19 September 2018

Reality check – Technology is changing us By Olivier Boutellis-Taft

Technology is everywhere, and it is changing us, not just how we work and socialise. We cannot avoid these changes and would do better to adapt to meet this new reality. Our Digital Day 2018 made this clear to me, and I see the shifts in the status quo for the accounting profession. Here are three of my reality checks from the day.

1. Information is essential

Today, more diverse stakeholders have a more diverse set of needs and require more information from businesses. They want to know more than the financials to decide if they will invest, buy products, or work for an organisation.

Companies used to control what information they communicated and how, for example, via published financial statements. Now, the sources of information on a business’ position and performance have multiplied and many escape the control of the business itself. Technology enables anyone to simultaneously produce, consume and distribute information.

2. Trust remains fundamental

Trust remains fundamental to any relationship, in particular in business. Accountants are the key providers of trust, but how and where they do so is changing fast.

Our core business is to respond to the public’s need for trust and transparency, especially in a (more) digital environment. Accountants are adapting, for instance they:

  • investigate blockchain’s potential to design new accounting solutions
  • harness big data to ‘mine’ the processes within a company
  • use ‘social listening’ to understand the company and its environment to be able to provide assurance
  • attract new profiles, including e.g. ethical hackers to test and improve cybersecurity.
3. AI doesn’t think and judge

But the profession does more: it helps instill values and ethics in business which is in great demand today. Artificial intelligence (AI) for example, should be called ‘autonomous systems’ instead as human intelligence still designs systems and determines outcomes.

Humans invent, drive and use AI, and we also deal with its outcomes. Technology is a tool to complement, not to supplement humans. Ethics and moral judgement in using technology is what defines the accountants role.

Accountants maintain relevance because they can leverage machines and AI and add an ethical and moral judgement on top. This role is critical as we know auditors are required to be skeptical on a daily basis. I am not sure AI is or can be.

Digital Day is an opportunity for the accounting profession and stakeholders to take a moment to engage directly with the fundamental changes that technology is bringing. What came through loud and clear is that accountants, auditors and advisors have an essential role to play in shaping tomorrow’s business landscape.

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