Last month, the IPA leadership team took the opportunity to attend the four-day Gartner Data Analytics Summit in Dallas. Nearly 4,000 data engineers, data scientists, chief data officers and other dedicated analytics professionals gathered to discuss the latest trends in predictive analytics, Big Data, blockchain, business intelligence platforms and artificial intelligence.
With thousands of the smartest people in the field sharing best practices and success stories, we were overwhelmed with where the technology is going and excited about the amazing possibilities for the future.
Identifying, capturing, storing, analyzing and harvesting massive amounts of consumer data is the holy grail for most companies. The majority of attendees came from Fortune 500 companies with multi-million-dollar budgets dedicated to leveraging and customizing services and products to individual customers. (As an example, think about how Amazon or Netflix “suggest” your next purchase based on past behaviors.)
It’s not surprising that the accounting profession is far behind corporate America in taking advantage of available data and harnessing it to build the enterprise. The bigger takeaway for me is that so few firms even recognize what kinds of data they have, never mind its value and potential.
Most firms don’t have the resources to hire data analytics professionals and implement new technologies at the scale discussed at the Summit. A handful of firms can capitalize on some of these opportunities, and are making strides to do just that. But where does this leave the other firms? What should they be doing right now to get on the bandwagon?
- Acknowledge that this trend of micro-experiences [Amazon- and Netflix-type recommendations] for customers is not going away.
- Recognize that Fortune 500 companies are targeting your clients using these data analytics efforts, which are shaping their view of how business is conducted.
- Understand that you can access much of the same kind of customer data today – the challenge is how to harvest it.
- Stay up to date on the latest in analytics, artificial or augmented intelligence, blockchain and other new technologies, and play out scenarios among your leadership team as to what you could do with the new technology once you have access to it. Better yet, bring in your younger leaders to take control of that discussion.
- Embrace the idea that your knowledge of clients, their challenges and their opportunities can be used to create a lot of the unique-to-each-customer experiences that larger companies are trying to deliver. You have an advantage over companies like Amazon or Disney because you are much closer to your customers and you understand the nuances of what they are looking for. Make sure you maximize this advantage.
What was the biggest lesson garnered at the Gartner Summit? The accounting profession needs – once and for all – an ‘all-in’ mental shift. Firm activities should not be viewed as a series of transactions (“we do tax returns and audits each year”) but as part of a continuous, trusted relationship with clients. Through these connections, firms can uncover issues specific to each client and help find solutions, even if the answers lie outside the world of accounting. Then – and only then – can your firm deliver personalized services on par with what your best customers are already receiving from the Fortune 500 companies that are spending millions of dollars to serve them today.