Digital Labor Force: The Future of Accountants

June 2017 | Posted in Whitley Penn
Whitley Penn
Justin Roberts CWA Headshot

In a recent interview Mark Cuban stated, “I would not want to be a CPA right now.  I would not want to be an accountant right now.  I would rather be a philosophy major.”  He was discussing artificial intelligence and how the world is moving towards more automation.  There is some facetiousness in what he said, but is he right? Maybe or maybe the accounting world should look around and see how to adjust to the changing environment.  Even the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants or “AICPA” has started an accelerator venture that will focus on artificial intelligence and automation.  Thus putting their own membership at risk or maybe they too believe the profession can adjust.  Everywhere you look or listen automation is there, and it’s altering the way we conduct business at a rapid pace.  The accounting industry and professionals are not immune to this and should embrace the changes in order to achieve better results.

The biggest impact will be on the employees with “Digital Labor” being the go-to referenced term by professionals across all industries.  Currently executives believe that in the near future they will have to retrain and shift the employee allocations.  They believe this will help lead to new opportunities and a different talent pool for future employees.  Some of these same executives still pause at transition to a more digital labor due to various reasons.  For starters, they do not know where to begin or what the end result could be.  Also, the costs associated with implementing new technologies, new systems, new talent, and how “the machine,” will all work together seamlessly to ensure there is no business interruption.

In order for companies to think positively about the shift to digital labor, they should look at the wide range of benefits and not just focus on efficiencies or a cost basis analysis that might not include some of the intangibles.  One of the most important positive items is that current employees will have more time to analyze data and create strategies.  I believe that this validates Mark Cuban’s point.  The labor talent will need to be able to critically analyze data and bring forward effective solutions.  In result, leading companies to evaluate and potentially acquire a different labor pool.  This would lead to more time to focus on value added tasks, or customer focused tasks, with the goal of increasing profitability.  Companies that automate routine tasks would be able to run 24/7, 365.  Systems could collect data, format, and generate a report overnight so that it is ready to be analyzed by employees when they come into the office in the morning.

It’s not easy to make a shift to a digital labor force as it takes a cultural shift within a company to complete this change.  Employees are usually the most concerned and apprehensive that a robot will replace them.  The key is to obtain early employee buy in and demonstrate areas in which they can focus on more value add tasks.  Most people do not enjoy the boring, mundane part of their job (collecting data, formatting data, checking for errors, etc.), but allowing them to think differently about their job usually brings excitement and opportunity.  The goal is not to eliminate FTE’s (Full Time Equivalent) but rather to allow employees time to analyze, think about strategies, and make recommendations.  Start with smaller tasks or systems and analyze the benefits and effects.  Then move to other key areas that would gain the most from moving to a digital labor.

Automation and digital labor are here and are the way of the future for accounting professionals. Think about how your company and employees could benefit from moving towards a digital labor force. I will not go back to school and get a degree in philosophy, but I will partially take some of Mark Cuban’s advice and learn from some of the great philosophers. “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” John F. Kennedy.

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