Firms that fail to prepare for accounting automation will quickly fall behind — and the power of AI is such that they may never be able to catch up.

Imagine if accounting were widely associated with an exciting daily experience full of creative, dynamic problem-solving and a tendency toward relaxed, forgiving schedules. It could happen sooner than you think, according to sources like the Journal of Accountancy, thanks to new technologies that are quickly reducing the discipline's time-consuming grunt work in favour of more creatively difficult tasks. From the abacus to the cloud-based spreadsheet, advances in technology have often led new and more rewarding workflows with data. Now with advanced AI solutions, modern accounting automation could accelerate that trend far beyond anything we've seen before.

For most businesses the issue is not whether they will eventually incorporate AI and automation into their accounting pipelines but how quickly they will do so. One analysis from the Accounting Today's Accountants Confidence Index shows that more than 70 percent of firms believe they're taking the steps necessary to prepare for accountancy AI — but it's also true that 30 percent of companies may either think they'll retire before it becomes common practice or they are naïve, even in their own estimation. Additionally, 31 percent felt that AI will help smaller firms compete with larger firms.

Don't Underestimate the Power of AI

Whether it's in a call center or on a warehouse floor, AI and advanced automation are changing the nature of work by lowering the labour cost of repetitive tasks — and how much of accounting involves repetitive tasks? More than most areas of work, accounting is notable for the sheer proportion of it that could soon be automated by just about any company with a sufficient commitment. Some ready-made AI solutions exist, while for some larger companies it will make more sense to construct a more tailored AI solution of their very own.

Even at this early stage, some organizations that have turned to accounting automation have seen 300 percent ROI or more, per Blackline, though not every business will be structured so that it can expect that level of gain. The real potential of the tech goes beyond saving money while achieving the same results, requiring continuing investment in accounting even as costs go down. This will allow newly freed employees the time and funding they need to use their new tools and services to find all-new avenues for profit.

Powerful New Tech Means Powerful New Abilities

Most direct applications of automation in accounting have to do with the side benefits accounting could soon provide to HR and other, equally vital business organs. Both recruiting and talent retention are becoming more involved and demanding processes, and if given what they need to mine it out of raw payroll data, the company's accountants can meaningfully contribute to those processes.

With the proper software suite to automate mundane tasks and organize masses of data, accounting professionals could do analysis of salary data to help their company compete for and pay talent equitably. Accounting could help the business identify problem areas in workforce management and predict future turnover based on numerically observable employee behaviors. This means that accounting need not be relegated to studying that which has already occurred and can begin to help business look into the future in a whole variety of ways, such as providing consulting and business planning advice.

Preparation Is the Key to Surviving the AI Revolution

Being a well-prepared business means more than just buying a spanking-new business AI suite the moment it becomes available — it means investing early in the workers whose job it will be to actually use that suite. Skills are key, and in general training employees who are already integrated into the company culture will provide better returns than bringing in masses of all-new hires. It also impacts who they are hiring too. In the past they went to the top accounting programs and recruited early. Now they are looking at IT and data scientists, not just accounting majors.

That's one of the key fears in workers today, regardless of industry: that as AI takes hold all throughout the labour market, they won't be able to make automation work for them. Accounting will be eager to ensure that executives don't get the impression that old workers have become new dead weight — and that means a workforce eager to proactively acquire the skills necessary to be productive in a post-AI business world. Businesses that take advantage of this eagerness will be well-positioned to capitalize on AI over the coming decade.

Integration with IT is essential; accounting has, eventually, to be able to stand on its own two feet, but at the outset the department will need company tech experts to provide their expertise on a regular basis. The whole point of these AI solutions is that they're easy to use and thus easy to learn, even for employees who have no prior experience. If you think your workforce may have trouble adjusting to a particular solution, consider looking around for one that would be a more natural fit. There will be plenty of highly developed contenders to choose from.

Payroll and HR software for accountants: Partnering with ADP