The key message from Gavin Allen, UK MD of financial consultants LucaNet, at this year's Accountex is that despite the rapid evolution of technology the world of the accountant hasn't really changed a great deal.
“It’s still debits and credits – we are what we are”, said Allen, speaking to AccountingWEB ahead of his presentation on Wednesday. “Technology enables us to do a lot more. However, the problem we’ve got in industry at the moment is that technology seems to have added a burden to the office of finance. That should not be the case.”
FCCA-trained accountant Allen argues that the majority of finance offices have not changed dramatically in the last 25 years. “Companies still have to do budgets, plans and forecasts that still get reviewed by an inordinate number of people, with numbers flying around in various different places.
Passion for finance
According to Allen, technology will only really help accountants if it has been written “with a passion for finance”.
“That sounds like a marketing spiel, but if you're looking at technology that has been developed with a non-finance background you are going to wind up with an overhead. It does not matter how technically good the product is you will wind up with something that requires a lot of development or expense.
Allen states that the last thing a finance department needs is a technology that requires three or four additional administrators and an IT security compliance officer because the information is no longer on premise
“Moving to the cloud this is a good example”, he said. “Just because technically you can do things any time anywhere on any device does not mean it is the right thing to do.
“I think the industry is suffering from another area of technical momentum that says ‘you need to be able to do it on your iPad or tablet device, you need to have your technology wherever’.
“Actually, the corporate finance directors I talk to are nervous about the march of technology. It’s not that they don't understand it, but often the software doesn’t understand them.
Allen has doubts that the advent of cloud makes life easier for many modern finance directors. “All you are doing is transferring something from a spreadsheet onto a platform where the location of the data and how many people have got access to it may be unclear.”
Although the office of finance is receptive to modern day technology, Allen believes that just moving to cloud “does not mean that the actual working day is going to be any different. You could well be transferring a 25-year-old process from one channel to another.
“Technology can help”, he added, “but it has got to be done in a way that understands how the office of finance works.”
How technology can help
When asked what technology can offer finance, Allen said that the office of finance has not changed, “but I think the demands on the office of finance have.
“Technology gives us the ability to turn information around far more quickly, and the ability to monitor and analyse in much more granular levels of detail. This is definitely different to 20 or 25 years ago. The right technology enables you to do that, but I stress again - the right technology.
“It needs to be finance friendly, it needs to recognise that many functions of the CFO role haven’t changed, but there are more regulatory and compliance activities to undertake.
“It is an interesting industry and I'm sure I will be saying something completely different in five years’ time”, concluded Allen. “But right here and now the challenges for an office-based finance department haven't changed - they're still there and the right technology can come along and can certainly help streamline that.”