22-Mar-2021 By - team

How will AI soon help accountants work more efficiently? We discuss what’s on the near horizon and how your practice can take advantage of AI.

As we see, artificial intelligence (AI) start to revolutionise the world around us, it’s natural to ask: how will AI impact accountants?

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What AI is being used for is image recognition, object identification, detection, classification, and automated geophysical feature detection – tasks once required by a human.

For accountants, AI will very soon help automate many routine and repetitive activities, but it will also:

  • Empower quick decisioning
  • Create smart insights
  • Allow us to examine huge quantities of data with ease.

Here are five examples of how AI will likely prove useful in accountancy over the coming years.

Free research report: The Practice of Now 2020           

We surveyed 3,000 accountants from Australia and worldwide to reveal how the accounting landscape is changing. Discover how your fellow accountants are preparing for the next decade and learn what you can do now to keep your practice successful.

1. Predictive and forecasting solutions

Helping clients forecast their business finances is an extremely valuable service offered by accountants. With AI integrated into the solution, accountants will provide comprehensive and accurate insight for customers without the usual ‘manual heavy lifting’ and number crunching. On a day to day basis, being able to quickly and easily access up-to-date and accurate reports and forecasts can help an accountant form a closer and more useful client relationship.

This revolution will be empowered by one of the cornerstones of AI today: machine learning, which is the ability of software to program itself based on the data it encounters essentially. The software can learn from what you do with data and make its own suggestions for humans, if not act entirely autonomously.

Machine learning is everywhere. It makes smartphones possible by enhancing predictive text, making speech recognition possible, creating route suggestions when navigating, or suggesting a place you might want to visit at your destination.

In organisations worldwide, 77% of businesses already say they’re completely or very reliant on machine learning technologies (source: Cisco Systems 2018).

What machine learning needs—and what makes it so useful—is access to data. Lots of data. That’s why machine learning is coming to the fore because technology like the cloud means all the data can be collated and accessible, rather than hived off within discrete systems. Cloud computing also means we’re able to generate more useful data.

2. Smart assistants

There are probably accountants reading this blog who, during crunch time when seemingly every client is sending through their accounts, thought to simply turn off the phone or email so they can get some work done. Well, smart assistants might just take you closer to that goal. They can form the first line of customer contact and provide customers with the information they need, such as details about their current tax liability.

Lots of us know about smart assistants because we interact with Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Sage has its own smart assistant called Pegg that can be used for client accounting. People can ask how much money is in their payments account, and Pegg will tell them. They don’t need to understand accounting terminology, or even what a ledger is.

Smart assistants come in two forms: natural language bots and scripted bots. Scripted bots have been around for a long time—they’re easier to build and mostly used for mobile engagement strategies, so you might encounter them on a website. They simply recognise key phrases and aim to provide a ready-made response. Sometimes these are called chatbots.

Smart assistants are an order of magnitude more sophisticated, and often involve speech recognition and accurate human voice synthesis, so they can respond to natural language queries. Smart assistants also learn the more you use them.

Both smart assistants and scripted bots have their uses, and one shouldn’t be considered better than the other from a business perspective.

3. Automatic tagging and allocation of transactions

The next two areas where AI will help accountants are also enabled by machine learning.

Machine learning will save time for accountants by correctly tagging transactions and assigning to the right ledger account. Put simply, it learns from previous tagging decisions typically made according to rules the accountant is aware of. Some of these rules are intuitive, but some can be surprisingly complex—at least from a computer’s point of view. Over the coming years, technology’s ability to discover these rules and predictively plan will help remove a significant component of the accountant’s daily drudgery and workload.

4. Anomaly detection

Computers love data, of course, and when machine learning is applied to massive amounts of data—such as the yearly ledgers of a large company—there are clear benefits. Accountants will be able to discover anomalies much quicker, with significantly reduced effort compared to previous methods.

For example, suppose an audit is required. In that case, it will be possible to audit all the data rather than merely a sample, yet without the huge resources typically required for what’s traditionally considered a “full” audit.

5. OCR solutions

Optical character recognition (OCR) is not new, but AI enhances its accuracy significantly—and opens it to new uses. While it’s previously been possible to extract information automatically from documents, this required a human to point out to the OCR software where the data was located—something that also meant the document layout couldn’t alter without further instruction.

Computers have always known what numbers are, of course. That’s what defines a computer. A printed receipt for purchase is full of numbers, but they’re certainly not all equal. Some are of particular importance to you as an accountant: the date, the total amount, and perhaps the credit card number. A human can instantly identify these numbers without even thinking, but they were indistinguishable for a computer until now. The digits 1-5-1-2 might be the last four digits of the card number, a date, or the amount of an item on the receipt.

With the application of AI to OCR, the OCR software can recognise printed documents like receipts or invoices, on which it also recognises and extracts salient data. Data can then be allocated and/or processed by the software rather than a human, even if it hasn’t seen a similar document before or the scanned document isn’t high quality. This reduces the human effort and time needed to assign information.

So what’s next?

How will we get all these wonderful AI-enabled benefits? The terrific news is you probably won’t have to do very much! In the old days, we might’ve expected to buy add-on software to gain revolutionary new functionality. Now, the kinds of tools discussed above will more than likely simply start to appear in the software you already use over the coming years.

Some of it, such as bank account reconciliation, might already feature in your firm’s accounting and client management software—and you might not even be aware. All you might’ve noticed is things got a little bit easier when the software appeared to get that little bit smarter. This is the shape the revolution will take—many small increments, rather than an overnight change.

There’s always a “but” in stories like this, and here it boils down to this: AI is part of a wider revolution in technology that’s enabled by the cloud. Cloud computing is the only way to collate and make freely available massive data machine learning needs, as just one example.

We mentioned above how machine learning might become the best auditor in the world and spot errors humans struggle to see. However, it can only do this if all the data is accessible. If the data it requires is spread over 100 spreadsheets or, even worse, printed documents, then it simply isn’t possible.

In other words, AI builds on technologies like cloud technology. The message is simple: if you want AI, ensure you’re taking advantage of the latest technologies. This doesn’t mean sitting on the bleeding edge of technology, but simply being aware of what’s a good common-sense practice as far as technology goes, and ensuring it’s adopted in your practice.

How will AI enhance recruitment?

The recruitment and people industry are abuzz about AI. Here’s how it will help automate recruitment, as illustrated through 4 apps you need to hear about.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest topics in the HR and People industry. That’s why we asked more than 500 HR professionals and thought leaders from across the globe how they think AI will transform the industry.

We believe progressive People and HR departments will increasingly use chatbots to craft positive and individually-customised employee experiences.

In 2021 we think AI-enabled chatbots will be mainstream and function as virtual employee assistants prompting employees to take vacations, track appointments, skill development, and feedback.

Other experts echo this sentiment. They believe AI can help HR and People teams significantly reduce admin tasks and generate data-driven insights to personalise employee experiences and enhance retention programs.

Free research report: The changing face of HR                   

Seismic shifts in the way organisations operate, work, and manage their people are occurring. We surveyed 500+ HR leaders to discover how they are responding.

Uncover insights on how to stay ahead and transform HR from a process focused function to a people-driven business.

The pitfall of AI, and how to sidestep it

One area organisations are increasingly using AI is to eliminate bias and promote diversity. The benefits of diversity are long-established, and the issue of unconscious bias is considered one of the more challenging to overcome since the recruiter is not even aware of their bias!

However, the pitfall of AI lies in the way it works – simplistically. AI starts with a set of instructions and iterates those based on successive interactions. For instance, CAPTCHA forms used to identify humans Vs computers aren’t initially programmed to know which images contain signs or storefronts. Rather, the AI driving CAPTCHA learns from thousands of inputs to identify which are human or computer-generated. So, if many people clicked on a decorative balcony awning thinking it was a storefront, CAPTCHA would eventually consider that image to have a storefront in it.

AI in recruitment is subject to the same potential concern. If an AI tool iterates based on biased human interactions, unconscious or otherwise, it will eventually reflect these biases. Therefore, some experts propose removing human involvement in the early part of recruitment as the only way to address this unfortunately ingrained trait.

Despite these concerns, AI has shown good results in reducing recruitment bias. It can be programmed to disregard any information which could trigger bias. In Australia, this would typically be age, gender, place of qualification, and home address. In the US, it would include ethnicity, which organisations often record.

Two apps designed to avoid unconscious bias are Textio and HireVue.

Automate the bias away with Textio and HireVue

Textio is an augmented writing app designed to identify unintended text patterns and predict responses. For example, Australian powerhouse tech company Atlassian use Textio to phrase job ads, so they appeal to female applicants, removing masculine-oriented words and intent unconsciously.

The tech industry is famously male-dominated. While a 2018 survey found Australia has the second strongest female tech representation in the world, women still only make up 28% of the industry’s workforce.

Atlassian’s efforts to equalise gender representation has borne fruit. After two years, the company increased its female technical graduate applicants from 10% to 57%. After three years, they had an 80% increase in female technical hires and tripled representation of black and Hispanic engineers.

HireVue seeks to automate the bias out of recruiting in a different way. The AI-driven app offers modern gamified suitability and psychometric testing, plus video interviewing, to provide companies with deeper insight into a candidate’s suitability.

Global CPG giant Unilever implemented a new end-to-end graduate recruitment solution incorporating HireVue to eliminate unconscious bias from early screening. Unilever’s experience also clearly demonstrates how an AI solution can help improve the candidate experience and make the hiring process more efficient.

Formerly taking four to six months, Unilever’s graduate recruitment process now only takes two weeks, leaving candidates significantly more satisfied than the previous ‘human-operated’ system.

The case study highlights Unilever’s ambition to update its extremely old and clunky graduate recruitment program with a modern solution that felt warm, human and non-robotic. Gee Kee said the HireVue platform is “better and more efficient at selecting candidates than an in-person interview.” At each stage of the recruitment process, candidates now receive an A4-page of feedback to assist them in future recruitment processes.

Will AI take the ‘human’ out of HR?

Our research indicates an appreciable minority of HR professionals display some suspicion toward chatbots. Many feel they will create a cold, mechanical and dehumanised recruitment experience.

An app that goes some way to dispel this perception is Mya – a chatbot that uses machine learning, natural language, and API-connected technologies to communicate directly with candidates. It can do so via text and email, updating registered employment details, scheduling appointments, and more.

Mya’s capabilities go beyond those of most chatbots, with the ability to mimic (to some extent) candidates’ speech patterns when scheduling appointments. Natural or human re interactions with Mya that three-quarters of candidates interviewed by the app didn’t realise she was a bot. It boasts a 93% completion rate of screens – well above that of traditional online forms. And Mya can help recruiters decrease time-to-hire by 79%.

The app also boasts significant efficiency benefits, helping recruiters save up to an estimated 75 of their time by automating their communication workload. Mya can help source and screen candidates, answer questions and schedule appointments. When unable to answer questions, the app escalates to the (human) recruiter.

You can’t get a job from computer games, and other lies your parents told: Knack.

Another app that aims to humanise the recruitment experience is Knack, which uses games to reveal candidates’ aptitude. The app combines the fun and stickiness of games with science-based testing and algorithms, providing recruiters with actionable insights to attract, engage, and recruit the best people from a wider pool of candidates.

Will AI replace HR and People roles?

A common fear within the general workforce is that AI will make many traditional roles redundant. While popularly known as ‘artificial intelligence’, what we’re seeing in HR is more ‘augmented intelligence’.

We’re seeing this exciting new technology used to support, rather than supplant HR professionals. It helps them be more efficient and effective, so they can spend more time in substantive discussion with clients and potential employees.


Free research reDocusign Bbsbf5uv50a Unsplashport: The changing face of HR           

Seismic shifts in the way organisations operate, work, and manage their people are occurring. We surveyed 500+ HR leaders to discover how they are responding.

Uncover insights on how to stay ahead and transform HR from a process focused function to a people-driven business.

Robots and AI: How will they affect accounting?

According to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, the rise of robots and AI will see 40 per cent of Australian jobs disappear by 2025.

Many companies, particularly large businesses, are already using robots to perform repetitive tasks, such as collecting groceries in warehouses or assembly line building equipment and other machines. In contrast, industries such as marketing have seen automation revolutionise the status quo.

As more industries look over their shoulder to find robots and automation looming, should traditional pillars of the economy like finance and accounting be worried about severe job losses?

Will robots take over accountancy?

We believe that private-sector workers, including accountants, have only ‘scratched the surface’ of what they can achieve using technology predicts AI will disrupt more jobs in the near future.

Many jobs that accountants will be doing in the next 20 years or so won’t have even been invented yet.If you look at accountancy 20 years ago, the vast amount of work involved paper records. With automated bank feeds and many processes going online, that’s pretty much become a thing of the past.

If you look at where our profession is now, it’s miles away from where it was two or three years ago. I think that the bookkeeping industry has already been hit very hard by things like the automation of account transactions – so already the technology is making a big impact.

Despite robots and computers already disrupting some accounting professionals, we believe they will positively affect the industry in the long-term.

We’ve trained to be advisers, and our real work is helping a business grow. I’ve certainly seen first-hand that automation is already allowing us to spend more time with clients.

Free research report: The Practice of Now 2020

We surveyed 3,000 accountants from Australia and worldwide to reveal how the accounting landscape is changing. Discover how your fellow accountants are preparing for the next decade and learn what you can do now to keep your practice successful.

The time for robots has arrived.

For sure with bots, robots and AI – the time for them has arrived, it is no longer just a hype cycle that we’ve been discussing for years.

AI is nothing new, the technology has been around for decades, but now what’s changing is the consumer adoption in our daily lives – we’re not apprehensive about having our days scheduled by something which isn’t human, we’re not scared of having robots complete tasks for our business, such as managing expenses..

We also believe the fear around robots taking jobs will not persist, arguing that the history books show we’ve already had to deal with similar types of adversity.

This fear is nothing different to when personal computers first came about, and we were worried about losing our jobs to them – there was a lot of scaremongering at the time about that happening. But what happened was that it made our lives easier – we can’t imagine our lives now without personal computing, so this fear is always the case when new technology appears.

With every new wave of technology disruption, comes new opportunities. There will be a re-jig, we will have to upskill ourselves to live, and work with AI. Who knows, maybe the next hire I make may not be an actual person.

Why accountants should upskill

For accountants, the need to upskill is inevitable, they can play a future role in providing data security.

We think that repurposing will happen. If you look at other professions, such as marketing, journalism etc., they’ve had to redefine how they work because of technology, so this will eventually affect the accountancy profession. It’s a fact of life.

Online security is already so important and moving forward, we have to make sure our data is locked in and secure, so accountants and finance professionals could play a big role in that.

It’s widely accepted that robots and AI are already disrupting the way we work. The question now is how long will it take before it redefines how accountants go about their daily business.

Free research report: The Practice of Now 2020

We surveyed 3,000 accountants from Australia and worldwide to reveal how the accounting landscape is changing. Discover how your fellow accountants are preparing for the next decade and learn what you can do now to keep your practice success.

How will AI enhance manufacturing?

As manufacturers seek to differentiate by keeping the pace with the unfolding Industry 4.0, they’re deploying numerous factory automation and software solutions.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications are helping streamline procurement and inventory management workflows in manufacturing, while computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) systems are powering product research, design, and development. Likewise, manufacturers are using product data management systems to enhance productivity, access information quickly, and drive value chain orchestration.

But a superior competitive advantage comes from incorporating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into manufacturing applications and processes, helping stimulate long-term growth and success.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

AI is the ability of machines to simulate human intelligence. Powered by this technology, computer systems utilise human-like processes, such as learning and logical thinking, to deliver results like predictive analytics. AI resources like neural networks and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms can build systems with natural language processing and image analytics capabilities.

21st Century Manufacturing Automation: Why is Australia Lagging?

Research reveals most Australian manufacturers have not adopted the advanced techniques necessary for success and growth in the 21st century. For example, only 4 per cent are engaging industry stakeholders in research and development. Unlike their American or Japanese counterparts, most of these companies are slow in exploiting rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing, micro-production, and other technologies that can help boost speed to market, address economies of scale challenges, and improve product quality.

Additionally, only 36 percent of Australian manufacturers are optimally employing science, technology, engineering, and maths expertise. About 82 per cent are not expanding their IT budgets, 71 per cent are not seeking to introduce advanced workflows, and 85 percent don’t have an ongoing product development plan.

However, manufacturers in Australia may tip the scales in their favour by utilising skilled workers in industries like medical devices and aerospace. These experts are cheaper to hire in Australia than in the U.S.

Opportunities for Leveraging AI in Manufacturing

Some manufacturers are already using AI to automate human-centric processes, decisions, or efforts. Here are some examples:

In the future, you will need upgrades, integration to third-party apps/software or assistance to ensure optimal performance of the software. Paying support charges to receive these services from your vendor is more cost-efficient and seamless than seeking a third party’s services.

Automatic Fault Detection

AI-powered computer systems use strategically-deployed sensors to capture and process small images of equipment flaws. Such defects are microscopic to spot and diagnose with the naked eye, so computer vision saves the day quickly in real-time. The technology relies on ML algorithms to study and distinguish between various system complications.

Generative Design

For each product or component you’re manufacturing, there are many design options. But how do you quickly come up with the best model within your production constraints, such as materials, costs, and manufacturing techniques? The answer is a generative design! Just feed your design objectives and all relevant parameters into a generative design application. The system generates all possible design iterations, and it uses ML to explore and learn from each model, identifying the best fit based on design goals.

Predictive Maintenance

Integrating AI with IoT sensors is enabling manufacturers to predict equipment glitches automatically and pre-empt costly downtimes. By tracking vibration, sound, or torque, the system can accurately assess machines’ health or status. It takes the guesswork out of plant maintenance plans.

How AI Can Give Manufacturers a Competitive Advantage

Incorporating AI into factory automation or enterprise software can deliver a competitive edge in several ways, including:

Reduction of Downtime

You can’t compete effectively if your assembly lines or factory systems are breaking down now and then. Research reveals downtime may be costing carmakers up to $1.3 million per hour1. Manufacturers can avoid such losses with AI-driven predictive maintenance.

Demand-Driven Planning

Manufacturers using AI in Enterprise Resource Planning have a competitive edge in the ability to predict demand and scale productions accordingly.

Optimising Product Design

Generative product modelling systems can help manufacturers differentiate by lowering production costs without sacrificing quality or function.

AI-driven, smart manufacturing is the way to go for Industry 4.0! The possibilities to enhance manufacturing processes come in many shapes and forms for organizations willing to adopt new technologies. For many manufacturers, AI is seen as the central component of progressive change within their business.



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