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PrimeGlobal: Leading the way in technology and innovation

PrimeGlobal CEO Steve Heathcote discusses with IAB the lessons learned from digital investments made by member firms, and the growing opportunities firms are finding in the technology space. He describes the benefits and the pain points, which extend beyond uncertainty around automation’s impact and ways to adapt, with both large and small firms from various regions

“Technology adoption has accelerated throughout the crisis; it is now essential for the profession to go digital and for firms to help their clients make the leap so they are resilient, agile, efficient and can find new ways to grow. We have to be ready to learn from others to rapidly digitally transform,” states PrimeGlobal CEO Steve Heathcote.

Ulrich Britting, founder of PrimeGlobal German member firm ba tax gmbh works with clients in the tech industry, including SaaS and e-commerce companies.

The firm is particularly focused on entrepreneurial digital businesses younger than 10 years old, as well as SMEs that are starting to grow and scale up. Britting’s firm moved to the cloud early, and led the way in a predominantly traditional market. Its services focus on helping clients move to a digital environment, offering consultancy support and identifying and connecting new tools and systems to digitise the accounting process.

Britting’s advice to all accounting firms is to start embracing technology as soon as possible, in order to understand and see the full benefits from using different tools.

The firm has adopted a bold ‘test and learn’ approach, and Britting says: “It is OK to make a mistake, as that is the only way to learn and bring your people on the journey with you”.

ba tax focuses on employing people who love innovation and has an ‘innovation budget’ for staff to apply for funds to develop new tech tools. Britting predicts the next big step will be optical character recognition (OCR), deep learning and analysis completed without structured data. During the Covid crisis this firm feels they are one step ahead in the move to digital and they plan to use this time to tidy up existing data as data integrity is critical for any successful digital activity and tech development. It will support the move to more effective data analytics which will be critical to provide the advisory services businesses will look for in a post-Covid world.

Analytics

Scott Sanders, CIO at PrimeGlobal US firm Sikich leads a tech team of 20 people, for a large firm that operates across 35 US states. Sanders’ team deals directly with ERP platforms and implementations. Over the next five years, the firm plans to further develop a strong base in data analytics and RPA to expand offerings to clients.

Discussing the need to make partners and practice staff excited about RPA, Sanders says the key to managing job-loss fear is to highlight that RPA will not replace jobs, but can be used to augment and elevate roles and processes.

“By explaining to people that tech can help with mundane and routine tasks, you will get them excited about it and they will want to learn more,” comments Sanders.

The firm has also been using data analytics for some time, and found it very useful in the context of outsourced accounting, audit and other such processes. The firm is using a ‘dashboard view’ across different platforms – some are internally built but also linking into existing platforms such as Salesforce, netsweep, MS ERP products, Power BI and Tableau.

RPA will expand rapidly as the business case is proven. Packages are becoming more readily available – so it is essential for firms to make this move.

In terms of people, Sanders shares that many of the positions in his team did not exist two years ago – for example the role of RPA manager. He understands that it is important to stop using tech from 10-plus years ago, and invest in young talent and graduates with knowledge of new tech.

In the future, Sanders feels the firm will continue to grow from both a revenue and headcount standpoint. There will not be more need for clerical or administrative back-office jobs, but business advisors and tax specialists will always be needed and will continue to have broader impact that cuts across the economy.

Ultimately this means that tech will not replace people, but will help to develop roles and make these coexist successfully with tech.

Solutions

Karan Gupta, partner at top 20 Indian firm SP Chopra & Co, manages a technology-led team to provide high-impact solutions to global clients.

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, Gupta helped clients understand that unification of governance, risk and compliance with the emerging technologies in analytics, AI and Blockchain are prerequisites for modern businesses.

Gupta says that adoption and realignment are not just buzzwords of today, but tools that provide significant measurable benefits to organisations. In a post-Covid world, he expects that clients will be seeking help with disaster-recovery, business-continuity and resilience planning through business processes redesign and through technological solutions.

Gupta says that with the world moving towards a “new normal”, clients are more open to technology and data analytics, and are ready to experiment with emerging technologies. Now is the time, therefore, to train teams in tech and start talking to clients about emerging services and their role in better control and real-time monitoring.

The firm is also assisting clients in the adoption of remote working tools and sensitisation of staff towards phishing, malware and hackware protections, alongside cybersecurity for the organisation as a whole.

The firm is using a variety of tech software, and has seen great benefits in using Tableau in conjunction with Caseware applications and Excel, to provide data analytics and real-time updates to internal audit and consulting clients. This has also had a far-reaching impact on the firm’s due diligence and forensic practice in terms of analysing and presenting voluminous data. SPC has worked alongside a number of PrimeGlobal firms to help clients across geographies, including large PrimeGlobal US-based firms.

By using the new tech tools, Gupta feels the firm saved hundreds of man hours, had easier turnaround time for preparation of reports without errors, and clients and partners are happier to see more intelligent and navigable deliverables. He adds that the forecasting function helps to broadly see the direction in which the business is heading, so adequate steps can be taken to modify the direction, if required, and provide business consulting services in the long run.

In the future, SPC plans to work on server integration for live and real-time data analysis instead of historic audits, with the help of various API integrations that would help decision making at board level.

Patrick Armknecht, technology advisor at PrimeGlobal US firm Schneider Downs, works with clients to help identify technology solutions that can enhance their businesses. This firm has extensive experience with the use of RPA, starting with bank reconciliations, deposits and cheque postings, and then expanding the offering to support clients.

It is now using RPA beyond finance – for background checks as part of recruitment, staff onboarding and so on – as it finds that RPA creates value quicker than other tools such as AI.

The firm is using the RPA as a line of business and in the audit procedures, completing 100% review of transactions. Armknecht says, “Anything that can be automated benefits from a bot. Bots are great to reduce the risk of business interruption. They don’t need a vacation. They can’t get a virus. Following this pandemic, it is likely that there will be a wider adoption of bots to reduce risk.”

In the future, Armknecht predicts bots will be analysing unstructured data, through chat boxes and OCR. Furthermore, data analytics might start to analyse data and instruct Bots to complete the follow-on work. He adds that we may also see the rise of predictive AI.

Push becomes pull

In terms of people, Armknecht agrees with Sanders that first reaction of staff is sometimes negative, but once they see the benefits of tech they quickly embrace the tools and “push very quickly becomes pull”.

The current crisis is an opportunity as people have no alternative – they have to change. He sees this trend continuing and being accelerated during and after the Covid-19 crisis.

Armknecht concludes: “The firms that have led the way in technology adoption have been better placed to respond to the crisis. PrimeGlobal is committed to help all our members learn from each other, so they have the confidence to digitally transform.”

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