According to research led by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), collecting and processing data can increasingly be done better and faster with machines. With AI tools carrying out these once-manual processes, client-facing documents and reports can be created and delivered faster than ever before. Now, firms can take advantage of technologies that minimise manual work to maximise the time spent on delivering informed, trusted advice.
Being operationally prepared to transition to a modern way of working should be the primary focus of any 21st-century accounting firm. 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 client’s experience. As digital transformation continues to gather pace, here are three key steps accountancy practices can take to make sure they are prepared for technological transformation:
1. Understand the role different technologies play
With the accelerating pace of innovation, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused about where technologies can have the biggest impact. That said, investing in the wrong type of technology could end up being extremely costly, and it’s vital that firms build an understanding of what different technologies can help you achieve and which processes they can help improve.
For a thorough understanding of how technologies can be beneficial, accounting firms should start by paying attention to how their clients engage with new technologies themselves. For example, in the future, a greater number of clients may start considering initial coin offerings (ICOs) as a potential method for raising funding. If a firm recognises this trend, they will have to understand the technology enough to be able to offer suitable guidance. If they don’t, clients will simply end up moving to a firm that does.
In considering how technology impacts employees, firms must recognise that the next generation of accountants grew up surrounded by innovation and place significant value on technology in the workplace. Becoming cloud-enabled, automating processes and using mobile technologies to support flexible working are now workplace necessities. In the short to medium term, firms should focus on mastering and investing in the right solutions to help employees work in smarter, more efficient ways. 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.
2. Focus on business goals
When it comes to digital transformation, a “one-size-fits-all” approach simply does not exist. For both long and short-term goals to be achieved, firms will have to address technological gaps specific to their organisation. Focusing on individual business goals, such as giving staff and clients 24-hour secure access to data, or building new revenue streams, will provide structure to digital transformation strategies and help firms focus their attention on the right solutions.
Once the appropriate transformation strategy has been determined, firms should evaluate the skills gap across their organisation and respond proactively. Firms may have to run training programs and provide ongoing support for accountants learning how to use the new tools — but that’s okay. 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.
3. Stay one step ahead
Mindful of today’s rapidly innovating technologies, it’s essential that firms adopt a future-gazing approach and stay focused on preparing for whatever industry change is on the horizon. 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.
All the more important will be evaluating how future innovations could be used to improve the way clients are serviced and anticipate their 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 disruption and lead the profession in the technologically driven world of the future.
Jennifer Warawa, Executive Vice-President of Partners, Accountants and Alliances, Sage