A human element is vital in the technology revolution

Anton Colella, Global CEO, Moore Global

The global pandemic has forced business owners to confront the shortcomings of their legacy systems and embrace the edge that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data gives them.

It has been difficult for many traditional financial and business processing systems to adapt to unexpected challenges of the Covid economy, such as remote collaboration, resulting in an urgent need for new solutions.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and AI are two of the biggest growth areas in terms of new investment. They deliver multiple proven benefits from streamlining operations, to reducing both costs and errors, and freeing workers to perform more higher-value tasks.

There is also growing awareness that automating data makes it easier to extract actionable insight.  Accountants have found this particularly useful because it gives them an unprecedented degree of foresight, allowing them to provide more timely advice to clients on issues such tax planning, cash conservation or debt management.

For example, a company growing quickly may not realise it is running out of cash. Using AI to identify that risk early could enable an accountant to bring in a corporate finance expert to advise on fundraising options and avoid a liquidity crisis.

We see firms in our own global network, as well as the SME businesses they serve, increasingly utilising robotics and sophisticated data processing in their operations. Smart business leaders are modernising their operations in order to remain competitive in a world where many of the rules of business have changed.

Robotics are commonly associated with the manufacturing sector, but their adoption is far more widespread and not confined to an industrial context. According to Gartner, global robotic process automation software revenue is projected to reach $1.89 billion in 2021, which contrasts with a predicted 8 percent decline in overall global IT spend in 2020.

The march of robotics and automation often sets alarm bells ringing among people concerned about the impact on employment at all levels, from the factory floor to managerial ranks.

However, the employment picture is more nuanced and there are reasons for optimism. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2018 that artificial intelligence may eradicate 75 million jobs – but on the plus side it has potential to create 133 million new jobs.

Firms across our network have been in the vanguard of adopting RPA and AI. Consequently, they are able to devote more time to tasks that require a higher degree of professional skill and judgment and add greater value to clients’ businesses.

For example, in the US we have used data analytics to quantify potential consolidation synergies in the consumer electronics sector as a means of identifying which brands would best fit together. This paves the way for a new approach to strategic mergers and acquisitions.

In the UK, a graduate trainee developed a sophisticated benchmarking tool for the independent school sector that enables leadership teams to compare performance against the sector and against specific competitors on key metrics.

We can do increasingly clever value-add work for clients remotely. One member firm did ‘penetration’ testing for a client, using AI to test the security of their operations in South Africa. The team was easily able to take remote control of on-site CCTV cameras simply by accessing an employee phone – an exercise that uncovered critical vulnerabilities in its security system.

There are almost limitless opportunities to use technology to future proof businesses and help them grow and flourish in a new economic reality. Accounting and consulting firms with AI and RPA capabilities can help support businesses get the best out of new systems and processes.

To an extent, the pandemic has been the catalyst for a quantum leap in a technology revolution that was already underway.

It is easy to become in thrall to the latest AI or robotics development, but business leaders must remain mindful of fundamentals that will always be critical for sustainable growth – paramount among these is an ability to form enduring relationships with customers, applying empathy as well as technology in order to fully understand and meet their needs.