CPAs should know about three main areas of technology: the cloud; emerging tech such, as artificial intelligence; and data and analytics. (ViewStock / Getty Images)
How much do you need to know about technology to be involved in a digital transformation? It’s a question that CPA Stephanie Terrill, business unit leader, management consulting, at KPMG Canada, is well placed to answer. She has been leading digitization efforts for large and small organizations for 20 years.
We asked Terrill about the mindset required to be involved in digitization, the kinds of technology that are included and how CPAs can get up to speed. (For resources that can help you to develop your tech skills, see Tech stop: Resources for building your digital skills.)
CPA CANADA: You have said technology is a way of thinking. What do you mean by that?
Stephanie Terrill (ST): Technology is even more than a way of thinking—it’s a way of living, of looking at business. You don’t necessarily need to understand how to configure or how to code, but you need to have an appreciation for how technology is built and the life cycle it goes through. You also need to know what technology is out there so you can relate it to your business.
CPA CANADA: What specific aspects of technology do CPAs need to know about?
ST: CPAs should know about three main areas: the cloud; emerging tech, such as artificial intelligence; and data and analytics. But this is not a checklist—it’s not as if you can learn something once and be done with it. Tech is continuously changing. For example, I moved into technology when I was 30. At the time, we were dealing with mainframes. That meant we would code for six months and then test for six months.
Now technology is agile. Basically, this means you build tools and put them out there and then refine them and release them again. It’s a continuous release schedule. That’s why it’s so important to have that foundational knowledge of how technology is built.
CPA CANADA: Why is the cloud so important right now?
ST: Every 10 years there’s a revolution coming out of Silicon Valley and, right now, it happens to be the cloud. I don’t know what it’s going to be 10 years from now but, right now, it’s the cloud.
CPA Stephanie Terrill, business unit leader, management consulting, at KPMG Canada
CPA CANADA: What kinds of systems are generally involved in a digital transformation?
ST: There are three layers. First is the infrastructure. You have to know where your data currently sits. And you have to decide whether you want to keep it in data centres or move it to the cloud. Sometimes, you might want to use a combination of public cloud and private cloud.
Then you move into the processing layer—the big cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems or enterprise resource management (ERM) systems, such as Oracle. It’s here that artificial intelligence comes in. It draws on the data that’s in the cloud and in your systems, and uses algorithms and machine learning to process information and automate repetitive work that CPAs often do today.
Finally, there’s the presentation layer—and this is where I think CPAs have an opportunity to play an influential role, because it’s a matter of taking all this data, synthesizing it and presenting it in a way that brings insights and drives business performance. So, you might look at a product such as Tableau.
This layer also includes apps. You can develop applications so much faster now with the availability of low-code/no-code platforms.
CPA CANADA: You have said software engineers may sometimes need to engage in upskilling as well. They just need to develop different skills than CPAs do.
ST: Yes, engineers sometimes wonder how they can move into general management. But, if they cannot read a profit and loss (P&L) statement, how can they expect to run a business unit? As CPAs, we take that kind of financial knowledge for granted. But, if you’ve come up through engineering or law, you might struggle in that area. So, formal training is definitely key. They should take a basic accounting course to understand what a budget is.
The same applies to CPAs and tech training. They don’t have to get an undergraduate degree or a Master’s. But it’s the continuous learning that is important, along with an openness to innovation. That is absolutely key.
STAYING ONE TECH AHEAD
Learn more about the steps in digital transformation, and why CPAs can become leaders in digitization. And, for resources that will help you develop your tech skills, see Tech stop: Resources for building your digital skills.