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Technology continues to reshape accounting and finance—that is clear. What often remains murky, however, is how these functions are changing and the effects of the evolution.
Technology reaches nearly every corner of accounting and finance. A Robert Half survey of financial leaders found companies have business process improvement initiatives planned in areas ranging from accounting operations to business systems to internal audit. No area enjoys immunity to change.
But what do these changes mean for organizations and professionals? Following are three effects of technological transformation.
1. The Emergence of a New Labor Model
Even among businesses that run lean, the volume of work doesn’t. Already stretched to capacity in many cases, firms frequently find themselves unable to effectively manage additional work, particularly when it comes to one-time major events such as a system implementation, merger or acquisition, or large accounts reconciliation project.
Technology assists with some of the work required. Research for the Benchmarking Accounting and Finance Functions: 2018 report from Robert Half and Financial Executives Research Foundation found organizations are currently focused on automating processes such as invoicing, data collection, report generation, and documentation storage and compliance.
"Today’s accounting and finance professionals need a mix of strong functional, soft and technology skills"
Yet, this represents just the beginning of the process. Digital transformation also enables a new labor model blending technology, full-time employees and external resources. Working with consultants, interim professionals and managed service providers, businesses can quickly access the required expertise and scale project teams as needed. Many experienced professionals are gravitating to consulting and interim work, choosing this as their long-term career path and giving employers greater access to in-demand skills on-demand.
Adopting this labor model enables organizations to alleviate the burden on core staff, as well. In addition to lowering the risk of burnout and turnover, businesses free core staff to focus on higher-value projects. Firms can work with colleagues and interim staff to support the day-to-day responsibilities left vacated.
2. Greater performance and opportunity
Changes from digital transformation bring with them a number of benefits for organizations and professionals. The Benchmarking report findings suggest firms, if they make changes, are more likely to add than reduce staff in response to transformation efforts. Seventeen percent of U.S. financial leaders said they would expand their teams due to the implementation of digital initiatives, vs. just three percent who noted cutbacks. The majority of companies, 59 percent, expect to maintain current staffing levels.
Respondents in the Benchmarking report said automation would enable a focus on execution and increase the output of each employee. No longer as commonly tasked with routine work, accounting and finance staff spend more of their time, expertise and energy developing strategies to move the organization forward.
Professionals, in turn, are afforded the opportunity to hone new skills, take on diverse opportunities and raise their career profile. In addition, they may see more control over their time: Financial leaders also reported automation will enhance work-life balance.
3. Requisite skills expand
The evolution of what’s considered the in-demand skill set moves on unabated. First, functional expertise was the featured star; soft skills emerged in a supporting role, with technology knowledge playing a bit part. As accounting and finance professionals took on greater prominence, soft skills played a bigger, though still secondary, role; the importance of technology skills crept upward, but they remained a nice-to-have or critical only for select positions.
Those days are over. Today’s accounting and finance professionals need a mix of strong functional, soft and technology skills. While some positions may favor one over the others, workers commonly need these in nearly equal measure.
The Benchmarking report research reinforced the continued escalation of nontechnical and IT abilities. Financial leaders cited communication, ERP, data analytics and creativity as the skills most needed due to digital transformation.
Financial professionals play many parts: part finance expert, part data scientist, part storyteller. They need to be able to compile and report financial information, formulate strategic recommendations, and present their findings and ideas to diverse audiences. Succeeding in such distinct areas requires strong collaboration and leadership, as well as an aptitude for change management. This is only possible with a well-rounded skill set.
Keep Moving Forward—or Be Left Behind
Even as companies implement digital transformation initiatives, they cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Firms face an either-or choice: disrupt or be disrupted.
“One of the biggest risks any business faces today… is complacency when it comes to the digital revolution,” explained Protiviti, a Robert Half subsidiary, in Catching the Digital Wave of Change. “Leaders must think about how they can embrace the opportunities which emerging technologies present. Failure to do so will leave businesses very exposed to competitors or new start-ups disrupting the status quo.” By availing themselves to the benefits of the new technology, labor model and opportunities, however, firms put themselves on the road to success.