Should Accountants learn to Code?: By the heading, you may get confused with what this article is exactly about? Let me give you some background of the subject. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer a pipe dream, and robotic process automation (RPA) is already here and displacing blue collar workers and professionals alike. People like us who are in Management Accounting profession aren’t immune from the threats. There is absolutely no doubt that major portion of the work done by management accounting & finance professionals will be completely automated. Almost all entry level, transaction processing and routine jobs are going to wiped out by robots. But don’t underestimate the possibility of higher level tasks being taken over by these advancing technologies.
Robotics and AI are not the only challenges. We have already entered the age of digitization and current trend of trade is “Data Analytics“. Companies are generating data with tremendous speed and in Huge volume. This data is being generated in multiple ways and from multiple sources. For example, a single flight from London to New York generates over 600 Terabytes of data.To collect, process, interpret and analyze this data to find the hidden insights and trends which can be used as inputs to strategic planning of the organization to overcome competition is the need of the day.
By profession, we are the original data analysts, the management accountants. But in today’s scenario, businesses are struggling to deal with the high volume of data that technology has made available. Organizations that successfully interpret this data and use it for crucial business decisions have a competitive advantage. In such climate, its helpful for CMAs to know as much about the technological tools they use as possible. Just knowing basic accounting and office software programs is no longer enough. Accountants need to know how to code.
In respect of threats discussed in first two paragraphs, learning to code will benefit CMAs in both the cases. To face Automation, CMAs can be partners with AI and Robotics specialists. There will be someone needed to integrate functional or domain knowledge with AI. Secondly in case of Big Data, if CMAs are able to make use of powerful data analytics tools such as Hadoop and Tableau, it will be major competitive advantage to the profession.
Strong technology skills can help in competitive job market, but they also boost other competencies. Coding is a logic. It teaches to do things in logical sequence. A skill that give them leg up in logical world of accounting. Understanding code also helps accountants work with technology specialists in areas such as data security and Big Data analysis. When an internal auditor needs to talk to IT auditor, there is usually a big gap in their respective knowledge of technology.
An accountant who spends less time in collecting, cleaning, analyzing data is rewarded with more time in effectively understand and make use of the information. To stay in the race and grow, accountants must possess coding skills in one or more programming languages. Following are few Technology Tools that CMAs should master to increase their value in future and stay on top of the upcoming advanced technologies.
By now you might be wondering where to start to become a future proof management accountant and slowly shift from traditional CMA to Future Ready “Data Scientist”. To achieve this, here is what you need to learn:
Basic tools for beginner level data analytics
Mathematics : Data analysis is all about numbers. If you do not like numbers, you should begin to cultivate a positive attitude. Also, be willing to learn. World of data analytics is fast paced and unpredictable. You should be ready to learn new technologies that are swirling around to deal with changes in data management.
Excel : Excel is the most familiar business analytics application. But unfortunately, most people don’t understand the real power of excel. As per one survey, 60% of users leave 80% of Excel unexplored. Advanced features in Excel such as Power Pivot, Power View, Solver Add-In are capable enough to deal with entry to mid- level data analytics. Excel also comes with a powerful programming language “VBA” (Visual Basic for Applications). VBA can be used to automate data collection and cleaning process. And User can focus on Analytics with the use of advanced functionalities. Learning Excel along with VBA represent a great first step for accountants.
Basic SQL : Excel provides tools to slice and dice data. But it works smoothly when the data is stored on your computer system. What about data collection and storage? Excel does not provide effective functionalities for pulling the data directly from its source.
Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS) such as SQL Server, MS Access, and MySQL provide support for data collection procedures. To master RDBMSs you should be good in SQL (Structured Query Language) which is the language that handles all RDBMSs.
Advanced tools for data management and analytics
R programming : “R” is a programming language which is very useful for data analytics especially in the field of statistics. It is a simple and well developed open source software. It has input/output facilities. Storage possibilities and Graphical possibilities. It is useful in handling data, presenting it and securely storing it.
Python programming : Python is very powerful, open source, and flexible programming language that is easy to learn, use and has powerful libraries for data manipulation, management and analysis. You can use Python’s inbuild libraries such as Panda and NumPy to help in data analytics
Hadoop : Hadoop is cloud computing platform that can perform highly parallelized operations on big data. It allows users to store and process massive amount of data of any type. Due to enormous processing power, Hadoop Is suited for analysis of big data with virtually limitless simultaneous tasks.
There are N number of tools and applications coming in day by day. According to my opinion every accountant must master VBA, SQL and any one of R & Python as programming languages.
Will robots take the jobs of an accountant? The answer is “It depends on an accountant”. Companies and individual management accountants must realize that automation and AI are already here and will only become more common more quickly in the future. Embrace these changes and take the opportunity to develop skills that will set you apart so that you can harness this new technology. Someone has to manage all those robots in accounting. Why not you?
Author – CMA Prashant Prabhakar Lele