Every new day brings some new advancement in business technology, and much of this advancement relates to cloud computing, mobility, and new social computing models. Information technology and solutions applied to business use have rapidly evolved away from paper-based or fixed-location tools, and are now oriented towards enabling mobility and anytime, anywhere access to business applications and digital data.
Trends driving change in business technology today may be reflected in two main areas: enabling solutions which are revealing benefit not previously recognized, and disruptive approaches which represent trans-formative changes to how businesses operate. Disruption and transformation often generate new business opportunity, yet many professionals in accounting/finance and information technology fail to see the new potential available and resist anything which represents significant change. These professionals equate change with risk, and are reluctant to entertain either.
An example of a class of solutions which enable the organization to “know more”, providing decision support through deep analysis and reporting of key business data, is the new generation of data visualization tools now available in forms and formats easily accessible by any business professional. Previously, business owners had to rely on system analysts and accounting professionals to compile and report on various aspects of business activity. Using spreadsheets and database driven chart-building systems, manipulation of large volumes of data was unwieldy and limited by available computer resources. Moving beyond previously recognized boundaries in data collection and aggregation, tools now available assist users in combining data from disparate sources, and offer a rich suite of analytics coupled with the simplicity of drag-and-drop selection and exploration.
The opportunity introduced with this new capability does not rest solely in the analysis of the data. Rather, it is in the control and the structure which must be developed to ensure that all relevant data being collected, and in the structure and control placed on those data collection and integration processes which will ensure that the information is properly associated or correlated, and accurately integrated into the model. Completeness and accuracy of data is of critical importance, as is an in-depth understanding of the nuances of structured and unstructured data relationships.
In addition to the enabling solutions emerging on the market which are driving deep changes in how businesses see themselves are the advancements in technology which cause fundamental shifts in how business use technology to support operations. The most evident advancement, often viewed as an approach which is disruptive to more traditional models, is the emergence of “cloud” computing models. Cloud computing, connected services, and fully-managed outsourced IT solutions address a number of issues which have burdened enterprise IT deployments since IT departments were invented.
The difficulty for IT managers is that they are often overworked and underfunded, as information technology is not often viewed as a strategic differentiator but merely as a necessary cost of supporting operations. Users view IT as being unresponsive and ineffective, and have little understanding of the balancing act required to meet user demands and at the same time deliver standardized enterprise computing services in a secure manner.
Mobility and the cloud has changed the landscape of business IT, and the concept of “there’s an app for that” is now fully ingrained in the user mentality. Cloud solutions, sometimes introduced to the business by non-IT personnel and often viewed as “rogue IT” projects, have won adoption by business users due in large part to the simplicity of implementation, and often because they can deploy the solution quickly, outside of the boundaries established by internal IT management. Information management within the organization must necessarily extend now to mobile computing devices, where an entirely new set of issues is revealed in terms of personal device management and distribution of corporate data and intelligence. Professionals assisting the business with information management, access, collection and integration processes must now give greater consideration to incorporation of mobile device and application management, as well as the risks introduced with the broad use of personal computing devices within the organization.
The cloud represents a convergence of social and mobile computing, and introduces an entirely new class of business metrics to measure due to the significant increase in available data captured at various levels and through various types of virtual interactions. With users being able to engage wherever and whenever they choose (“there’s an app for that”, again), businesses must shift IT focus to strategic enablement, creating standards for outsourced deployments, and infusing each effort with the security and control required, which is a mainstay of IT operations.
Big data, visualization and analysis, and mobile and social computing are changing how we do business. As the trusted advisor to the business, the accounting professional should embrace these changes and the opportunities they present to deliver more value and service in each client engagement. Accountants can help their clients understand how to do more with less – leveraging technology to improve operational efficiencies, and to structure, capture, integrate and analyze the relevant data which will reveal the risks and potentials of the operation under a variety of circumstances.
Disruption creates your opportunity to bring order to the chaos, helping clients compete and flourish in a difficult economy, and providing the proactive guidance and analytical support necessary to build and sustain profitability.