'Focus on learning the philosophy of technology'
An early leader in technology: As a staff accountant in the late 1990s, I enjoyed working as an accountant, but the manual work was not a lot of fun for me. I thought, we have computers, let's use them. Using Microsoft Access and Excel, I was able to produce information faster and more efficiently. Over time, I've been able to build up my credentials around technology.
When contemplating a major technology overhaul: Think about what your strategy is first. Why are you doing this? You say you have a problem, but do you? If your problem is that you don't have enough staff and you think more technology will change that, it won't. Start with the plan first; find out your problem, quantify it, and then go to product selection. Once you've defined the requirements, then define your measure of success — this is critical, it helps you set project milestones.
Take a team, rather than a superuser, approach: Exposure is the best way to ensure the finance team makes the most of new technology tools. This may be old school, but, while the idea of a superuser who is trained and brings that training back to the team is good and I've used it many times, the challenge is that you inadvertently create a key person dependency. The more the group takes ownership, the more they have input into the change, the more likely they'll use the tool, and it won't sit on the shelf. The users, accountants mostly, know when something's wrong whereas the leader may not have a clear picture. By including the finance team early on, you develop ownership and get valuable input that you might not otherwise receive.
The changing role of accountants: As technology advances, accountants are going to have to manage these technologies and become problem-solvers, which I think is the fun part of accounting. Accountants of the future will be more thought leaders. The accountant that's currently practicing that has five to 15 years of experience needs to focus on learning the philosophy of technology. You don't need to become a programmer, but attend the webinars, take courses, go to events. From an organizational perspective, if you don't prepare for technological shifts, you'll either become extinct, or you'll lose a lot of money. I see it over and over — people don't want to deal with technology, or they think it's too expensive, or they don't have the time. It's going to happen, regardless. The wave is crashing upon your shore; you can ignore it, but it's coming.
— As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA's editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.