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Welcome to our workplace, please invade carefully

Welcome to our workplace, please invade carefully

Back in 2017 I wrote an article on succession planning in the digital age with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek title: Holy cow, the robots are coming! Fast forward almost six years and it’s easy to argue that the robots walk among us already. For instance, if you’ve listened to a podcast, attended a dinner party, opened LinkedIn, or read this publication you’ll have come across ChatGPT, the AI chatbot that is simultaneously making people clutch at their pearls and claim the end is nigh, and heralding it as the greatest thing since the internet itself.

No slowing down yet

The speed of technological change is astonishing, and it's happening at a breakneck pace that shows no signs of slowing down. In recent years, we've seen the rise of cloud computing, the widespread adoption of mobile devices, and the emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning. These advancements are having a profound impact on businesses of all sizes, across all industries. For example, cloud computing has made it possible for businesses to access information and software from anywhere, at any time, while mobile devices have transformed the way employees work and communicate. Artificial intelligence and machine learning, on the other hand, are enabling businesses to automate tasks, make more informed decisions, and gain valuable insights from data. It's clear that technology is changing the business landscape, and those that embrace it will have a significant advantage over those that don't.

Technology & accountants

The pace of technological change in the accounting industry is unprecedented, and it's having a major impact on the way accountants work. Gone are the days of manual bookkeeping and tedious spreadsheet calculations. Today, accountants are leveraging advanced software and tools to automate tasks, streamline processes, and provide value-added services to their clients.

For example, cloud-based accounting software is enabling accountants to access and manage financial information from anywhere, at any time, while artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used to automate tedious tasks, such as data entry and reconciliation. Additionally, mobile devices are making it possible for accountants to work on the go and respond to client requests quickly and efficiently. These advancements are changing the game for accountants, and those that embrace technology will have a competitive advantage in an increasingly fast-paced and competitive market.

The bots are not making the grade, yet

It is clear that the point I made in 2017 still holds water: today, succession planning needs to consider what happens to our people when part (or even most) of their function is taken over by robots. For sure, ChatGPT is still in its infancy. As this recent AccountingWEB article describes, an AI chatbot attempted to take the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) exam and just missed the mark. The chatbot showed a strong understanding in some areas but struggled with more complex questions. This shows that even though technology and automation are becoming more prevalent in the accounting field, there's still a long way to go before machines can replace human expertise and judgement completely.

To be sure, the rate at which new technology matures is also becoming faster. ChatGPT is a far cry from the frustrating customer service chatbots that seem programmed to infuriate. It engages in conversation like a human being, and remembers and learns from earlier parts of the conversation. Already Microsoft, an investor in ChatGPT’s parent company OpenAI, has incorporated ChatGPT into its search engine Bing, and the underlying technology into the latest versions of Teams.

Garbage in, garbage out

But that doesn’t mean that humans are going anywhere anytime soon. The principle of garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) applies more than ever today. Take ChatGPT: its responses are only as good as the prompts you give it, so without expertise and the ability to clearly outline a requirement, your results are going to be vanilla at best, broken and possibly harmful at worst. As one of our developers says: it can make a mediocre developer quite good, a good developer excellent, and an excellent developer a rock star. But it can’t make a mediocre developer a rockstar.

Plus, each industry has a specific set of requirements, regulations and laws to comply with. In our case, we need think very carefully about ethics, transparency and responsibility for mistakes.

So back to my original point. Smart humans are going to figure out how to co-exist with robots, and be very clear on what each party brings to the relationship. To do this, we’ll need to hone a bunch of new skills, and do some deep thinking about what we do, how we do it and how we then train our software co-workers. As Tom Herbert quoted in the article I mentioned above about ChatGPT taking an accountant's exam: “It’s like having a fresh-faced junior who’s always convinced they’re right, so users need to approach it with a degree of caution.”

Can you spot the bot?

One thing we can be sure of is that as accountants we need to keep on top of changes in tech. New tools and capabilities are emerging all the time. For sure, they’ll be immature and a bit clunky at first, and often need other innovators to build an ecosystem around them to be really useful, but they will get better, faster, and more indispensable. ChatGPT is one of those tools: three and a half paragraphs in this article were written by the bot. Can you tell which ones they are?


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