How AI Will Help Transform How Accountants Work

Would you ever choose a telegram over a text message? Floppy disks over the cloud? VHS over Netflix? While outdated technologies may still be around, there’s a far better way, right?

The same goes for accounting technology. Would you rather spend hours exporting data, fumbling with spreadsheets, and doing calculations and complex data analysis – or ask a question and get an immediate answer?

Yes, we’re talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI), and it’s time to consider how AI can help add value to your business, saving you significant time and helping you do more with less.

AI are systems that are designed by humans to act in ways we consider “smart” or “intelligent,” essentially completing tasks and augmenting our work. AI is not magically created out of thin air; it has to be trained. This is where machine learning comes in. Machine Learning is the training of the AI with the goal of building a model that continuously improves and supports the augmentation of human tasks. 

Despite the sensational stories we hear in the media, AI is not as hard to understand or use as you might think. 

Breaking Down AI for the Non-Scientist

Let’s clear up a common myth: artificial intelligence isn’t, and shouldn’t be, scary. There are no manufactured robots here that develop increasing capabilities, malicious intentions and eventually set out to destroy humanity.

The current drivers for AI are the automation and, more importantly, augmentation of human tasks. This includes visual perception, natural language understanding, data interaction and analysis, and decision-making. AI is taught by humans (very nice humans!) and is designed to EMPOWER you, not eliminate you.

Teaching a machine how to be intelligent is very much like teaching a toddler: young children do not learn their colors, their shapes or their ABCs magically – these are learned skills, acquired from other humans who teach them. The same goes for machines.

Humans label the data in their environment over and over – this is green, this is a triangle, this is the letter A – until a machine, like a toddler, effectively encodes and can generalize (apply experience accurately) from the data.

For a toddler, this understanding can happen very fast, but a machine needs to be exposed to thousands (if not more) of images to achieve the same result. However, once the model is effectively built, machines can calculate and analyze at a much faster speed than humans, which is where the real potential is in AI.

AI is Already Here in the Business World

Business technology is continuously evolving, addressing big problems that need better solutions. Technology can help us work more efficiently, more accurately and more meaningfully, and AI is leading the way. A few real-world examples of AI in practice today are:

  • Healthcare: Machine learning is used to analyze vast amounts of medical data. So far, this has led to the discovery of diabetes sub-types, detection of brain tumors and accelerated the goal of curing cancer.
  • Recruitment: Where once a recruiter would spend 60 percent of their time reading a curriculum vitae (CV), a machine can now propose the top 10 candidates in minutes by matching resumes against the job description and related skills required.
  • Finance and accounting: Data interaction in these fields can be a complex, time-consuming and a frustrating process. Cloud-based AI applications, such as, are emerging that employ machine learning and natural language processing to do the hard work of data query and analysis. Users simply ask questions, such as “How much did I spend with vendor xyz over the past year?,” and get immediate answers – saving extensive time and resources.

A Closer Look at AI + Accounting

Your clients have a lot of questions. How much money is coming in? Who owes me money? How much am I spending? Who do I owe money to?

Providing answers to these, and far more complex, questions can interrupt your day, and traditionally requires a time-consuming process.

For example, an accountant might generate a customized revenue report every month for a client. This might require exporting data from a spreadsheet, sorting it to find the relevant information, doing calculations, building a brand new table, charting the table, creating a jpeg of the chart to place in a PowerPoint slide and more.

But, if the heavy lifting can be done via AI, then these reports – and associated steps – could be generated in a fraction of the time. This creates better value of time over money for both the accountant and the client.

AI is a Critical Component of Your Value-Based Business

When artificial intelligence meets human intelligence, it can be a beautiful thing, empowering human workers by helping with the most time-consuming, manual aspects of their jobs, and freeing them up to use higher value skills, such as finding operational efficiencies and building relationships with current or potential customers.

Technology enables accountants and bookkeepers to build value-based businesses, bringing on more customers, having less interruptions and increasing revenue, while putting in less time.

It’s truly not about what artificial intelligence can do, but what YOU can do with AI.

Along the way, you might just find that your old accounting data analysis practices belong in the same place as telegrams, VHS and floppy disk cartridges: the past.