Thomas G. Stephens, Jr., CPA.CITP, CGMA
The year 2020 seems so far away, yet, in reality, it is just around the corner. Accordingly, strategic professionals are already making plans for how they can operate most effectively in the upcoming decade.
As you begin evaluating your plans for improving individual and team efficiency in the near future, one of the key drivers and influencers to consider is the technologies available.
Let’s take a closer look at the technologies that will impact business professionals in the year 2020 and beyond.
Connectivity Will Escalate In Importance
To say that the Internet has been the most important technology to go mainstream, in the past 20 years, is likely the understatement of the century. Likewise, to say that the Internet will continue to increase in importance, in 2020 and beyond, is an understatement of similar magnitude.
Connectivity will become even more important in the years ahead. However, connectivity will take on a different form in the coming decade as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes mainstream. In the most simplistic terms, IoT refers to devices connected to each other through the Internet. These devices can be simple home automation devices, such as thermostats and irrigation controllers connected to and controlled from homeowners’ computers, smartphones, and other devices.
In business settings, IoT could represent sensors to continually monitor inventory levels and provide an alert when a stockout appears imminent, instruments to track the location of fixed assets, or mobile devices as alternatives to traditional point-of-sale terminals to facilitate purchases in retail stores.
Gartner, a research and advisory firm, indicates that the number of IoT devices connected to the Internet will increase from 6.4 billion in 2016 to 20.8 billion in 2020. Clearly, the importance of connectivity — with the Internet as its backbone — will escalate in the coming years.
Business Intelligence Efforts Will Dominate Reporting
Business intelligence (BI) has been discussed for a number of years, but only recently have the tools supporting BI activities emerged to facilitate true BI efforts without overwhelming end-users and breaking their budgets.
Microsoft, Qlik, and Tableau are among the companies leading the way with user-friendly BI tools that create powerful interactive dashboards, providing real-time insights into organizational and team performance. For example, using the free Microsoft Power BI Desktop tool, you can create and distribute BI dashboards that allow accounting and financial professionals to monitor financial results – including budget versus actual data – in real-time or near real-time.
In the near future, expect to see BI tools continue to get easier to use while simultaneously providing even more robust reporting capabilities. For example, it is quite plausible that a publisher of BI software could begin accumulating industry-specific benchmarking data, and provide that data through the BI application. End-users would then be able to measure performance not only against their own prior results and internally established targets, but also judge performance relative to others in the industry in which they operate.
Further, BI tools could also help with predictions, forecasts, and routine budgets by incorporating artificial intelligence to analyze historical data sets and uncover hidden relationships in the data. Though traditional financial and operational reports will still be generated in the upcoming decade, look for their relevance to decrease while BI dashboards begin to dominate business reporting routines.
You Likely Will Use A Single Device To Conduct Business
The days of using multiple devices to conduct business — desktop computer, laptop computer, tablet, and smartphone — are coming to a close. In the upcoming decade, many business professionals will ditch all but one device and conduct all business activities from that single device, simplifying the work environment while simultaneously saving money on capital expenditures, software, and maintenance.
This world of single-device usage is actually possible for many professionals today. Virtually all smartphones allow connections to external keyboards and monitors. Many (with the iPhone being the most visible exception) also allow you to connect to a mouse. With a keyboard, monitor, and mouse connected to your smartphone, simply download any necessary apps and you’re ready for business!
Where the above scenario becomes potentially troublesome is when you might need to run a line-of-business application, such as your accounting/ERP software, a tax application, or CRM tool. This is because these full-featured, robust applications do not readily lend themselves to being rewritten as apps. That said, if you ran these applications from the cloud as software as a service — as in the case of QuickBooks Online or CCH Axcess — or as a hosted application such as Sage 300, or if you accessed them from a virtual desktop such as those provided by Cetrom, you would be able to use the browser on a smartphone to access them on that device.
Security Needs At The Mobile Level Intensify
If we carry all our data and applications with us on a single mobile device, then the importance of end-point security intensifies. We will need to treat mobile devices with the same level of “security respect” as we currently treat our traditional desktop and laptop computers.
Fortunately, new technologies now arriving should make that easier for end-users. For example, the new Windows Hello feature can be used to log in to mobile devices using facial recognition, instead of entering a password. A feature such as this should not only improve security, but simultaneously make it easier for end-users to comply with organizational security policies.
To help ensure compliance with all policies, organizations will place even greater reliance on mobile device management (MDM) software. Using MDM software, managers remotely monitor and enforce compliance with policies relating to passwords, encryption, backups, downloaded apps, etc.
Just because the need for mobile security will increase, do not be lulled into thinking that the need for more traditional security measures will decrease. Far from it! Hackers will continue to innovate in their attempts to gain access to sensitive and critical data, and we will likely need to rethink our entire security plan in an effort to ward off attacks. Look for technologies such as “whitelisting” software titles and devices, and network monitoring tools to grow as a means of not only attempting to prevent attacks, but also to alert us in real time that something appears to be amiss in our computers and networks.
Software Deployments And Upgrades Will Be Incremental In Nature
The days of major software upgrades may be over or soon drawing to a close. To illustrate, Microsoft has already announced Windows 10 will be the last version of Windows — there are no plans for Windows 11. Expect more software publishers to follow suit. Does this mean that no new features are on the way? Of course not! Rather, it confirms that the very nature of software, including operating systems, is changing as more publishers are moving to or encouraging subscription licensing instead of traditional, perpetual use-licenses.
In these subscription models, you pay a monthly or annual fee for the right to use the software for a specified period of time. During that period of time, as your software publisher releases new features to the software, you will receive them through periodic updates, presumably downloaded from the internet. Of course, if you stop paying for the license, you should expect the software publisher to cease sending the updates to you. In this business model, software evolves into a service instead of a technology. Compare that to the traditional licensing model where the publishers create and innovate new features, but store them until a major release occurs, such as when upgrading from one version of Windows to the next or one version of Microsoft Office to the next.
Revamping And Monitoring Workflows Will Produce Extraordinary Dividends
In the past 30 years, organizations of all sizes have invested heavily in technology. But, in a large number of cases, they have not modified internal workflows at the same pace they have deployed new technology. Accordingly, their business practices are stale and inefficient. Further, because they have not modified their workflows to take advantage of the technology, they are not receiving the return on investment (ROI) that they expected.
There are many areas where workflow and technology improvements go hand in hand. Tools provided by companies such as Bill.com use technology to automate and streamline accounts payable processes, up to the point of cutting accounts payable voucher processing time by as much as 50 percent. Similarly, tools such as SurePrep allow CPA firms to automate much of their tax processing workflows by automatically organizing and bookmarking working papers for individual tax returns and, if desired, populating returns with data scanned from W-2s, 1099s, K-1s and other forms. Similarly, businesses of all types could use a workflow solution, such as XCM, to revamp workflows and ensure that all team members process transactions and complete projects in a prescribed fashion.
Workflow tools will only increase in importance and provide bigger paybacks as organizations seek to enhance their ROI on technology.
Training Will Prove To Be A Never-Ending Strategic Mission
The pace of change shows no signs of declining; in fact, it will likely continue to accelerate. Saavy managers will recognize this and look at training team members as a strategic decision, not a tactical one.
Failing to train team members on new technologies or new features added to existing technology virtually guarantees that the organization will not receive the promised ROI on technology. Yet, many managers will attempt to cut expenses by reducing their investment in training, and then wonder why team members struggle with technology. Those who see training as a key corporate strategy will double-down on their investment, and their organizations will reap the reward of maximizing ROI on technology.
Don’t Waste Time
The year 2020 will be here before we know it. We will all face technology challenges and technology issues with the arrival of a new decade. Failing to plan for the continuing revolution in technology almost guarantees that an organization will be ill-equipped to take advantage of the tools and trends that will materialize.
Don’t get stuck in a never-ending cycle of playing technology “catch-up.” Carefully consider the trends and technologies discussed above and how you can capitalize on them in your organization to increase efficiency, security, and profitability.