“I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” – HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Who wasn’t unnerved by the calm voice of a computer informing a human that it was in charge in that iconic classic? Our fascination with artificial intelligence (AI) goes back for generations. Long before The Matrix, Westworld, and Terminator, humans were intrigued with the possibilities and dangers of technology. Now more than ever, we see AI impacting the accounting and auditing professions. How should we view these rapid changes?
For starters, accountants by nature tend to be conservative and leery of new methods, which is why AI doesn’t stand for “Accounting Innovation.” However, just considering the revolution in the profession makes us realize that technology can indeed improve both the process and product. Transitioning from 6 and 12 column paper to electronic spreadsheets has saved more than a few hours, and old-fashioned mail and delivery services are becoming obsolete when documents can be shared by email. But these innovations merely automated certain menial processes. The next phases of development will start to mimic the human brain, particularly in the analysis and distilling of vast amounts of data into useable information.
Yet, the human brain cannot be replaced by a machine when it comes to intuition and judgment. The machines may produce useable information, but only a trained and experienced mind can know what to do with that information. Business owners cannot possibly keep up with the volume of data coming at them daily, and thus many opportunities are missed. Or worse yet, poor decisions are made because better information would have yielded a better decision. The machines can help us parse, sort, and distill, but ultimately they can’t think with instinct born of experience.
When selecting and evaluating a service provider such as your accountant or auditor, it is important to ask them about their use of technology. If the answers only cover automation of mathematical tasks, it’s time to go a bit deeper by asking questions such as:
- What do you do with all the time you saved?
- What new information did you discover about my business that I need to know?
- Is there a better way to get better information so we can make better decisions?
The time and effort saved through automation should be re-invested in ways that provide exponential benefits and not just incremental improvements. With the rapid advancements of technology, only the truly innovative minds will survive. In other words, the new equation is:
AI (artificial intelligence) + BI (business intelligence) = ROI (return on investment)
Questions on this topic? Contact Mike Buher at firstname.lastname@example.org.