As an automated accounting advisor and Vic.ai’s Head of Strategic Accounts, I have a bit of a strange job for someone who’s not a technologist: explaining what artificial intelligence (AI) is, how it applies to accounting, and forecasting what the future of accounting AI looks like.
In our fireside chat on AI and machine learning (ML), I outlined what AI looks like in our daily lives, how it applies to CPAs, and what you should know before implementing AI tools in your own workplace.
For those who’d like to listen to our twenty-minute conversation, check out the podcast. Below is a high-level recap:
What is AI?
When I think of AI, what immediately comes to mind is its classic Hollywood portrayal. Movies like a 2001 Space Odyssey and Terminator’s Skynet brought AI to our collective attention - with not such happy endings.
But everyday examples of AI are a lot more…(almost) mundane. We're using AI every day and we don't even realize it.
The most common example would be from the entertainment perspective. Whoever your TV provider might be, whether it's Comcast, Hulu, or Netflix, there's AI happening behind the scenes to make your viewing experience a lot more enjoyable.
They’re providing predictions on your past viewing experiences and making recommendations on certain types of shows that might interest you. Spotify does the same thing for music.
In Gmail, as I'm typing my emails, the email starts to automatically populate and complete sentences.
Hopping into your car and being able to state the destination of where you want to go and being automatically routed there, as opposed to having to get out a physical map and plot out mile markers, is another form of AI.
But what really is AI? Wikipedia defines it as intelligence demonstrated by machines in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans.
But to me, AI is simply a means to an end. If I need help answering a question or solving for something as quickly as possible, that’s where AI comes in. It’s a solution to an existing problem.
When Should a Company Use AI?
The biggest trend of AI in the workplace, especially impacting the accounting profession, is the transformation of business data and analytics. And when you’re dealing with the future of accounting AI, you need to be able to process massive data sets, known as data lakes, rapidly and accurately. Everything is trending toward having insightful analytics. Being able to provide the analytics on your data to have future foresight and be in a position to be more proactive vs. reactive, is an amazing advantage.
I’ve seen companies use AI for a variety of purposes, from scheduling meetings to translating different languages to my own work usage. We use HubSpot for our CRM and their mobile business card scanner app maps the text from the business cards - of prospects I may end up getting at trade shows - into its CRM contacts automatically. No more wasting time on manual business card entry.
Can Accounting Firms Use AI to Help Their Clients?
Vic.ai is a true AI platform for the accounting profession and we're accomplishing this by solving for certain tasks first.
Our goal is to excel at one particular process, in this case, accounts payable, and automate as much of that as possible by leveraging AI and machine learning.
We want to help accountants be more nimble, especially now that many are working from home and remote, by removing the headaches, time suck and general inefficiencies of manual invoice processing.
Then we’ll move on to training our AI to solve for other accounting tasks, like credit card transactions and reconciliations.
How Should Accounting Companies Approach AI?
First things first - determine what your underlying need is before asking if that’s something AI can solve for. Don't get so far down the rabbit hole that your original need becomes clouded.
If you think AI might be the answer, start with an AI roadmap and ask yourself questions like
- “Do we have the resources internally to build out the solution?”
- “Do we need to hire an AI expert to help with the pilot?”
Frankly, I’ve found in my experience that it’s not worth building something from scratch when you could partner with companies that are already specialists in the technology.
The main thing to avoid is getting swept up by buzzwords like “automation” and “AI.”
There are a lot of companies that hype up their capabilities, but when you look under the hood, how much automation is actually there? You want to be cautious and do your due diligence.
Editor’s Note: To learn how to ask the right questions when researching AI for your accounting practice, download our free eBook on “How to Select the Right Artificial Intelligence (AI) Platform for Accounting.”
What are the Challenges of Implementing an AI Solution?
There are two main challenges in my mind. The first is the data.
In most accounting firms, your data is just sitting somewhere, but there’s never been a way to aggregate it and get it into a format where it can be beneficial and more future-ready for accountants. So the accessibility of the data and then the quality and quantity of the data, that poses an issue.
Another challenge today is really the same challenge any company faces when it comes to new projects: people.
There's still a big misconception of what AI actually is, what it can do, and how it ties into your business strategically and operationally.
And ultimately if you don't have the business fully understanding AI and supporting it, then it’s not going to stick. The solution here is to provide continual employee training and education to prevent this from happening.
What Does the Future of AI Look Like?
The beauty is, nobody knows. Are Hollywood’s portrayals of AI correct? They’re certainly futuristic.
In the next two years am I going to be able to hop into a self-driving Uber? Will the medical industry and AI be able to diagnose us based on our health histories?
All I know is that it’s going to be fun to see what happens as AI technology continues to transform things, both for our daily lives and for our work.
In my experience with AI, particularly within a work environment, it's been nothing but beneficial for many industries and I don’t see that changing.
Where do you think the future of accounting AI is headed? Share your thoughts in our comments section.
And if you’re serious about taking your remote accounting practice to the next level, be sure to download our ebook “The Future of Accounting Technology.” (Preparing for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning).