Driving innovation in a time of rapid change
As this column is published, the organization I lead, the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA), is debuting its new strategic vision for the future, VSCPA2025. While our framework is specific to the CPA profession, it was developed to address the rapidly changing business climate that all leaders, in all industries, are facing. We came away from the process with four overarching strategic priorities:
• Drive innovation and vision
• Create a culture of learning
• Influence students to become CPAs
• Advocate for our members’ interests
Today, I am focused on the first strategy, which should be front of mind for any forward-thinking business leader. Technological advances are going to dramatically affect us all. In the accounting industry, that means increased automation, with artificial intelligence performing many tasks once completed by entry-level employees. Most industries have been adapting to technological disruption for years, dating back to the first appearance of a robot on an assembly line.
And this disruption is only going to get more and more profound.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil wrote in 2001 that based on the contemporary rate of technological progress, humanity would experience 20,000 years of technological change in the 21st century. The 16 years since have done little to prove him wrong — he wrote the essay that contains that point, “The Law of Accelerating Returns,” before the introduction of the smartphone, before the Watson computer was developed, before scientists sequenced the first human genome.
The advances Kurzweil predicted have had the effect of shrinking the business world. Today, all but the smallest organizations operate in a global economy. Not only are businesses selling to customers around the world — they’re recruiting from that same base as well. Businesses must adapt to get the most productivity from culturally diverse customers and employees. The global marketplace increases competition and growth opportunities alike.
The effect of these changes is plain. The bar has been raised. For many, including CPAs, that means routine, transactional work will no longer suffice. The businesses that thrive moving forward will be the ones that can take the man-hours that used to be spent on obsolete tasks and use them to provide highly valued and essential services to customers.
Technology and change drive our society and business environment, and the VSCPA is trying to get in front of that change. We want to help CPAs position themselves as innovators and business leaders. We recognize that the disruption created by technological advances and globalization creates opportunities just as it threatens some of the services CPAs have provided in the past. Our success in that effort can be instructive to other industries forced to reinvent themselves to remain relevant, and CPAs can be a resource in helping other professionals chart a course into the future.
Think back to Ray Kurzweil, born in 1948, four years before the integrated circuit turned computing on its ear by making the microprocessor possible. During his lifetime — during his professional career, even — he has seen computers sweep the world’s offices and homes, with two-thirds of Americans carrying small computers with them every day.
The accounting industry is working to embrace the future Kurzweil envisioned by re-examining the services it offers as new technologies render other services obsolete. The leaders whose companies thrive in the business environment of the future will be the ones who make the same calculation and lead their companies into the spaces where they can find their own value to provide.
Stephanie R. Peters, CAE, is president & chief executive officer of the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants.