Rise of the Machines: A Business Survival Guide
Nov. 18, 2016
8 a.m.-8:45 a.m.
In their book, “The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts,” authors Richard and Daniel Susskind boldly predict the decline of today's professions, and paint a clear picture of the people and systems that will replace them. Accountants. Architects. Clergy. Consultants. Doctors. Lawyers. Teachers. We won’t need or want them, the Susskind’s wrote.
The book, in which the father and son writing duo argue that today’s current professions are antiquated, opaque and no longer affordable, is one that Joe Woodard believes every accountant should read.
“The accounting profession is the most ripe for the initial disruption by some of these technologies,” says Woodard, founder and CEO of Woodard Consulting . “They're not focused, like many of us in the accounting industry are, on software solutions that automate repetitive tasks. That's just an efficiency tool. They're saying that artificial intelligence solutions like Watson (IBM’s super computer) are already capable of doing the complete work of a bookkeeper, all the way up to making very complex judgment calls.”
In his upcoming presentation at Accountex USA, "Rise of the Machines: A Business Survival Guide," Woodard will take an inside look at the disruption today’s powerful new technologies is are causing, and offer a glimpse into the role accounting professionals and small businesses will play in the new landscape. The conference, which attracts key industry experts and thought leaders from around the world, as well as a slate of innovative vendors, will take place Nov. 15-18, 2016, at the Mirage in Las Vegas. To register for the show, click here.
If there is one thing Woodard wants you to know, it is that the age of artificial intelligence is real, not science fiction. Cutting-edge technologies driven by machine learning are already displacing jobs in other industries. It’s why Woodard says operating as if technology hasn’t changed anything is not the appropriate response.
“There are different phases of responses that people have when it comes to technology, and denial should not be one of them,” he says. “Technology is inevitable. This isn't one of those ‘the-sky-is-falling-Chicken-Little’ moments. These technologies are real, and will force change in the way you interact with your clients. That means if you want to be a future professional in the accounting business – 10, 15, 20 years down the road – you will have to make to adjust to the new reality ushered in by artificial intelligence.”
“Over the next five, 10, 15 years, we will have to learn how to stay ahead of the machines.”
There is only one strategy that can counter the rise of the machines – the rise of human interaction. Echoing the position of Daniel Susskind, Woodard says accounting professionals must emphasize those services that artificial intelligence cannot do and/or should not do. Business coaching. Client relationship building. Peer-to-peer networking. These will be the foundation of tomorrow’s accounting professional.
“It’s all about creating the synergy of human relationships,” Woodard says. “It’s taking the solutions that computers provide your clients, whether it's today's technology or tomorrow's technology, and becoming agents of empathy, agents of small business transformation.”
Agents of Transformation
Woodard remembers a Wall Street Journal article that was written after Watson out-dueled two of Jeopardy’s greatest champions several years ago. In defining the scope of Watson’s win, the writer made one astute point, “Watson doesn't know it just won Jeopardy." It is in that statement that Woodard says the accounting profession can start to script its new game plan. “Watson is not self-aware. It cannot sit in a boardroom and take all the disparate voices or all of the perspectives at our clients’ organizations, and then synergize them into something that's going to be good for the enterprise. Only a human being can do that.”
Future success – and survival – will come when accountants learn to become transformation agents, Woodard says. When they learn to help their clients arrive at the best decisions for their businesses. He calls it “moving from the back office to the boardroom.”
“If we don't take that journey, Watson's going to kick us out of the back office, and we'll be out of a job,” Woodard says. “Over the next five, 10, 15 years, we will have to learn how to stay ahead of the machines. That brings us to the accountant of the future – the one who should be a servant of humanity, a relationship builder and a mentor, not a technician.”
“It’s all about creating the synergy of human relationships and being agents of empathy and agents of small business transformation.”
The beauty of the plan is in its simplicity. For accountants, nothing focuses or motivates them more than deadlines. Now, as Woodard emphatically states, the entire profession is on one.
Woodard recalls a recent seminar where an attendee asked if the primary goal of the accounting profession was to protect small businesses, “Isn’t it in the best interest of small businesses for us to save ourselves from the continuing arc of disruption?” The collective answer was a resounding “no.”
“What are you protecting small businesses from?” Woodard asks. “Are you doing it because of some sense of legacy or job security? Paring down the marketplace to a smaller sized profession is not necessarily a bad thing. It could be good.”
The good news is that Woodard doesn’t believe there will be an immediate line forming at the local unemployment office. But he does recommend starting your progressive march forward now. “If you had a time machine, and you could fast-forward 20 years, you would see a profession that's about 40 percent of the size it is now and, it will be filled with business coaches,” he says.
This is where Woodard’s “Rise of the Machines” presentation will have the biggest impact. He wants every person attending to walk away with a sense of urgency and a newfound sense of direction. “I want them to know they need to embrace the coming change no matter where they are in the life of their business or career,” Woodard says. “I want them to at least have the phases defined, and to be able to embrace and leverage the technology in front of them.”
Your Accountex USA Takeaway List
- Make three new relationships
- Learn three new technologies and how they can help three or more specific clients
- Find three practical strategies you can implement immediately after returning to the office
- Attain three new resources you can leverage long term in your practice
'The Future of Professions' Defined
Get an insider's perspective of Richard and Daniel Susskind's book, "The Future of the Professions," from accounting thought leaders Joe Woodard, CEO of Woodard Consulting , and Ron Baker, founder of VeraSage Institute. Their insightful podcast covers the way AI is impacting all professions, as well as makes projections about the changes it will force in the years ahead. Click hear to hear their discussion.