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Artificial intelligence

Disruption ahead: The intersection of people and technology

A recent survey of financial leaders conducted by Thomson Reuters and the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants identified three key disruptive trends as having the greatest impact on respondents’ organizations—technology (automation), regulation and workforce issues. This is the second story in a three-part series taking an in-depth look at each topic.

When we hear the term artificial intelligence, most of us associate it with a science fiction movie. But the latest advances in technology are coming closer to making it a reality. With programs that can run accurate calculations, analyze data faster and identify trends humans cannot, artificial intelligence technologies are providing major advantages in functions like finance and accounting.

During a recent roundtable with Thomson Reuters, the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants and business leaders discussed disruptive trends, like artificial intelligence, and the potential impact on their organizations.

“Firms could use some artificial intelligence algorithm to help them understand that something is going to go viral, and say, ‘let’s ride the wave of that’,” said Emma Connell, senior finance director, Hair Category at Unilever. “It’s about identifying that opportunity more quickly and capitalizing on it. I also think it could — in some cases — help us identify anomalies and trends in processes much quicker than it might take a human, which will enhance the traditional financial ROI techniques that we use in our spreadsheets.”

But while artificial intelligence technologies are promising, most leaders agreed that good people still provide the best competitive advantage.

“Artificial intelligence is coming fast but, even so, for the next 50 years people are going to provide that competitive edge for businesses,” said Peter Spence, Performance Management Research, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. “Technology is becoming cheaper, more widely available, better, easier to implement and more applicable to what most businesses are doing. So if everybody is doing the same thing with technology, it is people that are going to provide the edge in the foreseeable future.”

While people are key to surviving disruptive currents, businesses are still struggling to deploy their talent in an optimal way in response to major advances in technology.

According to a recent survey by Thomson Reuters and the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, “people issues” rank second as the most concerning for global businesses, with 49% citing it as a key concern. Respondents in Asia viewed it as a particular concern.

To make the most of new talent, organizations are adapting their processes to align with emerging technologies and incorporating the ways in which a new generation of professionals want to manage their own careers. As one senior finance leader put it, it’s a change that is long overdue.

“All of our industries are still stuck in, let’s be generous, the late 1990s in terms of the way we work,” he said. “People don’t want to come and work in a different way to which they live their lives, they want to operate in the same way. This is the disruption that we can turn into an opportunity: how do you attract the best young talent? By making work similar to the way they live their lives. That’s the flip side of this people message with disruption: how do we use the tech to attract the talent that grows the business?”

It’s this take on growing and developing a next-generation workforce that will ensure people and technology can work together in harmony.

Learn more

For deeper insight on how disruptive trends are changing the business landscape for today’s professionals, check out the full report: The Rise of the Machines.

Also explore the first story in this three-part series, Disruption ahead: How professionals are embracing automation.

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