Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming the standard for many industries to identify and drive improved efficiencies across businesses. In the case of accounting firms, we’re seeing firms leverage emerging technology to help automate and expedite many of the key – albeit tedious tasks, like data entry, matching purchase orders and flagging invoices for payment. As a result, an increasingly number of accountants can now focus on more strategic work such as growing the business and servicing clients.
According to a new global study by BMC, 94 per cent of IT decision makers expect automation to be spread to all areas of business by 2020. In fact, an overwhelming majority – 90 per cent – agree that the adoption of tools like AI is necessary to not only drive new revenue, but to also stay competitive. With AI tools carrying out these once manual processes, client-facing work can now be created and delivered much faster than ever before. As a result, firms can spend more time being a strategic partner to their clients and delivering valuable and informed advice in real-time.
The transition to becoming a data-first firm, will be increasingly important for accounting firms this year. In order to stay competitive in the long term, firms will have to build a practical understanding of exactly how next-generation technologies can streamline operations, empower their workforce and enhance their clients’ experiences. As digital transformation continues to gain traction in the industry, here are three key steps accountancy practices can take to ensure a smooth transformation:
Putting together a digital transformation strategy
As many of us know, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to digital transformation. Each organization has unique goals, operational requirements and technological gaps specific to their organization that need to be considered before the journey even begins. Looking at both the small and big picture goals within the firm, such as giving staff and clients 24-hour secure access to data, or building new revenue streams, will help structure your firm’s transformation strategy and guide you in finding the right solutions for the right needs.
Once a transformation strategy is in place, the next important step is identifying the skill gaps across the organization. Training programs will be important in this transition, as well as ongoing support for accountants learning new tools. This investment in time and resources is well worth it. By ensuring that employees are well-equipped to operate the right technologies, accounting firms will be in the position to leverage the modern tools needed to hit their specific company goals.
Understanding the value of technologies
The pace of innovation can be daunting for businesses as they begin their digital transformation. Keeping up with the latest technologies and understanding where and how they can make the biggest impact within the business will be key criteria for success. That said, investing in the wrong type of technology can be very costly, so it’s incredibly important for firms to build an understanding of the technologies available, and from there decide which solutions can help achieve their unique goals and improve key processes.
A great starting point for accounting firms can be through the client – observing which technologies they leverage and the benefits of the solution as well as the possible downsides of not using the technology. For example, as more clients consider initial coin offerings (ICOs) as a potential method for raising funds, accounting firms must understand these technologies in order to offer suitable guidance. Staying in close touch to your client’s technology needs will help to stay competitive with other firms.
Additionally, it’ll be important for firms to understand the impact new technologies has on employees. The next generation of accountants grew up surrounded by technology and as a result, may have different expectations when it comes to keeping up with innovation compared to senior colleagues.
Mastering and investing in the right solutions and training will help all employees embrace technology more quickly, thereby enabling firms to make a more immediate impact on its bottom-line.
This may include deploying solutions that provide constant access to live client data, or equipping accountants with powerful reporting tools that provide opportunities to offer clients strategic advice.
By investing time and resources in understanding the technology landscape and how it impacts all stakeholders, accounting firms will stay ahead of continued industry change and better meet the needs of forward-looking employees and clients.
Stay one step ahead
Keeping up with the pace of change and innovation with the latest technologies is a never-ending task. But having a clear line of sight to what’s coming down the technological pipeline will be critical to staying ahead of the competition. For example, evaluating what technological developments are coming next and how they may impact the current ways of working will be key. In fact, firms should encourage their entire workforce to stay informed on industry trends and any new technologies that will help them transition to smarter, more efficient ways of working.
While it’s important to understand how the latest technologies can improve your firm, it’s even more important to understand and anticipate your client’s future needs. After all, using technology to stay ahead of client demands will be one of the most effective ways of remaining competitive in the years to come. It’s the accounting firms focused on digital innovation that will be operationally prepared to respond to industry disruptions and lead the profession in the technologically-driven world of the future.
By Jennifer Warawa, Executive Vice President of Partners, Accountants and Alliances at Sage.
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