Data then and now
Leadership teams need access to quality data to make key decisions. As the volume and velocity of data have gone through the roof, the way a firm accesses and uses the tidal wave of information has become exponentially more critical. Those who are satisfied with the status quo of inconsistent data across multiple systems, which takes specialist skills to wrangle into meaningful information, will be playing catch up with the first movers investing in new technology to do it better.
In the past, a firm could reasonably afford to spend time and effort enhancing and tweaking reports. There was arguably less concern with the quality of raw data. Errors could be corrected manually, on the fly, as and when they were spotted. And profit margins were such that the time spent on doing so wasn’t a sizable constraint. But the times they are a-changin’.
Now, we are seeing tectonic shifts in accountancy, that were set in motion long before COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Increasing regulation and commoditization (where clients see all auditors as the same) means both internal and external parties need access to reliable data quickly and easily. What’s more, they need to be able to prove its reliability, or risk not only commercial but legal ramifications.
COVID-19 has forced leadership teams to rapidly adapt their approach to planning; flexibility and agility are more important than ever.
A window for change
The proliferation of data sources and the impact of COVID-19 have altered how leadership teams should approach data. Managers need to quickly assess which systems need tidying, which systems are trustworthy, and which are delivering up-to-date data. It’s about figuring out which items on a pre-pandemic wish list which were considered, ‘yeah, that might be nice’ are now ‘I NEED THAT YESTERDAY!’
There’s a small window of opportunity as leaders and practitioners grapple with this enforced period of change. Transformation is hard when things are comfortable and the status quo seems perfectly acceptable. Accountancy firms are now stepping up to the plate before that window slams shut and everyone returns back to their desks.
To capitalise, forward-thinking firms must invest in technology which will integrate their data sources to create a single source of truth, allowing accurate data to be accessed and used throughout the firm.
When data is consistent, auditable, and readily accessible, it can be used to soup-up and slim-down elements of a business which were previously manual.
Automated resource planning tools can be used to expand the use of a firm’s bench (their global talent pool), offering a scalable way of finding the right people for the right engagements, resulting in a more agile talent pool. Automated controls can also help prevent engagement overruns, which, as we’re all aware in these belt-tightening times, is crucial when firms and their clients need to stay bang on budget.
At a time of great uncertainty, automated controls can also ensure firms are producing a real-time electronic audit trail, helping to safely navigate regulatory scrutiny and risks.
Thinking beyond automation
The opportunity for accounting firms is about far more than just automation: it’s about accelerating the use of technology to improve client service, become more profitable, and, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, make employees happier.
It may be the oldest argument for automation in the book, but a key benefit is as basic as allowing humans to push fewer buttons each day. Change is hard, and the adoption of automation technology in ‘normal times’ could be a particularly hard sell. But given the current state of the industry, and even more urgently the state of clients’ industries, now is the time to take the leap and reap the benefits sooner than later.
The end result will be businesses and people with the agility to be more productive and happy.