While promise of big data and big data analytics are yet to be fully discovered, there remains much excitement about the possibilities that advances in technology will bring. Organizations from all different types of sectors are considering how advances with data analytics—as well as emerging technologies (e.g. blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics process automation)—may create efficiencies and also new value propositions for business.
Big opportunities as well as big challenges lie ahead for big data analytics. Corporate America struggles with the big data conundrum and this is an even more daunting challenge for individuals to embrace. As accountants, how can we use the tools available to marshal through the voluminous amounts of data in order to be relevant—both today as well as in the future? In other words: How can we go about building a digital mindset when the technology is changing so rapidly? The key to building a digital mindset is to learn to embrace change and to become a continuous learner.
How can we go about building a digital mindset when the technology is changing so rapidly?
The Future of Work: Technology, Communication & Critical Thinking Skills
The workplace is changing, and the future of work requires different skill sets to be successful. The global pandemic has likely expedited that change indefinitely. So, the elusive question remains: How do we develop skills that are transferrable to meet the changing demands in the marketplace? McKinsey, a global research juggernaut, suggests the future of work will mean that “workers will spend more time on activities that machines are less capable of, such as managing people, applying expertise, and communicating” . This creates a premium on cognitive abilities and skills such as mindfulness and emotional intelligence—areas where machines will never excel, and humans can flourish.
Within the accounting profession, it has been suggested that new technologies and the big data explosion have redefined the skills more highly valued in the audit of the future to include technology, critical thinking and communication skills . Despite the fact that the half-life of skills we learn today is five years —in other words, what we learn today will be obsolete in five years—developing technology, communication and critical thinking skills will help prepare us for the ubiquitous future of work.
As accountants we must embrace that it’s not just debits and credits anymore, but debits, credits and data.
Developing technology skills doesn’t require expertise in all areas, but any good mechanic would have some fundamental understanding of “what’s happening under the hood” of a car. Likewise, as accountants we must embrace that it’s not just debits and credits anymore, but debits, credits and data
. The software will undoubtedly change so there is great power in understanding “what’s under the hood,” or more candidly, what the purpose of the various software used in the business is and how they interface. Having a fundamental understanding of this a highly valued skill to possess.
Critical thinking skills will remain a premium for the foreseeable future. As we are inundated with data and tools to process that data, don’t lose focus of the specific problem you are trying to solve and the data relevant for that task. EY argues that an analytics mindset is the ability to ask the right questions; extract, transform and load relevant data; apply appropriate data analytic techniques; and interpret and share the results with stakeholders . Critical thinking helps determine the right questions to explore. Thoughtful consideration of the question you are trying to answer will help you evaluate what data is relevant and what data is not relevant. Considering what data is relevant will help you align the correct tools and tasks to perform the analysis.
Finally, you’ll need to ask how those results would be best communicated. Accounting may be dubbed as “the language of business” but effective communication requires much more than statements and figures. More than half of the 2,220 CFOs surveyed by Robert Half suggest that technical skills and soft skills are equally important. Trade publications routinely highlight the importance of communication skills. Effective communicators are mindful of the needs of their audience. The audience is generally not there to hear what they can do for the presenter—they want to know what the presenter can do for them. This is important because the data alone doesn’t tell the story—you do. Using data visualization tools, financial and non-financial data can show a compelling story that visually emphasizes the key trends.
Technological advances necessitate continuous learning and relearning, which is thwarted by the changing role of the accounting profession. By developing technology, critical thinking and communication skills, you can start to embrace a digital mindset. Becoming an agile-minded thinker will help your individual skill set, but how does that translate in the workplace?
Culture Tops Strategy
Peter Drucker, a pioneer and thought leader in business, once said that culture eats strategy for breakfast as an analogy to stress the importance of workplace culture.
So how do you promote a digital culture in the workplace? Building a digital culture must be personified through your actions. Most importantly, you need to be a proactive learner. Seek a mentor, be curious, ask questions and take the initiative to learn. The onus needs to be on you, as you need to make continuous learning a priority for your future growth. Technology is always changing, and you need to be a lifelong learner to be successful in your career. Continuous learning may take different forms through the combination of formal education, self-guided online learning  and on-the-job training. The possibilities to develop your skillset are endless.
How does a digital culture resonate with you, and what does it mean at your workplace? If the definition of corporate culture is hanging on the office wall, then you probably missed it. Both at the organizational level as well as at the individual level, building a digital culture requires an agile mindset. Learning-based cultures are built on continuous learning, which is a process to absorb new ideas and capabilities from the market.
The Technology Fallacy
suggests there is a mistaken belief that digital problems require more digital solutions . They don’t! Open innovation and collaboration are essential components because building a digital culture requires embracing some non-digital solutions. “You can’t have culture with only digital solutions” . Consider what things you can do in your own workplace environment to promote a digital culture. Perhaps in addition to building your own individual mindset, you can help contribute to a workplace culture and embrace a digital culture that will spark change as an employee, with subordinates, or among other stakeholders.
For a deeper dive into how to develop your own digital mindset, register for Dr. Campbell’s September 23 free In the Know free webinar Developing a Digital Mindset Live Replay.
To learn more about robotics process automation, register for Dr. Campbell’s free In the Know webinar Robotics Process Automation: There’s a BOT for That? on October 21 or November 11.
Dr. Campbell is also presenting the closing general session at the INCPAS Cybersecurity Conference on October 29: Digital Security Post-COVID–What Keeps You Up at Night?
 According to an article in the Economist, the US operates at about 18% of our digital capability 
- Manyika, J., Lund, S., Chui, M. Bughin, J., Woetzel, J., Batra, P., Ko, Ryan, and Sanghvi, S. 2017, McKinsey Global Institute. Jobs lost, jobs gained: the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages.
- Forbes, Audit 2025: The future is now., in Forbes Insights. 2017, Forbes Insights: Jersey City, NJ.
- Pelster, B., J. Stempel, and B. Van der Vyver, Careers and learning: Real time , all the time. 2017, Deliotte University Press.
- Manyika, J., G. Pinkus, and S. Ramaswamy, The Most Digital Companies Are Leaving All the Rest Behind. Harvard Business Review, 2016.
- The Analytics Mindset, Ernst & Young Foundation: E&Y Academic Resource Center (EYARC) 2017.
- Kane, G., The technology fallacy: people are the real key to digital transformation. Research-Technology Management, 2019. 62(6): p. 44-49.