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Leverage Technology to Become a Strategic Partner

By Sean Stein Smith, CMA, CPA, CGMA, CFE
January 1, 2019
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The technology tidal wave is causing disruption, but it also provides opportunities for accountants and finance professionals to develop leadership skills.

 

One of the most common themes that dominates virtually every accounting and finance conference, journal article, book, and conversation is the technology tidal wave that, if left unchecked, can upend practitioners and organizations. Blockchain and cryptocurrencies as well as artificial intelligence (AI) continue to drive innovation and change throughout the business landscape. While these specific trends can seem abstract, accounting and finance professionals do need to have an understanding of what these technologies are. Arguably more important than any specific technical knowledge, however, is the ability to leverage these innovations to become strategic partners.

 

KEEP UP WITH TRENDS

 

Even if you aren’t interested in becoming a technologist or technology expert, you’re going to need a fundamental working knowledge of technological trends. Those include blockchain, cryptocurrencies, robotic process automation (RPA), and AI. Six months from now, other technologies could emerge and join the list.

 

The ability to articulate ideas, communicate the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies, and construct a business case connected to these tools is an essential skill for every accounting and finance professional looking to develop as a leader. Knowing enough to be able to identify technology trends forms the foundation of how accountants and finance managers can grow professionally.

 

Developing these fundamental knowledge bases and skill sets related to the array of technology impacting the accounting and finance landscape isn’t something you have to do alone. Industry associations, including IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), produce dozens of webinars a year discussing technology trends, practical applications to our profession, and implementation best practices. Additionally, there are various publications, video tutorials, and full-fledged courses produced by technology industry leaders, accounting firms, education companies, and others, some of which are available for free online. An abundance of information on every type of emerging technology is available to practitioners; the real decision is where accountants and finance professionals can best spend their time and financial resources.

 

LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY FOR LEADERSHIP

 

Once accounting and finance professionals are armed with the knowledge of which technology trends are currently generating attention and attracting investment, there are several approaches and tactics they should embrace as they leverage technology to elevate themselves as strategic thinkers and leaders.

 

Be able to communicate the implications of technology for the organization and its strategic priorities. Not every new technology platform or tool is going to be equally helpful for every organization. Regardless of whether it’s RPA, AI, or some other emerging technology, every tool has its own set of pros and cons. Taking an objective perspective on technology and articulating the pros and cons of these tools are critical steps for effective leaders to take in an increasingly digital world.

 

Link different stakeholders across the company into the conversation. One of the most common pitfalls that can trip up even the most sophisticated and well-prepared organizations is when important dialogue occurs in silos. Discussing technology tools and options with only the accounting and finance team isn’t going to drive change and might very well lead to project failure. True leaders and strategic management teams understand that involving as many participants from different departments as possible creates a more diverse team, better solutions, and more robust use cases.

 

Identify and present easy wins. Having a conceptual understanding of, and a vision for, how technologies such as blockchain and RPA will eventually transform a profession, subset, or field is a great start but doesn’t usually generate actionable ideas for professionals to implement. After communicating the potential of a technology or process and linking in a variety of stakeholder groups, presenting goals that are achievable in the short term and documenting first steps toward achieving them will get the ball rolling within the organization, increase the likelihood of stakeholder buy-in, and help to create enthusiasm for future projects that are likely to be more complicated.

 

No one is an expert. It’s a bold statement to be sure, but one that’s increasingly true as the rate of digitization and automation continues to accelerate. For example, the forces of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and AI represent unique trends that technical experts and programmers typically grasp but other practitioners and professionals need to learn from the ground up. This point is important to emphasize as there will inevitably be pushback, confusion, and frustration that will arise during technological conversations and implementations.

 

Leadership and technology don’t normally go hand in hand and may usually be associated more with vision, strategic planning, and connecting the dots between formulating tactics and achieving objectives. That said, as technology and technological integration become increasingly important for accounting and finance professionals and their organizations, understanding and guiding the implementation of new technology tools forms a critical pillar of leadership.

 

Technology shouldn’t be something that causes anxiety or stress. Rather, it should be viewed as a tool for accounting and finance professionals to use to develop as strategic thinkers, grow into leaders, and drive the change necessary for their company to thrive going forward. Management accountants and finance professionals can start this process today and put themselves on track to think strategically about technology and lead people in their organization.

 

IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

 

The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/career-resources/leadership-academy.

 

Sean Stein Smith, CMA, CPA, CGMA, CFE, DBA, is an assistant professor at Lehman College (CUNY). He is the president of IMA’s Bergen-Rockland-Meadowlands Chapter, and he was named an IMA 2016 Young Professional of the Year. You can reach him at drseansteinsmith@gmail.com.
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