While some worry that technology will commoditize traditional accounting services, technology executive Jennifer Warawa told attendees at an industry event that it can actually make accountants more valuable than ever.

In a keynote address at the accounting technology conference Accountex, Warawa, executive vice president of product marketing for Sage, took the stage to talk about how accountants can move from redundant, to relevant, to indispensable. Even though many in the accounting space are still struggling to adopt and adapt to the cloud, at large the cloud is a long-accepted reality. As Warawa noted, at the Gartner Symposium, a technology conference held last month by the research and advisory company, no one even mentioned the cloud. “The cloud just is,” Warawa said, and that is an accurate reading of many corners of the business world today. So in order for accountants to become relevant, acceptance of the cloud is a must; and in order to for them to become indispensable strategists, getting ahead of the curve is imperative.

Around that curve, Warawa said, lie three main technology realities: artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain. She made some bold claims: That by 2017, at least one major financial institution will announce it is redesigning it business model and core systems around the use of blockchain; and within three to five years, 50 percent of all analytic interactions will be delivered by AI. The latter claim is the kind that can inspire fear in accountants who may feel they will become redundant – but like the cloud, all AI, machine learning and blockchain will do is make an accountant’s job easier, she said. It will free up time, just as automation and the cloud have, to allow accountants to become those analysts and strategists that are even more, not less, valuable to an organization – perhaps even indispensable.

Becoming an asset
However, that value doesn’t just happen. As Warawa stressed, accountants have to look ahead and learn the technology tools that are becoming available in order to make themselves valuable.

“The secret to sustainable innovation is taking your eye off the ball,” Warawa said. “I know that sounds counterintuitive, but people are so focused on the here and now and consumed with getting to the cloud. Don’t miss the major trends and opportunities. I completely believe that the opportunity presented to everyone with artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain is far greater than cloud. Cloud is a short-term picture. If you can get ahead of it, you can grasp a massive opportunity. Your value comes not from past or current perspective, but from knowing how to tell your clients what to do next.”

It’s important to note that accountants should not be scared of new technology coming round the bend. Messages such as Warawa’s are not aimed at shaming accountants who have been slow to adopt technology. Rather, the key is to understand that as technology rapidly advances, it becomes more and more user friendly as well. While the concepts of AI, machine learning, and blockchain) may seem utterly brand-new and confusing, they, like the cloud today, will not be difficult to adapt to and learn. On the contrary, they will be built for ease.

 

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