Recently I had the pleasure of being in a meeting with many thought leaders in the accounting industry. The ultimate question was about the adoption of AI (Artificial Intelligence)/ RPA (Robotic Process Automation) in accounting firms. Why does it work or not work? There were other questions but that one is rather key to quite a bit of the angst in this industry. In the era of employees being remote, job-hopping, and blurred geographic lines, AI/ RPA is and will be the committed future of this industry.

Accountants are smart people. This is not a no-brainer job. I am always impressed by my client’s knowledge of money, cash, tax rules, and the strategy on all those items. However, sometimes that does not easily transfer to the emotional aspect of the work they perform. Maybe using terms like AI and RPA (which are cold and sterile) is the wrong way to approach this?

Around twenty-five years ago I linked a bank feed to my desktop GL that was hosted on a server, 2000 miles away from my kitchen table on a mountain. It was nothing but spectacular. A game-changer, stunning and exciting. I was over the moon with excitement. Today it is SOP. But with that little item, that we all so are used to, something else had changed with it.

When I ran that feed, I soon learned that the process we used to use to close our books had to change. Our bookkeeper was going to need to understand the data a bit differently. She, and yes, she was she, had to first accept. Then, learn new terminology, learn to review rather than type, and had to understand what to do to deal with: the slight robotic feature and the constant human intervention. Learn how to keep the process active, to know what would cause the process to break and where to go to fix it. Opening the mail and typing information the last two days of the month, was no longer an option.

The process of how we did things and the learning/teaching of it had to change. This one little process required us to look at the whole of the old process and redo it completely. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not considered a good idea, literally and figuratively. But it is a good idea in this realm.

I have said this many times your AI/RPA is part of the team you have to perform your work. You are not in a monologue or even a dialogue. You are not linear anymore. Your steps, your view, your understanding, your touch, all change. Have you looked at the process as a whole? Broken down the systems you are in now and throw them out? The process and system have changed by adding this one little thing. And now there are so many little things. Changes have occurred in the relationship between people, the key activities, the resources, the value proposition, the cost, and the revenue. One little feature was a ripple that changed our whole view, understanding, process, and system.

So, when you take on this change know it starts first with acknowledging that change is necessary and change takes courage and most importantly, leadership.