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Adapting to a Changing Technological Landscape

by Kimberly Scott, CAE, WSCPA President & CEO | Jan 05, 2018
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If there is one word that I seem to hear constantly, it is CHANGE. One could argue that the world around us has been in a constant state of change from the very beginning and, therefore, change is normal. However, the rate of change in technology now exceeds the rate at which we are able to adapt to change.

If you have been feeling overwhelmed trying to keep up with technology in your personal and professional life, this graph by Astro Teller, CEO of Google X, and the following points provided by the AICPA will help you understand why.

  • From 2014 to 2017, the number of smart devices has doubled, and that rate of growth will continue.
  • More data was created in 2014-2015 than in the entire previous history of the human race.
  • By the year 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet.
  • According to McKinsey Global Institute, 49% of time spent on work activities could be automated with current technology. That translates into 1.1 billion workers worldwide and almost $16 trillion in wages.
  • Robotics are predicted to automate or eliminate up to 40% of transactional accounting work by 2020.

Thanks to technology, we live in a connected world with limitless information, greater efficiency, and new opportunity. To me, the speed of change is not a doomsday sign, or a sign to bury our heads in the sand and hope it passes (though there may be times we want to do so).

It is a clear sign that we need to look at things differently. It also prompts us to ask questions, such as, “Where do we focus? How do we remain relevant both personally and for our businesses? How do we adapt? How do we keep up?”

I believe CPAs have an enviable position in the business world. The CPA profession is trusted and consistently described as ethical and knowledgeable. The focus of your education may have been on the technical side of accounting or tax. However, belonging to a profession that values lifelong learning, you have honed many other skills that will be the sought-after skills of the future. Of course, new technical skills will also be required in order to remain competitive.

New technologies no doubt will drive changes in regulation and reporting standards. Plus, consider this: although companies can access data at unprecedented rates, organizations are still struggling to evaluate and use that information. Making sense of data and turning it into a strategic advantage is not new to CPAs. Expanding this skill and sharing it even more broadly with your clients will elevate your standing as a highly sought-after advisor.

The Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum highlights what global business leaders believe the top 10 skills will be in the new economy. Number one on the list clearly fits in the bailiwick of the CPA profession.

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Source: World Economic Forum

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Source: KPMG and Forbes Insights, Audit 2025: The Future Is Now, 2017

In the KPMG and Forbes Audit 2025: The Future Is Now report released in early 2017, financial executives identified technology, communication, and critical thinking/judgment skills as the top skills they expect in their auditors.

KPMG stated in the report, “What became clear is that the auditing profession has continued to see unprecedented change. The accelerating pace of change in advancing technologies relating to data, advanced analytics, robotic process automation, and cognitive and emerging innovations will play a pivotal role. New technologies are important and need to be matched with people who know how to effectively use these tools. Clients also increasingly expect the auditor to provide a more forward-looking view of the world and insights that can add value as management and boards seek to effectively move their organizations forward.”

Have you heard about how drones are being used for onsite data collection in inventory audits? With this new technology, the audit staff no longer needs to be out in the cold collecting VIN numbers on cars, or counting cattle in the field, or physically touching every pallet in a warehouse. Now firms can utilize their talent in more complex problem-solving areas or focused on issues requiring judgment and decision making. This use of technology is not eliminating accounting jobs, but leveraging the profession for the value it has always been able to provide.

I am sure you are seeing changes in your area of expertise whether you work in public accounting, industry, government, education, or not-for-profit. I would conjecture that technology, regulations, or both are driving that change. It is easy to be overwhelmed by change, and change can also be exciting and full of opportunity. I believe that technology will be a strategic partner to the CPA profession, making it more robust and highlighting how necessary CPAs are in today’s business world.

Change may be a constant, but these truly are extraordinary times!

Kimberly Scott 2016_web150x200Kimberly Scott, CAE, is President & CEO of the Washington Society of CPAs, and Executive Director of the Washington CPA Foundation. You can contact her at kscott@wscpa.org.

This article appeared in the winter 2018 issue of the WashingtonCPA Magazine. Read more here.

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