More than ever, to say that technology is changing how we conduct business would be one of the single biggest understatements of the century. However, to say that many are underestimating the pace of this change is probably a correct assertion, and one that could cause many accounting, financial, and other business professionals to struggle when attempting to excel in their jobs. Therefore, keeping up with technology is a “must-have” for success in today’s environment.
Just as many accounting, financial, and other business professionals take annual update courses in areas such as accounting pronouncements, auditing standards, and tax law changes to stay abreast of critical developments in these areas, so too should they consider including annual technology updates in their educational plans. To illustrate the importance of technology updates, consider some of the technology developments outlined below and how well you understand the implications of each of these on your job.
Blockchain and Its Impact on Business
Perhaps no single technology has the potential to revolutionize how accounting and financial professionals conduct business as much as blockchain – yet, most of these same professionals possess only scant knowledge of what blockchain is and how it will likely revolutionize the profession. Setting cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin aside, blockchain could become a “dream” technology for accountants, used in such applications as securing documents, executing “smart contracts,” protecting medical records, proving ownership of assets – both tangible and intangible – beyond a shadow of a doubt, streamlining audit processes, and so much more. And we are already seeing signs of blockchain technologies being adopted in everyday business applications. Two such examples include De Beers Group using blockchain to track diamonds from mining to point of sale and Maersk using blockchain to track goods through its maritime shipping processes.
The Release of Microsoft Office 2019
Microsoft Office 2019 is Microsoft’s latest release of its venerable Office software suite. But this is more than just another upgrade that adds new features to Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and other applications. Rather, choosing to upgrade to Office 2019 is more than a decision to spend a few hundred dollars per license to gain access to new features. In fact, there are three “big-picture” issues in play that could affect your decision to upgrade, both at an individual level and at an organizational level.
First, Office 2019 will only be supported if you are currently running Windows 10. Therefore, if you have not yet upgraded to Windows 10, upgrading to Office 2019 will mandate that you also upgrade your operating system. And if you happen to be running a Mac, Office 2019 for Mac will only run on macOS 10.12 or newer, again necessitating an operating system upgrade for many users.
Second, Office 2019 will contain many of the new features that Office 365 users have had access to for years. Thus, a key strategic decision is in order – why upgrade to Office 2019 when Office 365 provides the new features potentially years earlier than the more traditional license of Office?
Third, with respect to the new features in Office 2019, how will you get training on what these new features are and how you can use them to improve efficiency and productivity? After all, if you’re not going to take advantage of these new features, what’s the purpose of the upgrade in the first place?
Security and Privacy Issues, Including GDPR and Ransomware
Maybe no single business issue receives as much attention today as that of security and privacy. Unfortunately, far too many individuals and businesses are in a reactive state and are not taking proactive stances against threats such as ransomware, phishing attacks, and other forms of data breaches. Perhaps this is why over 5 billion records containing sensitive personal information have been reported as having been compromised (to see if your data has been compromised, visit https://haveibeenpwned.com.)
Unfortunately, the criminals responsible for these types of attacks show no signs of going away quietly. In fact, according to Malwarebytes, approximately 10,000 businesses were impacted by ransomware during June 2018. In one of the more widely reported ransomware attacks of 2018, data on the City of Atlanta’s network was compromised and held hostage. To date, the attack has cost Atlanta taxpayers in excess of $17 million! This, of course, only begs the question of what are you doing to ensure that individually and organizationally you do not become yet another victim of ransomware.
In addition to security and privacy threats, a related topic of security and privacy compliance has arisen. In May of 2018, the European Union enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR), to mandate data protection and privacy for all individuals within the EU. This law applies to all businesses in the EU and to all businesses processing the personal data of people in the EU, regardless of the location of that business. As such, GPDR is applicable to many US-based organizations. Further, the concepts embodied in GPDR are receiving much attention in the US and many experts expect a large number of these concepts to be enacted into various US laws soon. Thus, now is the time to begin planning for GPDR-like compliance issues in the US, regardless of the size or type of organization you work for.
The Business Intelligence Revolution
A fourth key technological development that is impacting businesses of all sizes today is the migration from traditional, after-the-fact financial and operational reporting to real-time, interactive reporting in the form of digital dashboards. This type of reporting moves beyond stale, outdated reports that provide only marginal value and into the world of business intelligence, helping managers to understand not only what has happened in the past, but to identify trends to help predict what will happen in the future. Further, with artificial intelligence capabilities included in many of these reporting platforms, the software can examine the data and identify relationships and trends that would likely have escaped the human eye! Unfortunately, many professionals think this type of reporting is only available to large, multinational companies. However, the truth is that with free tools such as Microsoft Power BI and Qlik Sense Desktop, any business can participate in this reporting revolution with no out-of-pocket expenditure for software.
In the past, staying up-to-date on technology meant knowing what the latest developments in desktop and laptop computers were and which mobile device might best fit a particular user’s needs. Today, that knowledge is still important, but there are many other items on the horizon of which we must be cognizant. Blockchain, the ramifications of Office 2019, security and privacy issues, and how leading-edge organizations are re-imagining reporting are just four of the technologies of which we must have at least a fundamental understanding in order to be successful. Just as it is important to stay on top of accounting, auditing, and tax issues, so too must we continually update our knowledge of technology. Ignoring what’s happening in this area could prove to be very costly!
Mr. Stephens is a shareholder in K2 Enterprises, where he develops and presents continuing professional education programs to accounting, financial, and other business professionals across North America. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.