Coronavirus Finance Future-ready

The Intersection of Human-Machine Collaboration and Digital Transformation Post-COVID-19

When we talk about the impact of culture, mindset and skills on digital transformation, are we talking more about technology or humanity? Experts like Anh Phillips, a researcher at Deloitte Consulting, have been deeply involved with this topic for years before COVID-19. Now that we’re on the other side of the pandemic, businesses have survived enormous digital disruptions and come out the other side. Anh spoke with me recently on an episode of #FutureReadyLive about the differences between acute and chronic disruption, how companies are forced to react and how to accelerate the right mindset in our organizations. 

When Anh speaks about acute and chronic disruption, she’s talking about rapid and dramatic changes versus a sustained, long-term condition – sometimes you don’t even know it’s happening. In the article “A case of acute disruption: Digital transformation through the lens of COVID-19,” Anh and her co-authors introduce COVID-19 as an acute disruption today, but a disruption that could happen again or become chronic over time. What we see is that the way firms respond to chronic disruption is still applicable in a case of acute disruption, like COVID-19. The biggest difference is that firms have been forced to make a move. 

As those changes flow through to the finance department, or public accounting, we’re struggling to get our teams to adapt fast enough. Technology isn’t necessarily the answer, either. Anh pointed out that the hardest change is not technology, it’s people. It’s organizational change. We need our people to think differently. The reality is that things are not going back to the way they were before, and even if they did, it would be a wasted opportunity. 

Anh and I agreed that the acceleration is going to continue. We won’t really see a clear end to what Anh termed a continual transformation. Along this journey of continual transformation, the key is to prepare for the future, not just get from point A to point B. Technology is here to help us, even though some people view tech like AI as taking over our jobs, which we know is not the case. As humans, we have unique potential to be more creative. We can bring more value to our firms as only we can. 

To stay ahead of the evolution, we need to look at the areas in our profession in which humans are uniquely good at doing; we think about relationships and cognitive reasoning, collaboration and insight. Upskilling, or the practice of learning new skills, is one way we in the profession can stay on top of digital transformation. Technical roles in accounting and finance will need to develop soft skills and vice versa. The result are hybrid roles where the individual understands the technology and its impact but also how to communicate value and how the customers are impacted. 

The T-shaped professional is a concept that recrossing skills on top of deep technical accounting, tax, and finance knowledge combined with digital expertise. We need all of these things – the human element combined with the digital element – to achieve tech fluency. What Anh and I said was that it’s not about learning the latest programming software or coding; rather, understanding the latest technologies in finance. Knowing which questions to ask, like how is AI going to change the way we do finance and accounting? Understanding trends is important to know which direction the firm and its customers are going. As Anh said, that’s what we call human and machine collaboration. 

We don’t need to know how our smart phones work; we just need to know how to use them to be more productive.

Stay tuned for more tools, skills, and thought leadership and follow us on this blog and LinkedIn Hashtag #FutureofFinance.


Thomas Hood