The pandemic provided a strong impetus for businesses in all sectors to accelerate their investment in technology. A new report by CPA Australia shows that increased use of certain technologies is associated with better business performance. Accountants can use this information to unlock more value for their employers and clients, writes Gavan Ord, senior manager – business and investment policy at CPA Australia


 

CPA Australia surveyed 725 accounting and finance professionals in different industries in Australia, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore.

Respondents were asked about their businesses’ past and expected technology use and past and expected financial performance. The results are reported in our Business Technology Report 2021.

Our survey showed that respondents who reported working at high-growth companies used technology more often in the past 12 months than respondents who stated their businesses remained largely unchanged or shrank in 2020.

Findings

The use of technologies such as videoconferencing and group collaboration tools and cloud technology has become a mainstay in the workplace over the past year. However, the greatest opportunity for better business performance lay in technologies that can improve operational efficiency and the customer experience.

High-growth businesses were much more likely to use data analytics and visualisation software, business intelligence software, enterprise resource planning software, customer relationship management (CRM) software, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation.

These technologies not only present significant opportunities to improve business efficiency, but also allow companies to gain valuable insights into the customer experience, provide more value-adding client services and assist in uncovering new growth opportunities.

Differences in future technology plans also set higher growth businesses apart. Businesses that expect to grow strongly in 2021-22 are much more likely to be planning to increase their use of or investment in data analytics and visualisation software, business intelligence software, CRM software and AI than businesses that do not expect to grow in the next 12 months.

As trusted business partners, we can use this information to help businesses understand which technologies they should consider investing in. However, just giving that information is probably not enough. In order to advise effectively, accountants should keep abreast of technology trends and be aware of the providers of such technology. That doesn’t mean accountants have to become technology experts, as you can engage external advisers to help.

Strategies

Accountants should also emphasise the importance of having both short and long-term technology strategies in place. In our survey, respondents from high-growth companies were much more likely than respondents from companies that didn’t grow to report that their employer had developed a long-term technology or digital strategy.

While developing a technology strategy is an important element to business resilience and success, organisations should also ensure they actively upskill employees and consider increasing their recruitment of staff with technology skills.

For smaller businesses, unlocking value with digital transformation is a powerful way to improve their business performance. Many of the technologies adopted by larger firms, such as AI and data analytics and visualisation, are increasingly being built into other technologies such as accounting and CRM software. Small businesses should be looking at how to better use these tools to increase productivity and their understanding of clients’ current and future needs.

Business process automation is still mostly used by larger businesses, but small and medium enterprises can benefit from identifying and automating common repeated tasks. This frees up staff for more value adding work.

The main challenges identified in our survey to adopting technologies are financial constraints, shortage of technology talent and complex legacy systems. For companies looking to achieve higher growth through the use of technology, these challenges could be met by considering different payment options, developing talent from within and modernising existing systems.

Cyber-risk was also common concern, especially for advanced technologies such as AI and BI software that rely heavily on data. Accountants should advise their clients to review their cybersecurity software and processes, ensure their cyber compliance is current and commit appropriate resources to training employees on this topic, as it is often the human element that is the weakest link.

For technology vendors, the survey results suggest that to be attractive to businesses the tools and software they develop must help improve business efficiency, lead to cost savings and improve the customer experience.

With concerns over skills shortages, they also need to explain how they can help implement and operate their solutions and how their solution can integrate with the current technology operated by the business or how it can easily replace such technology.

Every facet of what we do as accountants is impacted by the take-up and application of technology. The same goes for our business clients. This presents numerous opportunities to adapt to keep pace with the economic and social transformation that new technologies bring.


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