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A baseline knowledge of technology, combined with an enduring curiosity and eagerness to learn, will be key for success in the years ahead
In a hyperconnected world, CPAs must continuously improve their technological knowledge (Getty Images/Oscar Wong)
There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about digital transformation and the need for CPAs to have the tech skills to embrace this shift. The profession’s upcoming Competency Map 2.0 will reflect this need, emphasizing the ever-greater role that technology and digitization will play in CPAs’ professional lives.
But how does this shifting landscape affect your own situation? In other words, how much do you need to know in your own role?
We asked experts in the field for their views. And the reality is that all CPAs will require a baseline level of knowledge. After that, your required skill level will depend on your specific function—and how you choose to learn.
Here is what you will need and how to get there.
With technology integrated into so many of the tools we use on a daily basis, CPAs in all fields will need to adapt to digitization in the future.
“Three years ago, if you had said to me, you’re going to have all your meetings online, I would have said otherwise,” says FCPA Irene Wiecek, professor of accounting and director of the Master of Management and Professional Accounting Program at the Institute for Management and Innovation, University of Toronto and member of the Competency Map Task Force (CMTF). “But the shift to remote work caused by COVID-19 accelerated the move to a more [technologically] advanced way to operate.”
For example, says Wiecek, a video call also captures online discussions through the chat and can be recorded and played later, digitizing what would traditionally have been an in-person meeting. A transcript of the meeting can also be created automatically. Now, instead of using a white board, teams can use digital platforms, such as Miro or Jam Board, that can be saved digitally and worked on continuously even after the meeting.
Essentially, this means that everything is now hyperconnected, Wiecek says. “Not only are we connected to each other; we are connected to machines and the machines are connected to machines. That’s the big picture.”
Because of this shift, CPAs will need to be familiar with how systems work, says Wiecek. “They need to be able to use this hyperconnected ecosystem and understand it well enough to squeeze more out of it. It’s a paradigm shift, affording a chance to completely rethink how we do things.”
To succeed in a digitized world, CPAs need to realize the impact technology has on every role and facet of an organization, says CPA Malik Datardina, governance, risk and compliance strategist for Auvenir. “Tech and innovation are now the foundation of business. If you’re a member in industry trying to explain something to your employer, you should be able to rely on tech and data skills that enable you to do that.”
Naturally, some accounting roles may be more reliant on technology than others, says Datardina. For example, a CFO at a tech startup would have different needs than a general tax practitioner. But, in his view, the knowledge spread is similar to what you might find in an area such as tax.
Fortunately, technology is becoming more accessible for everyone. For example, no code and low code platforms— tools that enable the development of applications through user-friendly graphical interfaces—allow the lay person to create websites and software with minimal technical knowledge. And visualization tools such as Tableau and Qlik are a powerful way to present data.
“CPAs are not just competing with AI but with other professionals with a shared skillset, such as data scientists,” he says. “So having an understanding of data handling, extraction and analysis will help them remain relevant and competitive. That’s the baseline of what they need to understand.” (To gauge CPAs’ current level of digital knowledge, CPA Quebec recently launched an app. See below: How digitally mature are CPAs?)
Depending on the skill level you seek, there will be different paths to follow. If you want to specialize in cybersecurity, for example, Datardina says you can look to organizations such as the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), which offers the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) designation. CPA Canada has also released an introductory course on data privacy, which is cybersecurity adjacent.
If you are looking to bridge technology and business more broadly, you can consider the Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) credential, which is offered by CPA Canada in association with the American Institute of Public Accountants.
But, if you are a non-specialist, acquiring the necessary skills will have less to do with set courses and lectures than with being curious and engaging in self-directed learning. “It’s about finding opportunities in your current role to take time out and say, ‘I need to invest in myself,’ ” says Datardina.
If you want to learn at your own pace, you can download open-source programming and system integration programs and take in as much as you want at a time. “Python, for example, is great if you’re looking for something more technical,” Datardina says.
Coursera is another open-course provider, offering thousands of micro-courses and certificates from UX design to machine learning. CPA Canada offers certificates on subjects such as blockchain or data management that can help you advance your knowledge of hot topic areas. You can also consult its publication on why CPAs should code, as well as the joint CPA Canada/IFAC discussion paper on the professional accountant’s role in data. And general interest learning through vehicles such as YouTube, news articles and TV shows can also be useful ways to keep up to date.
Whatever tools or programs you choose to advance your skills, experts agree that it’s your eagerness to learn that will be the deciding factor in your success.
“When I interview candidates for a position, I’m less concerned with what specific tools they know than with their desire to seek out new solutions,” says Wiecek. “For example, when I run into a technical problem, I often look up the solution online and implement it on the spot. I understand that unless I do these things, I am not going to reach the same level of insight with all this data that’s available to me.”
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