Accounting is an age-old practice, one that will always be needed and commonly evolves to changes in the world surrounding legislation, regulation, periods of recession and growth; so, the trusted advice of the accountant has a solid presence. Change is the only constant and the accounting market has always been ok with this to a certain degree. The new digital age is calling for a new kind of change, one that many are struggling to grapple, and this seismic shift may be the first to really unsettle the accounting sector as we know it. We sit in meetings and conferences and hear the likes of “data is king”, “blockchain could change everything” and “AI is bringing a new era”, but who among the pack is doing more than just talking about it?
The challenge with these technological advancements is that many practices are aware of their potential but are struggling to apply them or know where to start. Commonly they are put down to the IT department/partner responsible, but this beast is much bigger than one team/partner, this is about a ground up change – the modern practice.
The challenge - realising the potential
The first obstacle for firms in the current climate is not really knowing what is possible and how that can truly translate into practice. The second is the partner model, often meaning each department is quite “siloed” in the tools it uses and how it operates. This is a challenge when trying to address firm wide change.
The potential stretches as far as a firm's vision takes them, but to keep it simple let's take a look at three areas:
- Artificial intelligence
- Modern workforce
Data is both a blessing and a curse, it can be of great value if used effectively and it can lead to burdensome work and high risk if used and managed poorly. To enjoy the merits of data, there must be solid mechanisms in how data is managed, processes for editing, ease to extract and remove data, and the most important – the ability to gain meaningful insights using the data.
Practice intelligence is paramount and reducing the amount of time spent gathering this information whilst increasing the frequency it is delivered is where the edge comes from. What is practice intelligence? Data being pulled from multiple applications to deliver a clear view of the practice as a whole with the capability to drill into the data to one individual employee or client. This means live updates on WIP, expenses, and client take on. A board meeting that requires little to no preparation (or paper!). This is the future state modus operandi that make the difference.
Artificial intelligence is a game changer. There are so many ways to branch into this realm but firstly the firm needs to accept the culture change that bringing in a virtual workforce will require. This is not as big an undertaking as one may think but it does require change management and consideration.
Imagine having an employee that joins the team, is given log in’s and passwords, is taught how to do a task (or multiple tasks) and then is just left to it – 24/7, no breaks, no holidays, and no errors. This dream employee is a virtual worker. What makes this particular employee different to other robotic process automation (RPA) tools you may have heard of or even used? This worker has intelligence, it can adapt; be deployed across various tasks, it can prioritise, read data from multiple places/formats and even interpret sentiment.
There is an abundance of opportunity in how Practice Automation can be used, but great places to start are within personal tax, KYC, insolvency, and data management. It is also worth noting that this is commonly not used as a replacement for human resources, it purely gives bandwidth to your human resources, reduces the mundane tasks, and enables them to do more, better.
The modern workforce is a hot topic; working with millennials, managing them, what motivates them…the list goes on. Using technology is a theme that commonly comes up within the conversation. This modern workforce doesn’t just want, they expect best of breed solutions and technology and if this is not provided they will find a workaround or apps to do the job for them - which leads to a multitude of issues when it comes to data management and corporate risk.
The traditional career path needs to be considered as we evolve into a world where AI can take on the repetitive roles within the sector and where data has moved into the forefront. Job specs will change and roles that never existed in the sector will emerge. What does this mean for the traditional training and career progression of the future accountants and partners? This doesn’t need to change overnight, but if it is not being considered now then the potential to be left behind as others evolve is a dangerous place to be. The accountancy market has the ability to be disrupted and the story of traditional sectors being disrupted is a tale we are all too familiar with.
The other side to this coin is the modern client who are the same as the workforce, expecting more for less, working with technology and valuing the extras when it comes to services. The percentage of the clients on an accountants books that fall into this category is only going to increase. It is essential to move with them, then the edge will come from not being last.
Keep the pace
It is clear there is an abundance of opportunity for practices to embrace innovative technology and drive them forward to stay competitive. Technology is helping firms to run more dynamically, allowing them to do more with less.
To stay afloat in the rapidly evolving world of technology, you need the right tools and systems in place to adapt with the changes. Intelligent Automation and modern collaboration tools are allowing businesses to function in a way they have never worked before. But it’s not just about adopting new technology – it’s about recognising and embracing that change is a good thing and can bring real business benefits. Welcoming this mindset will inevitably help practices to keep pace and prosper.