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“We’re working on AI because we think more intelligent services will be much more useful for you to use.” Mark Zuckerberg

The use of Artificial Intelligence(AI) to help run accounting firms may sound like something that is straight out of a science fiction novel but now the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft are spearheading AI, the world of accounting is likely to be the latest in a series of industries to be affected by its rise.

According to a Deloitte report, the impact of cognitive technologies on organisations is expected to grow substantially within the next three to five years. Add to this the Google prediction that by 2029 robots will achieve human intelligence levels and that by 2025, 33 per cent of all occupations will be performed by robots and it soon becomes apparent that AI has already shifted into the mainstream.

There is no doubt that disruptive technology is turning the accountant relationship on its head. Advances in mobile technology are shaking up traditional methods of communication and clients are engaging more with their smartphones and expecting fast service responses from their chosen advisors anytime, anywhere.

Need is the mother of all innovation and it is this demand for an immediate response that is driving the accounting world to embrace Mobile Apps to connect more directly with their clients in real-time. We have seen the professional service sector quickly come to appreciate the value of having a custom App that delivers the ‘instant’ communication that clients increasingly demand. Since 2013, there has been a massive uptake of Apps and we have now more than 1000 firms globally that have their own custom App on the MyFirmsApp platform. The App is seen globally as the critical interface between a firm, its’clients and the software they are using.

Apps provide 24/7 access to advice, accounting information, calculators and online systems that help firmsbecome more effective, productive and profitable and they give the impression that the accountant’s expertise and services are always available.

It’s time to rethink client services and this is where AI comes in as there are so many things that a machine can do better and more efficiently than a human. Thanks to developments in personalisation and human interaction, AI is already efficiently working behind the scenes in basic text question and answer chats to provide service that is much less expensive for companies. In coming years, a ‘robo-adviser’ could potentially dispense advice and suggestions to clients and these robots will co-exist and thrive alongside other team members.

According to Gartner, Intelligent Apps, which include technologies such as virtual personal assistants, have the potential to transform the workplace by making everyday tasks easier and its’ users more effective. In day-to-day terms, this could take the form of prioritising emails and highlighting important content and interactions. However, Intelligent Apps are not limited to new digital assistants, and every existing software category from security tooling to enterprise applications such as marketing or ERP, are set to be infused with AI enabled capabilities.

We have already begun to build AI into our web, mobile and connected-device Apps using the next generation technology platform, Amazon Lex. We have joined a small elite group that has been given the go-ahead by Amazon to use the technology that powers Amazon’s Alexa, to deliver a better and more interactive experience and build a more conversational user experience for connected devices in the rapidly growing segment of Internet of Things (IOT).

Our pioneering development team will be trialing Amazon Lex’s speech recognition and natural language understanding capabilities with the potential to build an entirely new generation of Apps that have human-like intelligence and can see, hear, speak, understand and interact with the world around them.  The potential to add a voice or text chat interface to create bots on mobile devices that can help with basic tasks is set to transform how accountants respond to customer requests and make them more productive.

AI is an exciting prospect as it will make it possible to effectively add another member to the team that is available 24 X 7 to answer multiple questions and carry out simple tasks. This ‘virtual’ member of staff will help the accountant retain trusted advisor status by appearing to be available at all times.

The Deloitte report referred to above cites an interesting example of how the pizza delivery chain Dominos has introduced a function in its mobile App that lets customers place their orders by voice.  A virtual character named “Dom,” who speaks with a computer-generated voice, guides customers through the process with the aim of making ordering more convenient. This is not intended as a cost-cutting move but it is expected to increase revenue as Dominos customers increasingly say they prefer to order online or with mobile devices, and those who order this way tend to spend more and purchase more frequently.

In line with the Gartner insight, our aim is to make the App even more powerful and intelligent with the built-in capability to learn, adapt and potentially act autonomously.  These are incredibly exciting times and we firmly believe that AI will be extremely helpful in automating administration and augmenting human judgment.

Accountants have a golden opportunity to get more connected as wi-fi becomes faster and more available and AI technologies become mainstream. We are living in a time of unprecedented technological progress and we are still at the beginning of acceleration in the capabilities of information technologies. In our lifetime, our personal and working lives will be changed by incredible spectacular processing power that is set to provide seemingly limitless storage capacity, lightning quick communications, ever-greater miniaturisation and rapid decline in the cost of components. It is said that the electrical efficiency of computation will double roughly every eighteen months as it has done for the last six decades.

Over the next ten years we believe there will be continued disruption, innovation and change in the profession.  It’s fair to assume manual accounting processes will become automated and AI and machine learning will automate manual tasks and complete them faster and more accurately than humans.

Bill Gates has referred to the rise of AI as computer science’s ‘holy grail’. It may sound as if we are on the brink of something out of a science fiction novel but the world we describe of robots and AI is already here.

All professions will need to adapt to a world where AI technologies will soon be able to do the administrative tasks that take up so much time, faster and at a lower cost and we are committed to pioneering AI to improve quality, speed and functionality as well as drive top-line revenue growth in the professional service sector.

We echo Mark Zuckerberg’s comments entirely and ‘we are working on AI because we think more intelligent services will be much more useful’ for our customers to use.

Joel Oliver, CEO, MyFirmsApp

(This article was published in Finance Digest Magazine, April 2017)

“Original publication in Finance Digest Issue 1
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