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Thought leadership – Eliminating heavy lifting in accounting – How technology can assist practices

It is a phrase that has been repeated a thousand, perhaps more, times by influencers in the accounting world – “Technology is the future”.

Whilst this statement is true, it doesn’t really go into much detail on why technology is the future, and how the human aspect of these innovations is as important as the machine and systems behind it.

The traditional view of an accountant for most businesses is a number cruncher, poring over ledgers and spreadsheets to draw up accounts, provide forecasts and complete their tax returns.

This isn’t the actual reality of accountancy, neither has it ever really been, at least not for the best firms out there.

While compliance is an essential part of what the profession does, it is the advisory and analytical services provided alongside the ‘number crunching’ that make the difference between a good accountant and a great one.

Let’s be honest, and without overgeneralising, most people with sufficient training can complete a set of accounts or help keep a business tax compliant, from sole trader bookkeepers up to the Big Four, but we all know that delivering audits, analysis and guidance requires real expertise.

So, having established that value comes from advice and analysis, what role does technology play? Software and solutions are tools – a means to an end – a helping hand.

They do the ‘heavy lifting’ by computing and compiling figures, automating processes and storing data so it is easily accessible and compared. They are not a replacement for the essential role that accountants fulfil.

Technology has provided freedom to accountants and the time to spend longer strategising and analysing information to deliver accounting and audit services that are truly valued.

Most clients probably don’t care whether their accounts are compiled by a human or machine, what they want to see is the right results, backed up by the expertise that can truly make a difference in their lives – it is that simple.

Rather than focusing on the process of reaching the endpoint, the profession should be looking at how accountants deliver the best outcomes. The answer to this is time and cost-saving technology, in particular, those that are integrated with the cloud.

As technology progresses, not only does automation improve this process further, but it makes the human part of an accounting practice all the more essential.

Firms have realised that consistent and automated analysis of multiple data points, including the production of accounts, can throw up some interesting insights for their clients.

By intelligently setting thresholds and exception criteria, issues and anomalies can be brought to the attention of a supervising person who can then spend more time applying their experience on the things that matter to clients.

Although not strictly “Machine Learning” (more of that in another post!), this represents a major step forward in leveraging the value of technology working in synch with the skills and experience of the people in an organisation.

Accounting professionals now stand as the hub for information, analysis and advice, which helps businesses make better, faster and more effective decisions – safe in the knowledge that they are based on the latest data and forecasts.

It is true, technology is the future of accounting, but the most important part of this future remains the user and interpreter of these innovations – accountants.

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