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Being Nostradamus – Predicting Outcomes and Providing Guidance

I have a gripe with the accounting profession, but I have to be fair in that the problem I believe needs to be solved wasn’t easily solved… until recently.  (The tools are here – we just need to learn to use them well.)   My gripe is with the fact that accounting information delivered to most business owners is old news.  Stuff happened, the professional properly recorded it and reported on it,  you paid your taxes, and that’s that.  Game over.

There isn’t any argument over the critical value and importance of that work.  Every business owner understands that not properly accounting for business activities can mean increases in tax burdens, penalties and interest, and more.  It’s good work… but what do you do with it?  My intent is not to try to diminish the value of today’s approach to accounting.  Rather, I’m trying to point out how the accounting profession could make a huge impact in today’s pathetic economy, help businesses get financially healthier, and help put the small/medium business market on a path to growth and success.  It involves seeing into the future.

Once upon a time, accountants had to work with book ledgers, pen and pencil (mostly pencil), and stacks upon stacks of paper documents.  Just keeping up with the process of recording transaction information, adding it all up (and making sure the footing totals jibe), and then summarizing the information into usable form took all the time available, and the focus was on the accuracy of the work – not necessarily the timeliness of it.  With the advent of computers and computerized accounting systems, the process of creating and storing the data became easier, but the volume and nature of information increased and thus the complexity and time to process increased (what a colleague of mine refers to as the “everlasting gobstopper” problem.. it never really goes away).

These days, technologies exist which facilitate acquiring the information (even in paper form), converting that information into digital data, and then actually interpreting the data to arrive at a transaction.  Traditional software and cloud service providers alike are recognizing that mechanical data entry is passé, and do-it-yourself solutions for accounting and bookkeeping will rely upon “smart” engines which can read and properly understand what each scanned document means.

So – once the accurate data entry problem is solved… what’s the next logical step?  Analytics!  It’s only really possible now that online solutions have brought the business information to the accounting professional in real-time, and have allowed the accounting professional and the business owner to collaborate and share data faster than ever before.  If information is power, we have a lot of power in our hands… but do we really know it?  This is where BI (business intelligence) and analytics come in, and where the opportunity exists for the accounting profession to become the guiding force in rebuilding our economy.

What if an accountant could not only tell his client that the business lost money last year or last month, but that they’re going to lose money through this month and year if they don’t change their behavior?  And, what if the accountant could run a variety of scenarios which would help forecast the most positive business outcome based on certain choices which could be made, or certain activities which could be handled in different ways?  What if the accountant could help his client peer into the future, and get an inkling of what the business could look like if certain economic or business conditions continued… changed… ?

Maybe I’m a little overzealous when it comes to believing that the accounting profession could have recognized the economic trauma which was coming, or that they could have prepared their business clients for it.  But I don’t believe I’m very far off the mark in believing that not nearly enough “analysis” occurs in the typical public accounting engagement, and even when it does… is the suggested path the right one?  I would submit that BI is new enough to so many people that it may not be.  Learning what the numbers are telling you is one thing… staving off disaster is quite another.

I would encourage all BI and Data Analytics fanatics to check out an article on CFO.com on this subject:  That New Big Data Magic  http://www3.cfo.com/article/2011/8/analytics_that-new-big-data-magic

A few memorable takeaways from the article:

“you may be spot-on about a problem, but the solution doesn’t magically appear out of the data.”

“what you do with [data] is a people-based activity, a skill base you have to mature.  And it doesn’t come quickly.”

“CFOs have a gut sense that there’s money out there in all that data… The challenge is how to turn that data into new opportunities.” The good news.. is that new technologies are making it more economical to make sense of Big Data… The caveat is that those technologies will not provide those opportunities. That’s still up to the people who make business decisions.”

Make Sense?

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Topic Expert
Barrett Peterson
Title: Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis
Company: TTX
(Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis, TTX) |

The purpose of accounting is two fold: compliance reporting of what has transpired; and, secondly, use of historical patterns, trends, and impacts of distruptive events to make reasonable estimates of the impact of current events, which will eventually become business transactions to be processed and reported. Technology can speed the processing, analysis, and reporting of transactions completed, as well as, with additionaly analysis, help identify patterns useful in predicting emerging events. Certain non-accounting data items will need to be collected to monitor market trends effectively.

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