Emerging tech offers opportunities for accountants

Accountex USA takes place next week in magnificent Boston, of Red Sox fame. There will be about 100 exhibitors at the Hynes Convention Centre on August 22-23, including Intuit QuickBooks, Sage, Receipt Bank, HubDoc and Zoho.

And just as with Accountex London and Accountex Summit North, there’s a fascinating speaker line-up, too – headed by cyber-security expert Dave Kennedy.

Also taking top billing is Randy Johnston, a leading technology speaker. So, to help get in the mood for Boston, I thought I’d share this excellent emerging tech blog by Randy, which was posted originally by Accounting Insight News’s US partners at Accountex USA. Over to Randy…

While creating the content for our K2 Enterprises team to teach emerging technology at this year’s Accountex 2018 conference in Boston, we applied the following rule: we will provide content that can be applied starting on the day you return to your office — and this will be true of my Emerging Technology session at Accountex 2018. We also learned some things about the opportunities created by emerging technologies ourselves along the way.

It became obvious that emerging technologies can and will be applied in the practice of accounting, whether you are in public practice or industry. It is also clear that emerging technology will contribute to profits and competitiveness.

Facts matter, particularly when it comes to Continuing Professional Education (CPE). One thing that CPE should do for you is to provide knowledge that you can apply in your day-to-day work. It is also helpful that CPE provides insight that you don’t get from your normal reading or professional interactions. That’s part of the reason live CPE, such as that provided by the Accountex conference, is such a wonderful opportunity for professional advancement.

Regrettably, there are many snake oil sales efforts out there around emerging technology. Let’s discuss a few observations and opportunities.

‘Artificial’ v true AI

The latest marketing buzzword (we call it BS Bingo) is artificial intelligence (AI). We’ve seen marketing words used before, for example cloud computing or “ease of use.” You know the pitch: If you’re not using this technology you’re obviously missing out, or if you change over to this technology it will make your life easier. While there are applications that work better with emerging technologies, vendors are using the latest buzzwords with their products, even when they are not using the technology named.

“Artificial” artificial intelligence is suffering from this issue. True Artificial Intelligence uses one or more of the dozens of algorithms to process data to produce insights and results that may not otherwise be obvious, while forms or rule-based processing produces a result based on rules directly coded in the software. Some artificial intelligence applications can apply machine learning (ML). This where the computer programs can learn without the programming of rules. Machine learning can leverage special hardware and computing power with Google’s TensorFlowMicrosoft’s FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Arrays)Amazon’s AWS Machine LearningTSMC’s Bitmain, or NVIDIA CUDA.

As a consumer of artificial intelligence products, it is hard for you to tell the difference between a rules-based product and one that has true artificial intelligence. While you may only care that a particular business objective is accomplished, rules-based products:

  • Typically take more maintenance
  • Are not as flexible
  • Will have severe limitations when the transactions are less consistent

While AI capabilities are progressing rapidly right now, sales hype is progressing even faster.

Blockchain and accounting

Another example of sales promotion using FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is the emerging technology known as blockchain. While blockchain technologies are important, a blockchain is simply a distributed database created using a set of rules known as hashes. We see blockchain being incorporated into many accounting technologies, but the development is more likely provided by a publisher than through any effort that your firm will have to take directly. While the concept and application of blockchain techniques are important, you don’t need to be driven by FOMO.

Applications are being developed in a wide variety of industries as well as for public practice. But most of you won’t develop the technology, you’ll just need to use it. Blockchain ledgers provide relatively secure transactions (proponents say completely secure, and that may not be so) that can be verified and audited. Much like we use a credit card today — without thinking very much about how the money flows — blockchains will evolve to become an automated black box for processing transactions. We’ll feed a transaction on one side of the box, and a secure, completed transaction will come out the other side.

Many presenters are trying to demonstrate their expertise in this area, but typically they have a product or service to sell and are trying to make money by leveraging FOMO and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).

opportunities created by emerging technologies

Data Science for ‘Big Data’

Many industry businesses as well as CPA firms are hiring data scientists. While data science is important, it is not “the” silver bullet but simply a fresh way to analyze data. Why has this happened? Because we have data available from more sources than ever before. Colleague Brian Tankersley coined the word “digital exhaust” to describe this output, like the way he defined “digital plumbing” to describe the connections between cloud applications.

We’ll get even more data with the expansion of the Internet of Things and 5G cellular technology. But how do you make sense of all this data, which is frequently referred to as “Big Data”? Do you wind up with actionable information or do you simply have big, bad data? We know there are four types of data analytics:

  1. Descriptive (what’s happening in my business?)
  2. Diagnostic (why is it happening?),
  3. Predictive (what’s likely to happen?), and
  4. Prescriptive (what do I need to do?).

But building predictive and prescriptive analytic models is not sufficient in a world where our users’ personal experiences have dramatically changed their expectations. Users want highly-personalized, highly-relevant recommendations, and one of our roles in using the emerging technology of big data correctly is to ask the right questions.

Emerging Technologies Presentation

In my Accountex Emerging Technologies session, we will try to give a practical accounting solution for each emerging technology — including blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and Big Data. Don’t be fooled by the sales pitches. While the opportunity is great, the opportunity to be fooled has never been greater. Are you asking the right questions?


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About the Author

Randy Johnston

K2 Enterprises

Randy Johnston is a top-rated technology speaker at the annual Accountex USA conference. Randy is broadly known for his Technology Update presentation, which he updates continuously. At Accountex 2018 in Boston, Randy will present the session, Emerging Technologies. Randy has expertise in technology, security, accounting, software and computer infrastructure, and strategic planning and management.

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