Accountants once spent their time doing manual entries and searching for mistakes, but that changed with the development of computer technology. In the digital era, accounting professionals can accomplish much more in much less time, and their focus has shifted toward analysis and consultation.
For employers in an improving hiring landscape, this places a premium on recruiting and retaining accountants with advanced technology skills. Among chief financial officers in the United States, 41% cite “keeping pace with changing technology” as the biggest pressure facing their accounting and finance departments, according to a 2015 survey by staffing firm Robert Half Management Resources.
“Businesses seek technology expertise as more finance departments move from a reporting-focused to an analytics-centric function,” Robert Half has also noted.
The Growing Importance of Technology in Accounting
Big data, analytics software, mobile devices, cloud computing, the “Internet of Things” and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are assuming larger roles in the practice of accounting. As organizations of all sizes embrace the insights provided by the new influx of data, technology is making it possible to better utilize resources, automate processes and turn information into guideposts for strategic decision-making.
Companies involved in the healthcare sector are also leveraging technology to comply with provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). Mandates for converting to electronic medical records, along with robust systems upgrades, could result in unprecedented caches of financial data being available for analysis by accounting professionals.
“Technology is a crucial key to success, in the accounting profession and elsewhere,” noted a 2015 survey by the American Institute of CPAs and the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada.
Survey respondents listed “Enabling Decision Support and Analytics” and “Leveraging Emerging Technologies” as two of their top 10 technology initiatives, with 60% of U.S. respondents saying that emerging technologies will play a key role in their business success.
Technology Skills for Accountants
If the role of technology in the accounting profession is growing, what specific skills are employers likely to seek in candidates? Let’s consider just a handful of tech-related attributes that could make individuals more competitive in the marketplace:
- Advanced Excel skills: Excel “power users” can leverage their skills to solve complex problems, analyze costs and convey information to stakeholders.
- Knowledge of business intelligence software: Software such as Cagnos, Birst and ProfitBase can help increase transparency and cut costs for better forecasting.
- Data analytics expertise: Advanced modeling techniques can add value by allowing for the handling of large amounts of data for competitive insights.
- Understanding of enterprise resource planning systems: Companies can lower operating costs, reduce cycle times and gain a competitive edge with ERP expertise.
- Experience with cloud computing:Transitioning businesses to cloud computing can increase flexibility and efficiency.
Develop the Right Technology Skills to Succeed in Accounting
Technology has the potential to boost the productivity and efficiency of accountants, which, in turn, can bring improved results for employers and clients. As a result, there is set to be growing demand for accounting professionals who possess a combination of educational qualifications, professional credentials and skill-sets that include data analysis and business intelligence.
“Firms in all size segments … appear to be expanding their use of technology solutions,” noted a 2014 survey sponsored by the AICPA and the Texas Society of CPAs.
When it comes to technology, accountants – like the firms they serve – may face a simple choice: Adopt and adapt, or fail.