What’s New and What’s Coming in Accounting Technology?

I recently had a chance to find out the answer to this question first-hand. In early August, I was asked to speak at the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association (AAA).  The AAA has been around for 100 years and is a community of accounting educators.  Since its founding in 1916, the group has grown to over 7,000 members in more than 75 countries. Most of the attendees of the conference are accounting professors from colleges all around the country, but some were from outside the US as well.

The pre-conference event that I attended and spoke at was the 7th Annual Transformative Technologies in Accounting Workshop, which represents a sub-group of AAA focused on Strategic and Emerging Technologies.  Since my workshop session was the last one of the day, I had the opportunity to sit through all of the other sessions and to meet many of the attendees.

Here’s a rundown of the topics that were on the agenda for the workshop.

Hip, Cool, and Relevant Accounting Technologies

After some opening remarks, the keynote session was delivered by industry analyst, journalist, and accounting technology guru Brian Sommer, Founder TechVentive.  His session was titled “The Technologies that the Hip, Cool, Relevant Accounting Programs Will Have.”  Brian highlighted the evolution of accounting technology from the mainframe to the cloud, and some of the latest technologies that are disrupting the market, such as in-memory, big data, robotic process automation, visualization, and analytics.

His main message was that ERPs are no longer the center of the accounting universe. There are many new systems that generate data needed in accounting.  These new data sources and technologies are driving the need for new skill sets in accounting – skill sets that are much different from historic skill sets.

Blockchain and The Future of Trade

Speaking of leading-edge technologies, the next session touched on the emerging Blockchain database technology.  This session was delivered by Bill McCarthy, Professor, Michigan State University, and the title was “Open Value Networks: A Third Coasian Alternative to Firms and Markets.”  Professor McCarthy highlighted his research into value networks as an emerging paradigm for trade.

There are some examples of peer-to-peer value networks in the world already – such as Linux, Wikipedia, and the NASA Mars Mapping project.  We’re also starting to see the emergence of open value networks – such as Sensorica, and Photosynq.  These networks rely on the collaboration of individuals, who create collective value and receive value back from the network.  Blockchain currently serves as a public ledger for Bitcoin transactions, but it could potentially be leveraged to keep track of transactions and help distribute value to participants in other public value networks.  Heady stuff and certainly an emerging technology to watch.

Continuous Accounting

The next session was delivered by Susan Parcells, Sr. Director of Finance Transformation and Product Expert at Blackline.  The title of Susan’s session was “Continuous Accounting: The Modern Approach to Finance & Accounting.”  Here, she highlighted the challenges organizations face in managing the financial close and reporting process – tracking tasks, handling account reconciliations, ensuring the right controls are in place, and improving accuracy of reporting.  She then highlighted the capabilities of Blackline to support “continuous accounting,” driving efficiency, visibility, and reduced risk in the “record to report” process through its cloud-based platform.

New Tax and Auditing Tools

Other interesting sessions included one delivered by Michelle Wallig, Executive Director, Tax Performance Advisory Practice, Ernst & Young, titled “Big Data Analytics-Impact on Tax Management.”

Michael Flynn, Principal, Advanced Risk and Compliance Analytics Group within Assurance Services, PwC,  presented a session titled “Transforming the Audit Through Data Analytics and Visualization.”

Mike Leonardson, Partner-Americas Professional Practice, Auditing, Ernst & Young, and Miklos Vasarhelyi, Professor, Rutgers University, presented a session titled “Is Analytic Technology Going to Revolutionize the Audit? The RADAR Initiative.”

Financial Consolidation in the Cloud

My session was the last one of the day and was titled “Financial Consolidation in the Cloud.”  In the session, I highlighted the challenges organizations face in the financial close and consolidation process, the technology alternatives that are available, and the emerging demand and interest in cloud-based financial close and consolidation solutions.  I also reviewed a number of Planful customer case studies, citing the benefits our customers have achieved by replacing spreadsheets and legacy applications with our cloud-based solution.

One of the questions I was asked after my session was how our cloud-based financial consolidation and reporting solution is positioned vs. the Blackline solution.  The answer is that the solutions are quite complementary – in fact, a number of companies use both.  These companies use Planful to collect, consolidate, and report their financial results, as well as manage budgeting, planning, forecasting, and management reporting.  They also use Blackline to manage the financial close process, including the management and execution of account reconciliations.

Key Takeaways

Overall, it was an interesting and enlightening day.  I got to meet a number of dedicated accounting educators who are truly looking to move the profession forward.  It was reassuring to know that these educators are making sure Accounting graduates are coming out of school with a strong sense of what technologies are available today to make accountants more productive, as well as what’s coming in the future.

To learn more about the American Accounting Association and its initiatives, visit its website.

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