It’s hard to ignore Big Data today – it’s the relentless trend of the world of business and organizations. All business areas are affected by it or will eventually be in the short to medium term. The accounting profession will not escape this profound disruption, while accountants and auditors will have to consider new ways of seeing and acting. How will big data change the game for accountants and auditors? What should members of the profession expect in the future? Samuel Sponem, Associate Professor in the department of accounting sciences at HEC Montreal and international research CPA Chair in financial control, has his own ideas on it. We met him.
JobWings: As an attentive observer of developments in the profession, how do you see the use of big data by accountants and auditors?
Samuel Sponem: Big data will affect both accountants in audit firms as well as those working within companies. For the former, we see that the way of analyzing, understanding and verifying the accounts is going to change. For 30 years we have been operating in a paradigm where auditors only use a part of the accounts to validate them. With big data, all the data could be used to identify inconsistencies. We’re not there yet, but its coming. And for accountants that work in a company, the skills currently required, to know how to produce valid and compliant accounts, and to analyze them, will certainly remain. However, with respect to their decision support function and their role in organizational performance measurement, these accountants may experience some competition from data analysts who possess statistical skills and are able to find recurrences in the organization’s accounting data.
JobWings: Alongside the concept of big data there is also the concept of artificial intelligence. Are there things to be expected on this side?
Samuel Sponem: It must be said that the profession has already seen a high level of automation of its processes. Artificial intelligence, in conjunction with the work of data analysts, may eventually find what a company has to do to make money, in other words to better understand its economic model. Today, we try to understand what drives the success of the business or organization through cost drivers or performance indicators. In the future we could perhaps, scientifically and using powerful algorithms, find what makes the success, or not, of a business model.
JobWings: In this case, what added value will an accountant or auditor bring to the organization in a decade or two?
Samuel Sponem: It’s a good question, and the CPA order is also asking it. Nobody really has the answer today. However, there are things that accountants know how to do. Ensuring the reliability of accounts is still there! Knowing the nature of the business the company carries out, in other words, translating activity into performance indicators, also remains. I’m not sure that everyone in IT knows how to do that.
JobWings: Is a change to course syllabuses or training curricula to be expected?
Samuel Sponem: In terms of training, many things are already asked of accountants. But it could be conceivable that they will learn some basics of programming, data analysis and statistical processing. There will certainly be new specializations appear, and which will complement what accountants are already doing.