By Hugh Scantlebury, co-founder and CEO at Aqilla
Business practice has evolved over the years to place analysis at the heart of just about every process – finance and accounting included. Indeed, many organisations have become heavily focused on improving their fortunes through constant, incremental change. Part of this is the drive to gain more insight into the detailed financial position of businesses in real time. Business leaders have tasked their finance teams with providing absolute clarity and insight so they can understand potential opportunities and threats.
In the modern business quest to become more agile, customer-centric and innovative, finance teams (alongside many other key stakeholders) have seen their mission broaden from primarily reporting on what has happened to looking more closely at ‘what if’ scenarios. Change has become part of modern business culture and an ability to proactively seek out ways to change is generally seen as virtue.
Clearly, technology has played a huge role in this process. Long gone are the days when calculators and digitised spreadsheets were the primary tech tools for finance professionals. Today, the availability of versatile and powerful accountancy software services that increasingly focus on automation are, once again, bringing change to the profession. For instance, repetitive tasks and processes that are part of the responsibilities of every accountant are gradually being passed to emerging technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). In doing so, we can see some major benefits emerging. In particular, by enabling accountancy professionals to spend less time generating invoices, for instance, and focus on more complex value-adding tasks, the finance function is building a wider role to meet today’s diverse business needs.
The momentum of change
This technology-inspired change is still in its infancy, and they will continue to make a significant impact on the financial workforce. In turn, this will have an influence on the skills and knowledge required from the next generation of professionals. As pointed out in a report by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), major global tech trends such as cloud-based computing, data analytics, robotic press automation and artificial intelligence will have a significant long term impact. In practical terms, many businesses are also dealing with the opportunities and risks presented by other contemporary technology movements – particularly cybersecurity, social media and machine learning.
Cybersecurity – a financial firestorm
Change also brings risk, perhaps best illustrated by the threats posed by cybersecurity criminals and the growth in malware, ransomware, DoS and DDoS attacks. These issues are among the most well known in a whole range of cybersecurity challenges that are increasing at an alarming rate, and that relate directly to the work of finance and accountancy teams. Even though preventative technologies can be costly, the impact of a ransomware attack, for example, can be catastrophic, with one study putting the typical cost of a ransomware attack at $84,116 – a figure that nearly doubled in the final quarter of 2019.
As a result, finance departments have become more closely tied to their colleagues in the IT team to assess, mitigate and sometimes recover from the impact of a cybersecurity breach. Due to the level of risk, working in tandem to counter an unpredictable threat. Organisations who embrace this kind of operational change to integrate teams more effectively will always be better placed to protect their businesses from the financial damage of a cybersecurity attack.
Social media society
The world of work always reflects wider changes in society, and among the recent digital trends, social media has fundamentally altered the way we communicate. Businesses now have more options than ever for communicating with prospects, customers, clients and staff. This versatility also brings with it individual and collective responsibility to understand what to say and where to say it. More so than ever, communication is a broad skill set that cuts across every business function, finance included.
Whether it’s the impact social media can have on productivity (good or bad), the potential for mistakes to be amplified by social media coverage, or the success major social media trends can deliver means it can have a direct and indirect financial effect. It’s a classic illustration of how the role of financial professionals has become much more layered and nuanced in recent years in ways that could not have been imagined just a generation ago.
Machine Learning – a catalyst for change
Machine Learning (ML) is a branch of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that gives technology the ability to carry out tasks without needing a specific set of instructions. Computers using ML algorithms can learn from the input, output, and the process between them using pattern recognition to generate more cohesive and effective algorithms. A good, practical example of ML in common use is the development of email spam filters that can learn and spot patterns in behaviour in incoming mail.
The point finance professionals need to bear in mind is that ML represents further tech-led change that is likely to have profound and widespread influence on the future of businesses everywhere. The ability to understand and embrace our shared technology-led future will dictate which organisations continue to thrive in the years ahead.