Artificial intelligence and blockchain may have grabbed the lion share of technology headlines over the past few years, but the reality is that the introduction and effects of these technologies will continue to develop over the long term. Between the hype and reality, the functional drivers of technology change aren’t always obvious.
Whether you work in the public or private sector, as part of a small firm or a large one, it’s likely that your job is evolving as the result of new technologies and innovations.
As the year gets under way, we examine three technology opportunities for finance and accounting professionals in 2019.
Deepen your Technology Knowledge Base
We’re in the midst of a few key tech trends that will shape the field for decades to come, but in some instances, the use cases aren’t fully up to speed yet. This environment means that accountants must use the coming years to gain additional skills and expand their technology acumen.
Understanding the technology itself is no easy task, but is surely the first step on broader technology journeys that organisations are taking. While applications for blockchain, artificial intelligence, and other technologies are under way, finance and accounting professionals should use this development and adoption period to deepen their understanding of current and emerging solutions.
Unlock Potential for SMPs
Small and medium-sized accounting practices have many unique challenges, not least including affording and adopting cutting-edge technologies.
A 2018 survey of over 6,000 accountants working in SMPs found that 38% of SMPs globally view technology developments as presenting a significant challenge. As a response, more than one-quarter plan to allocate at least 10% of total revenue to technology investment in the coming year.
The rapid increase in accounting automation for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also means that these firms can focus more on advisory services. I expect this trend to continue, especially as costs decrease and new market players come on board.
Accountants working in small businesses also see technology as impacting their role over the next five years. In the International Federation of Accountants’ (IFAC) 2018 Global SMP Survey, 78% of respondents expected navigating new technologies to affect traditional accounting and finance roles. Other areas of anticipated technology change included managing cyber security and IT risk (73%) and using data to drive strategic decision making (68%).
However, constrained resources mean that SMPs must be strategic in their investment in and deployment of new technologies. The top four areas where SMPs can best leverage technology to support their business include: developing in-house IT competencies, adopting cloud offerings, embracing data analytics as a service offering, and expanding geographic reach of clients.
Elevate Accountants in Business
Since the excel revolution of the late 20th century, the role of professional accountants working in businesses and government has continued to move away from bookkeeping and transactional tasks and toward more strategic and integrated insight and advisory roles.
Further automation will force a revolution of finance functions in the decade to come, and will present the opportunity to upskill and further hone this strategic mindset, while contributing directly to organisational goals.
With a strong understanding of where an organisation’s true value comes from and an eye out for opportunities to create efficiencies, CFOs are increasingly becoming the ‘go-to’ executive to drive digital transformation. CFOs can also take advantage of RPA and automation to free up finance resources and ensure their finance teams are completing more value-add work.
More broadly, I see a great opportunity for accountants and finance professionals to stake out a more prominent role in enterprise risk management. At the centre of value creation, the finance function has vast amounts of financial and non-financial data at its disposal and can use this to its advantage in helping organisations better understand their risks and opportunities, aided by automation.
As businesses face rapid change and increasing uncertainty driven by geopolitical events, climate change, volatile financial markets, and other factors, risk management will be of heightened importance this year and well into the future.
In 2019 and beyond, technology advances will pose the largest constant source of change and opportunity for our global profession. To ensure you’re ahead of the curve, I encourage accountants and finance professionals to deepen data governance, communications, cloud, and risk management skills to ensure success this year and into the future.
This post was written by Sylvia Tsen, IFAC Executive Director
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