“People are being left behind,” says research on digital transformation

“People are being left behind,” says research on digital transformation

New study reveals significant digital skills gap in accountancy, in which existing barriers are delaying the upskilling of finance leaders

“People are being left behind,” says research on digital transformation

Challenges imposed by data demands mean the accountancy sector must bridge the digital skills gap, according to the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association), which includes the American Institute of CPAS (AICPA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), in partnership with KPMG International.

“We found that people are being left behind. When we look at the skills needed in the workplace, our 2019 report showed that 10 percent of senior finance leaders believed they had skills needed to help the businesses achieve its digital ambition,” says Rebecca McCaffry, FCMA, CGMA, associate technical director at the Association.

“Now, when we talk to a similar sized group, we find that only three percent of respondents state their finance functions had the needed skills. It’s quite concerning.”

Whilst technology has enabled greater efficiency and consistency through modernisation tools such as cloud and process robotics, the study shows that progress has been less fruitful than many envisioned. Only 16 percent of respondents reported that robotic automation decreased costs and generated process efficiency as forecasted.

In recent years the number of technology firms to have entered the space was ballooned – many of whom cite their clients’ ability to streamline processes and build efficiencies.

“Being able to see the financial health of clients instantly means accountants can offer clients valuable strategic consultancy, such as how to improve cash flow, without having to worry about incorrect or out-of-date information tainting their advice, said Shaun Shirazian, Director of Product Management at Intuit Quickbooks via email.

“Automation not only boosts productivity for accounting firms but helps position accounting professionals as a trusted advisor that can help power business prosperity.”

The survey also found that efficiency savings are a key driver of transformation programmes, followed by improved reporting and cost savings.

Of those surveyed, 34 percent said digital infrastructure and implementation skills were amongst the top skills gaps for finance. These include abilities such as systems development; systems integration; cybersecurity; data planning, analytics, and visualisation.

“If we’re supporting digital businesses, then we must embrace digital. In the report, we talk about different levels of digital skills. We need the people that know about data analytics, we need the cloud experts, we need the security experts – the whole mindset around working with digital is to be able to deal with complexity,” says McCaffry.

Training existing staff or hiring new talent?

The study outlined that almost two thirds of organisations favour upskilling existing staff rather than hiring new talent. Of these, it was found that 36 percent do so to bridge skills gaps, with 28 percent also claiming it enables them to control costs.

While only a fifth would hire new talent, 16 percent said skills development for the finance function was not priority within their business.

Barriers to upskilling finance teams

Over a quarter of respondents also identified time constraints as the most significant barrier to the upskilling of finance teams, with insufficient investment in skills development and technology amongst the top three.

“The pace of change with digital is so fast, that it is difficult to keep up. We’re finding that people don’t have the time to learn these skills. We’re working with older systems, meaning we spend lots of time fighting the system rather than learning new skills,” explains McCaffry.

Certain organisations have moved forward with the digital field, such as the multinational oil and gas company BP, in which its new method to talent management is workforce-led and offers new opportunities to employees.

“Having identified a need for data science skills, BP is looking to channel workforce enthusiasm for skills development by offering online Python coding courses. Finance employees can complete these courses over a three-month period before taking an assessment. Those who perform well are invited to a 3-week intensive data science bootcamp, using real-life cases and data.”

“We’re building up to get to about 10–15% of our organisation having a good solid grounding in data science from one bootcamp programme, and then maybe 2 or 3% will become subject-matter experts,” said Graham Collins, FCMA, CGMA, VP of Digital Transformation at BP.

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