everything else that goes into establishing a sustainable and innovative company. So to reduce this burden, and to play to our strengths, we decided to automate what we can.
There are significant tax incentives for Australian companies that conduct Research and Development (R&D) activities – up to 43.5% back on the R&D investment over the financial year. But a literal pile of paperwork is required to support your activities; this typically means paying an ‘expert’ a lot of money to assemble everything and file it, and; if it’s all correct and gets accepted then you get the claim you’re entitled to.
As 99% of the work we are doing at Greenroom is R&D at the moment, it was the obvious choice to automate with the biggest potential for return and reducing the paperwork burden of our budding start-up. The aim was to create a non-intrusive and specialised software solution to track R&D work, assign the work to a project and hypothesis, then recording Objective Quality Evidence supporting the R&D claim. Our solution is Virgil the Assistant (VTA), a python based backend-only program. When complete, we envision VTA significantly reducing the amount of paperwork and reporting needed at tax-time, reduced accountant costs by providing completed components of the submission and retaining detailed supporting evidence in the event that an audit is initiated.
Over three months of testing VTA we have some results, they are by no means perfect and we add functionality every day, but it is already having a impact and improving other processes as well. At the moment, VTA records coding progress on projects and problems classified as R&D, testing and validation activities, and active research time on topics that can be related to R&D activities. This data is recorded and summarized in 15 second intervals, as well as including the code descriptions, research overviews, testing progress and achievements as well as other details and statistics. This data is securely stored and then analysed when required. In addition to its primary role of recording R&D, VTA also aids in detecting sticking points within development processes that need more attention as well as detailed logs for fault finding.
The plots below show some of the information that can be extracted from the VTA logs and datasets. This can be broken down into time periods (shown), specific projects or even statistics about workrate or efficiency. In addition to plots like the ones shown below, numerical statistics can be presented, breaking down the work even further.
We plan to continue working on VTA, adding functionality for automatic pdf report generation, cloud support and much more. The data we are already collecting will be invaluable come tax- time, reducing our total costs and potentially leading to a cash injection to enable even more R&D work to be done to keep providing world leading service and products to our clients and partners.