We’re in the midst of a digital revolution and every sector, including the accountancy profession, is feeling the impact. Consumers expect to be able to access goods and services on a 24/7 basis, and this expectation is spreading into every aspect of our lives, including our finances. Pressure is mounting on accountants to communicate more quickly and more efficiently and the profession must adapt before it finds itself in crisis.
As the development of new technologies – like machine learning and AI – and the advent of big data reshapes the modern finance department, embracing digital transformation will offer finance companies access to real-time, valuable insights that provide the make-or-break edge that is necessary in today’s competitive and uncertain environment.
The move away from legacy systems
Financial services must understand that a future-proofed strategy is one that puts customers first. Thinking less about the products you have and more about how you can help someone will drive a sustainable and unified financial services experience. The challenge lies in the traditional nature of the accountancy industry and committing to a move away from comfortable legacy systems to cloud services and new technologies that meet the demands of security concerned and digitally-savvy clients. It’s imperative that accountancy firms have a solid digital infrastructure in place, or any potential technological advancements will be built on a foundation of sand.
Digital transformation and data security
There is no doubt that innovation is critical – organisations that don’t embrace it will be stuck in a paralysis of outdated processes whilst their competitors pass them by. However, with the increasing reliance on technology comes a mounting threat to a business’ cybersecurity. Combining new technology with legacy infrastructures can be a tall order and – without the right strategy in place – can create problems that are difficult to repair. Cyber-attacks have become so sophisticated that no business is immune, regardless of their size. Data hacking is a very real threat and businesses that shun the idea must open their eyes to the reality.
By their very nature, accountancy firms store a lot of personal and financial data – a goldmine for persistent cyber criminals – but what’s less understood are the risks of this astronomical volume of data. Infinite connections between devices are potentially leaving the back door open to cyber criminals. As well as an increased chance of security breaches, more applications also mean an increased potential for damage in the event of a breach.
Accountants must think carefully about data protection policies that will meet their own and their customers’ needs. Maintaining a solid IT security posture is an ongoing task requiring continuous action and review. Businesses must adopt a less passive attitude to security and become more active and preventative. It is no longer sufficient to retrofit cybersecurity; it must be planned upfront in order to be effective in moving to ‘security by design’ rather than ‘by addition’.
The reality is that humans are the weakest link in any organisation and while computers will do as we programme them to, humans do not, which makes the need for a security framework even more crucial. An organisation’s security culture is the foundation of its data security programme. It is critical to embed security values into an institution’s culture, and for action to replace rhetoric – an engaged workforce is more likely to feel accountable and take responsibility for security issues.
Internal benefits of digital transformation
Digital transformation also has the power to unlock internal benefits. As new technologies replace manual data entry processes, accountants will no longer be tied to tedious tasks. Once these processes are taken over by automation, more time can be spent on upskilling teams and development.
With robust data connectivity, accountants can maintain seamless and flexible communications with colleagues, partners and other offices whilst hosted collaboration tools can help to manage and share documents and files. What’s more, cloud services like Office 365 will allow accountants to access, edit and save documents to their network in real-time, boosting productivity and bringing a new meaning to workplace collaboration.
There is no denying the scope new technologies have to transform the accountancy industry and whilst it’s positive to see businesses getting excited about the benefits, it would be shortsighted to overlook the very real risks that accompany change. By thinking strategically, and ensuring security considerations are core to business strategy, organisations can alleviate the risks while maximising the plethora of positives.