Article: COVID-19 has accelerated the need for tech competence: Dr. Josh Heniro

Strategic HR

COVID-19 has accelerated the need for tech competence: Dr. Josh Heniro

In today’s environment, strategic thinking and strategic analysis are skills that enable management accounting professionals to create greater financial value within their organizations, says Dr. Josh Heniro, Senior Director, IMA Southeast Asia, and Australasia.
COVID-19 has accelerated the need for tech competence: Dr. Josh Heniro

Josh Heniro is the Senior Director of IMA (Institute of Management Accountants), Southeast Asia, and Australasia Operations. Since assuming his position at IMA, Josh has been responsible for promoting the value of Management Accounting and the CMA (Certified Management Accountant) program.

Leading the set-up and execution of the strategic priorities of the SEA region, Australia and New Zealand since 2016, Josh’s key focus is to grow and manage IMA’s partnership development efforts with public and private-sector organizations, universities, and training providers. He is responsible for all strategic and operational management for the region. He was also responsible for setting up the Southeast Asia team and office, located in Singapore.

Prior to joining IMA, Josh worked at multinational corporations including Standard Chartered Investment Bank, Societe Generale Investment Bank, ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), and Curtin University.  

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

How do you see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employees and businesses? What role can management accountants play to create value out of this uncertainty?

Unlike most previous health or economic crises, the COVID-19 pandemic is global which is ailing the economy and leading to mass layoffs – and it will be more difficult for businesses to recover even after the virus has subsided. 

The COVID-19 crisis has added a new dimension to the increasing complexity, volatility, uncertainty, and pace of change, competition, and even business model in today’s global marketplace, making the need for strategic analysis and execution greater than ever.

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In these unprecedented times, management accountants are in a unique position to oversee and even lead the strategic analysis process. To do so requires strategic thinking and strategic analysis skills.

In today’s environment, strategic thinking and strategic analysis are skills that enable management accounting professionals to create greater financial value within their organizations.

In a survey conducted by IMA and Deloitte, “strategic thinking and execution” was the top capability identified as most in need of improvement in the controllership function.

Finance leaders are also taking the initiative in moving beyond the culture of collaboration to actually making a company’s reporting include sustainability information, drawing on their ability to connect metrics to the organization’s overall business case. This requires cross-functional collaboration, for instance with the sustainable business or environmental health and safety teams on climate risk, or with the HR department on human capital issues, to prepare reports that address investors’ concerns and offer the clearest possible picture of where the company stands on sustainability. This will become increasingly important in the coming years. The key for CFOs and finance leaders is to demonstrate a connection between sustainability and company value, that there is long-term profit in allocating capital to a business that practices sustainable growth and proactive risk management, employee engagement, and retention and corporate reputation.

How is IMA adapting to the changing business environment amid this uncertainty? What all initiatives have you taken to safeguard your stakeholders, including staff, volunteers, candidates, and partners?

IMA’s philosophy on COVID-19 has been, first and foremost, people-first with safety and social responsibility top of mind. Our number one priority at all times is social responsibility for the safety of our global stakeholders, including staff, volunteers, CMAs, candidates, our professionals and student members in 150 countries, and our partners.

With the world continuing to fight the global coronavirus pandemic, IMA employees around the world continue to work from home for business continuity and staying safe with their families and our offices in China have reopened on a staggered basis. Business continuity and taking care of our members at a time when they truly need us the most are important priorities.

At IMA, we are making the most of remote learning, and we've expanded our offering of online CPE resources. These included a new foundational certificate course in data analytics and visualization, and experiential Blockchain 101 course, new Excel courses, and the Beyond the Basics: Data Analytics and Visualization certificate (co-branded with the University of Illinois).  

As entire workforces have moved to remote working environments and key finance and accounting activities like the financial close are being done outside of an office, technology is now the means by which organizations are ensuring business continuity. 

Technology empowers accountants and in turn, accountants wield technology as the powerful, meaningful weapon that it really is. This doesn't eliminate the need for accountants, but rather empowers them. It frees up time in their day to work with clients in a more effective way. Think for a moment about how beneficial it would be to work off a single general ledger from anywhere, at any time and in real-time. The technology here allows accountants to deliver more value-added, business advisory services and accountants are no longer just bookkeepers; they can now tackle tasks like business planning, controls, succession, and more. Better technology creates better accountants, which enables better business owners to make better decisions.

Disruptions of all forms necessitate these skills, though the current COVID-19 pandemic has also particularly accelerated the need for technological competence. The mass shift to remote work has left workplaces increasingly distributed, and the current economic downturn has not slowed investments in automation and artificial intelligence, among other technologies.

Within the finance function, Big Data and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) have been particularly successful in increasing organizational efficiency and enabling finance professionals to build on their proficiencies around data governance and analysis.

But for the finance function to capitalize on new technologies, and thus keep pace with the changes in the business world, the finance professionals within those departments must continue their education.  

How can organizations fill the skill gaps, that COVID-19 brought to the fore, for the long-term when their priority is business continuity and employee well-being?

Technology is impacting and revolutionizing every profession, and management accounting is no exception. 

In the days before COVID-19, it was not unusual to see articles warning of the coming collapse of society because of technology and robotics. Now, amid the pandemic, when human contact is giving way to social distancing and remote work, the tone has shifted; robots will not be the cause of our doom and may even be our saviors. 

Embracing new technology is key. For example, bots and cloud accounting solutions make it easier than ever for small business owners to manage their accounting and bookkeeping tasks with the efficiency that only their larger counterparts formerly enjoyed. With these changes, there is a shift in the role accountants play in working with their business clients. This shift will accelerate as more businesses jump to the cloud. 

Broadly speaking, these are Big Data, Predictive Analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), BlockChain, Cognitive Computing, Machine Learning, and Robotics Process Automation (RPA). The collective impact of these technologies is that self-sustaining (and self-learning) systems will increasingly perform clerical tasks previously performed by human beings. In the management accounting profession, professionals will spend less time collecting and organizing financial data, and more time evaluating, analyzing, and interpreting it.

In considering professionals for finance positions as well as internal training, businesses will have to rely on programs that emphasize both an understanding of the technical management accounting skills and the emerging strategic and leadership requirements of the profession.

How can organizations upskill and reskill their workforce and scale up their skilling initiatives and make their employees future-ready?

Digitalization has bred an ever-changing technology landscape where upskilling and reskilling is essential in order to keep up with the pace of the technology industry. Due to the ever-increasing impact of automation, robotic process automation (RPA), Big Data, predictive analytics, blockchain, cognitive computing, and machine learning, many traditional accounting jobs that exist today may not exist in a few years.

Employers will have to provide the chance for their employees to upskill and reskill and the employees need to have the mindset of lifelong learning in order to seek improvement. Today’s accountant is no longer burdened with task-oriented projects. Instead, the shift in dynamic accounting technology, accounting software programs are becoming more automated and the role of the accountant is changing to that of a business advisor. To become this strategic business partner of the future, accountants will need to make a concerted effort to expand their knowledge beyond the traditional accounting curriculum. 

Finally, accountants must be proactive in finding the jobs that will expand their capabilities and make them increasingly in-demand for years to come. As the changing priorities of the Big Four illustrate, the 21st-century accountant will be different from that of the last century, which he or she must adapt accordingly.  

The management accounting professionals can create value in various leadership roles using strategic analysis, including: 

1. Helping to develop innovation and growth strategies.

2. Reviewing and refining strategies to create greater long-term sustainable value.

3. Analyzing where the company is in a competitive life cycle. 

4. Communicating the strategy within the company and to the board of directors. 

5. Developing information for investor relations presentations by the CFO. 

6. Evaluating merger and acquisition (M&A) opportunities and risks. 

7. Assessing the strategic risks of the organization.

8. Developing a strategy for the finance organization.

Given the accelerated changes in the workplace and the challenging economic conditions, keeping the morale and productivity of employees intact is challenging. What's your view?

As the uncertainties caused by COVID-19 continue to disrupt work environments, business leaders must be mindful of how they can improve employees’ mental health and morale

As such, flexibility is crucial. From managing day-to-day workloads to adjusting employee performance assessments, leaders might take into account the challenges people are encountering in balancing their work lives with their personal lives. This is particularly true for working parents and other caregivers. Employers will need to upscale their digital resources to better provide to the needs of their employees whilst remote working in order to boost their morale and productivity. 

The future is digital. What does the L&D team of tomorrow need to look like in order to prepare organizations for a digital future?

COVID-19 had accelerated the digitalization process. The current landscape on the adoption of learning is depending on the technologies within the organization and countries. Developed countries are at the forefront of digital technologies, whereas developing countries are beginning to realize the importance of these technologies. 

It’s paramount that employees expand their capabilities and skills in this increasingly disruptive Digital Age. L&D is being forced to adopt new ways of learning and upskilling to adjust to the new norm. Live classes or recorded courses are the future, and the new form of learning methods such as the gamified methods used in our Blockchain 101 are being used to enhance learning. New evaluation methods will need to be adopted to ensure that participants capture all concepts and content of the course. Preparing for the future of work is more about people than technology

Read more such stories from the November issue of our e-magazine on 'The State of Digital HR

Read full story

Topics: Strategic HR, #ReimagineLearning, #HybridWorkplace

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