Leaders and laggards: bringing the accounting team along on the high tech journey

Written by Claudia Pirko

Are you a leader or a laggard when it comes to the adoption of next generation finance and accounting tools and software?

Accounting practices and finance departments in Australia are becoming digitally driven at a rapid clip, as awareness of the technology’s potential to eliminate repetitive tasks and processes continues to spread.

Understanding finance professionals’ varying levels of comfort with process automation and other productivity boosting solutions, and knowing where they sit on the adoption curve, can up the odds these technologies will be harnessed to best effect within an enterprise.

The process automation revolution

Leading international accountancy body the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) has flagged robotic process automation in finance as a means by which finance teams can improve the efficiency of their processes and activities.

It can be applied across a gamut of traditional accounting tasks and functions, including customer invoicing, general ledger consolidations and period end closes, auditing and outsourced accounting processes.

Robotic process automation has the potential to reduce data capture error rates and improve data quality, courtesy of the fact that machines don’t tend to make errors of the kind which are characteristic of even the most careful of humans.

Its implementation can allow finance departments and accounting practices to reduce their headcounts and redeploy skilled employees to more fulfilling and higher order tasks, such as consulting, business analysis and skilled research. 

Productivity and profitability – the benefits of riding the automation wave

Australian accounting departments and practices willing to embrace cloud technologies and process automation are reaping significant business benefits. 

Among their number is Western Australian practice Wise Accounting; a boutique firm founded by Gen Y accountant Tyler Wise in the city of Busselton, south of Perth. Entirely paperless and cloud based since its inception in 2011, it has netted a string of gongs, including, most recently, WA Accounting Firm of the Year, at the 2018 SMSF and Accounting Awards. 

Wise Accounting markets its heavy focus on technology as a key point of difference which results in efficiencies for the firm and its clients. According to Tyler Wise, his team comprises ‘serial beta testers’ who constantly seek opportunities to exploit the use of technology to generate efficiencies within the firm and for its clients.

Effective adoption

While the potential benefits of migrating to the cloud and embracing process automation are well documented, not every department or practice is comprised of early adopters, itching to implement them yesterday. 

In many instances, the urge to innovate may be trumped by inertia – the equally powerful human preference to keep doing things as they’ve always been done that’s far from unique to the accounting and finance sphere.

Identifying change champions within the organisation – influencers who believe in the promise of technology and will be passionate advocates for its implementation – can be key to a successful transformation program. These are the individuals who have the business acumen to identify and articulate how new solutions can benefit an entire organisation, not just the employees who’ll use them in their roles.

Ideally, they’ll be seconded by some capable ‘bellwethers’ – respected change agents with deep accounting expertise who are able to amplify that enthusiasm across the accounting function.

It’s their mission to bring the tech sceptics and laggards along for the ride by telling and, more importantly, showing them the productivity and efficiency dividends new generation accounting solutions can deliver.

While it may be a hard sell in some cases, with the right encouragement, these ‘steady as she goes’ and ‘don’t trouble trouble’ types can occasionally be ‘flipped’ to become true believers and born-again champions for the next wave for change.

Successful uptake – it’s all about the people

Cloud and process automation solutions aren’t technologies of the future. They’re here now and accounting departments and practices which don’t embrace them may find themselves losing ground to early adopting rivals that are already reaping the benefits of improved data quality and process efficiency. 

Effective implementation is about more than installation and training; these technologies are infinitely more powerful when their benefits are understood and they’re endorsed and adopted wholeheartedly by the professionals who’ll be using them every day.

Finding ways to make that happen should be top of the To Do list for any organisation which is keen to exploit their potential to the full.

Claudia Pirko is Australia and New Zealand Regional Vice President at financial automation software provider, BlackLine.

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