Technology is constantly changing, and so too are the skills needed to exploit it. However, it may be hard for accounting firms to determine exactly which technology and IT skills are needed within their businesses.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the key roles that accounting firms should consider hiring:
AI app development specialist
According to James Poyser, CEO of inniAccounts, an online accountancy for self-employed professionals, a key skill for digital accounting firms is an app developer that also understands artificial intelligence and machine learning.
He said this is to ensure that customers get the best experience.
“If the developer works with the product managers who are closer to the customer, they can apply some intelligence to the usage data and learn about people’s habits – that insight can be used to develop a product that offers a smoother experience,” he explained.
“Being able to develop an app is only part of the skill set, understanding how and why it should be developed is crucial for competitive edge and time to market,” he added.
Essentially, the better the app, the more likely clients or internal customers will be satisfied with the overall experience.
Data is a core asset within accounting firms and there are several areas that accounting firms may want to look at in terms of recruitment.
A popular suggestion in the IT world is hiring a data scientist. Poyser explains that a data scientist is good at pulling apart data, they know how to ‘ask’ the data a question and how to interpret the response. Perhaps more importantly, they know when it’s not possible to answer a question based on the available data.
EY’s global assurance talent leader Karen Hochrein says that the EY has computer scientists that help process a huge amount of data to derive greater insights for clients. However, those skills are often hard to come by for smaller and medium sized accounting firms.
But that doesn’t mean companies should shy away from hiring good data specialists, data is critical for all businesses and gleaning insight from it is essential.
It may be clear to the data specialist what a complicated set of statistics mean, but this has to be simplified into findings that a client can easily understand. EY has brought on board designers for this job but there are also data visualization tools that can help companies to make the findings clearer to the client. This would, of course, require a data specialist to be able to use the visualization software properly.
Data protection consultant
The incoming EU General Data Protection Regulations require a data controller and processor. Pat Heath, an IT director for Hen Heaven, a party planning company, said that companies may also need IT secure consultants to ensure networks are safe, data is protected and that any software-as-a-service (SaaS), back-up or cloud storage products are compatible.
Poyser suggested that there is no point in developing AI-powered apps if they are not tested and fit for purpose. He said it’s incredibly hard to test an employee or customers’ requirement and this is why you need specialists in place.
“As part of the development, the data scientists can score their models and your regular testers will show if the data is used properly and producing the desired outcome,” he said.
Simon Wax, a partner at chartered accountants Buzzacott, said that R&D tax credits are one of the best ways the firm helps its technology companies.
“They are a method by which companies that are performing new and innovative work can be rewarded by paying less tax or by receiving cash back from HMRC. We already perform a significant amount of R&D tax credits work and, due to the demand in this area, are expanding the team,” he said.
“We are therefore looking for someone with a software or engineering background with experience in R&D tax credits to lead and develop the team further. They will mean clients spend even less time on working on any claim and we will have the expertise to enhance the value of a claim,” he added.
Outsourced accounting manager – tech
Buzzacott has also launched a completely new role, which is designed to get to grips with clients’ accounting systems.
“The role will be a bit like a virtual FC and will help clients with training, for example on Xero or other cloud-based accounting software and also to put in systems and processed in their businesses which may have grown quickly with insufficient investment in operations,” he states.
Chief digital officer (CDO)
There is an argument that companies don’t necessarily need to bring in someone new to manage a company’s digital transformation efforts.
Jon Wrennall, CTO at software company Advanced said that the role of a CDO should come as “part and parcel of a good CIO, CTO or other digital business leader” – a role that many accounting firms will already have in place.
However, he admits that if there is no-one willing to take on new aspects of digital change, then the business will need a catalytic change agent.
For Mike Bracken, the former head of the Government Digital Service and current CDO at The Co-Operative Group, there is no way a company, no matter what industry, can affect digital change from the IT function.
“The only way digital transformation works is if you’re either on or leading the executive team to work together to affect digital change. You can’t do that from an IT function no matter how it’s functioned within the group. Just looking at infrastructure and IT as your leaders for change isn’t enough for transformation – you have to look at operations, costs, HR, communications and marketing too,” he said.
About Sooraj Shah
Sooraj is a freelance technology journalist covering all things IT.