In today’s blistering pace of technological innovation, making any sort of prediction is an exercise in folly. The distance -- technology development-wise -- between an early mover and a fast follower has become so short that what’s new on Monday is old hat by Friday.
Nevertheless, there are several technological movements underway in finance and accounting that appear to have strong legs.
Here they are in a nutshell: a wider embrace of machine learning and robotics processing automation (RPA) technologies, deeper commitment to cybersecurity and protection of data assets, greater reliance on cloud-based Continuous Accounting solutions, and an enduring commitment by CFOs to oversee the analysis of data for strategic purposes.
In The Numbers
Undoubtedly, the trend toward wider use of machine learning and RPA, given the extraordinary efficiencies, enhanced financial accuracy and speed of knowledge for the decision making purposes they offer, is an easy call. Under pressure to increase productivity and ever fearful of competitors gaining an advantage, businesses in all sectors are taking a probing look at the technologies, with more than a few implementing them across functions like finance and accounting.
The overarching goal of the tools is to speed up the processing of information to make quicker and better decisions. By completing repetitive activities more quickly and accurately than humans can, RPA shifts accountants from tasks that don’t require much skill toward more knowledge-based work. Meanwhile, the use of machine learning to recognize patterns, make connections and classify financial data liberates their time and intellects to make greater sense of the numbers.
Both technologies, often grouped together under the category of artificial intelligence (AI), are rooted deeply in finance and accounting. As these tools mature, finance and accounting professionals will take on more sophisticated tasks like financial decision making.
Protecting The Crown Jewels
There is a current passivity within finance and accounting about the threat.
Given the recent spate of headline-grabbing data breaches, cybersecurity is not just an IT concern. Every department needs to be vigilant and proactive.
In 2018, finance and accounting should take the lead in this area. We need to help head off potential breaches by ensuring that proper financial controls are in place and greater visibility is provided for financial data.
In this expanded role, we will engage closely with IT security teams. Everyone must step up to protect our organizations’ data and reputations.
A Little At A Time
Finance and accounting will also increase their use of cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) financial corporate performance management solutions in the coming year.
The epitome of process improvement is continuous accounting, an approach that distributes workloads evenly over the accounting period so accountants can process data and transactions as they come in. Period-end tasks are embedded within accountants’ daily activities, aligning the accounting schedule with the rest of the business. This results in a shortened close, the smoothing out of end-period spikes and the generation of real-time reporting and analytics.
The benefits are too significant to ignore, making this one another easy call. Still, for continuous accounting to occur, enterprises must have a strong digital core tying together their critical business processes and data streams. Users can then seamlessly interact with diverse digital systems to collaborate with others across the organization in real time. Many companies have moved in this direction, and more will do so in 2018.
Living In The Age Of Analytics
There will be a dramatic shift in finance and accounting from traditional financial management toward strategic analysis and decision making. Hopefully your company is already there or heading down this path. Since technology is the instigating factor in this change, the advent of more sophisticated reporting solutions that deliver data at the point of need will speed up the transformation.
As computing power increases, technologies like machine learning, RPA and big data analytics will execute transactional tasks in much faster timeframes. We in finance and accounting will be able to ferret out financial facts of crucial significance to an organization’s success in close to real time. Consequently, the demand for specialized finance and accounting professionals to interpret the strategic value of this data will soar, with jobs being created to interpret machine insights.