What one thing pervades every finance function, accounting practice or
business regardless of size or sector? Technology.
‘IT is the electricity of business. It is all pervading,’ says John Oates,
Baker Tilly partner and newly appointed chair of the ICAEW’s IT Faculty. ‘How
many businesses don’t use IT in percentage terms? It is probably less than 2%.’
The consequence of this means the faculty has a huge potential audience and
is even viewed by many other institutes’ members as the place to go for help on
Also joining Oates as a newcomer at the top of the faculty is its head
Richard Anning, former product and marketing manager at business software
provider COA Solutions.
They have the onerous task of making technology relevant across all aspects
of accountancy. Although the faculty mirrors technological change by moving with
the times, the duo have decided the best way forward is to go back to basics.
It will investigate who their audience is and work backwards from there
which Oates believes is pivotal to the faculty’s future.
‘I want to go back to basics first,’ he says. ‘It is not just our 3,000
members we’re thinking about, it’s the 127,000 (at the ICAEW) as well. Why the
business community at large think we are here. Why the institute management
think we are here. Lets’ work that out, and then where we want to go.
‘It’s going to be very interesting to see what we come up with and we could
take the faculty to a different place, and I think an even better place,’ a
process Oates expects to take six months.
‘For us it’s about making sure the information is accessible,’ says Anning.
Trying to educate and advise such a wide ranging audience can be a tricky task.
But they are not shying away from the challenge and both have their sights set
on making the faculty a resource tool for the entire ICAEW membership base.
‘Our message is completely relevant to them,’ says Anning.
‘So we have to make sure we deliver to our key members by spreading the word
and making it very accessible so the work we are producing is easily consumed’
‘From a small practitioner who doesn’t know a lot about IT perhaps, right the
way through to people in the Big Four and FTSE 100 who may know a lot’ he adds.
The faculty does not only have ICAEW members in mind. They are hoping to
become the resource tool for the profession as a whole, with particular focus on
including business accountants an under-served group.
Business accountancy can be a lonely place when it comes to technology, says
Oates, with FDs often given responsibility for things outside of their
specialism which usually includes IT.
‘The sales guy knows what he does. The operations guy knows what he does. And
guess what the chartered accountant gets? He gets all the jobs nobody wants’
‘So the chartered accountant does all sorts of things and it’s a lonely
place. Because, if he doesn’t understand what the IT manager is telling him, who
does he talk to? Does he talk to the rest of the board when he is supposed to be
in charge? I don’t think so. He talks to other people who have similar
‘That is what we are here for.’
Anning and Oates are, of course, no strangers to business IT.
Oates, a trained auditor, joined Kidsons in 1986. It merged with Baker Tilly
in 2002 and he has worked in the technology field at both firms. Prior to that
he worked as a computer audit manager for Harwood Burner.
Anning, who is in a paid position with no fixed term as head of the faculty,
came from a financial IT background albeit as a qualified chartered
He has worked in the financial software industry for more than 20 years.
Qualifying with Thomson McLintock, he was latterly audit senior before moving
onto business IT big players such as McCormack & Dodge described by Anning
as the then equivalent of SAP and Oracle before serving with Coda, Agresso and
most recently COA.
Oates is currently treating the chairmanship as a two-year, one-term stint.
Although allowed to sit for two terms, he was recently forced to re-evaluate his
priorities after a sudden death in the family.
‘I love my job but there are other things that I want to do as well,’ he
With their experience of IT from both the user and provider perspective, they
hope to encourage accountants to benefit from IT in the long term.
As well as entering into this issue in Europe, they will champion the topic
of better business IT with the British regulators if need be.
‘We have a responsibility to work in the public interest’ says Anning.
‘[We will engage in] the thought leadership side of working on legislation,
lobbying governments, lobbying Europe, lobbying whoever it may be.
‘We will lobby to make sure that people are doing things right and not
leaving CDs on trains with half a million people’s details on them, as well as
trying to push forward IT within accounting.
‘Some of the work we [will] do is almost philosophical with trying to push
accounting forward. So rather than thinking what it means now or in a years’
time, we are thinking where IT might go in ten years or 50 years time.’
One big focus for the faculty is ‘green IT’, a catch-all term for
environmental management systems, measuring and reducing your carbon footprint,
plus counting the physical cost of producing emissions as part of the Carbon
Reduction Commitment (see box).
While the faculty will advise heavily in these areas in the very near future,
it has hit its own wall when it comes to encouraging members to take its
Member surveys reveal ‘physical mailing’ of info continues to be the most
‘We are covering sustainability but how do we balance that when we are still
sending out paper?’ says Oates.
As with the faculty’s environmental stance, Anning believes that demystifying
technology is also a hard task but one the faculty is keen to confront, with the
firm holding a conference towards the end of the year on sustainable IT.
‘A lot of what we are about is giving accountants confidence in IT and giving
them the ability to discuss with each other where technology is going. What is
happening with green IT etc.’
‘A large part of what we are about is demystifying IT for our members – from
small up to the Big Four – and large companies’ he adds. ‘We are not a resource
for ‘techies’, we are a resource for accountants.’
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