Technology in the ACA - A guide to the main topics

Hello!  My name’s David Lyford-Smith, and I’m a manager in the ICAEW’s IT Faculty.  One of the faculty’s roles is in advising on technology trends and topics as they relate to the ACA, and helping Learning & Professional Development to keep the ACA up to date on its coverage of technology topics.  Since joining the faculty I have been leading our work in this area, and today I have a bit of an update for you on the changes in the ACA, but also on some helpful faculty resources and publications that you may find useful when looking into these topics.

Year on year, the ACA syllabus is incorporating steadily more technology topics.  The 2018 changes and key topics outlined below build on existing content within the 2017 syllabus.  Furthermore, technology isn’t just something that’s constrained to one level of the syllabus or to one module.  Technology and its impact are covered throughout the ACA, from certificate to advanced level and embedded in each module.  However, two modules are particular tied in to the topic, and are being renamed to reflect that:

  • Business and Finance becomes Business, Technology and Finance
  • Business Strategy becomes Business Strategy and Technology

The impact of technology goes beyond just the syllabus content; there is also now an increased focus in the professional skills ladders on the skills needed in an era of technological change – be it adaptability or critical thinking.  And of course we have now introduced computer-based exams for some modules.

The technology content in the ACA is focused on a particular set of key technology trends.  Below, I outline each, and provide some links to relevant IT Faculty content.

Big data and analytics

Ever-increasing volumes of data are being produced by organisations, and both structured and unstructured data are playing a larger and larger role in business decision making.  The audit profession is taking a lead in using new analytical capabilities to reduce manual testing and increase audit efficiency.

A series of publications are available on the subject:

Cloud computing

More and more companies are looking to the cloud for their service, outsourcing their server, storage, calculation and other computing needs rather than solving the problems themselves.  Cloud accounting software such as Xero has been a particular trend in the accounting space. 

The Internet of Things

As more and more everyday objects become linked with the internet – from ID chips to smart devices, automatic order buttons or personal fitness trackers – the Internet of Things steadily grows.  The term covers any and all internet-enabled devices, from the personal devices that many of us use, to intricate sensor-driven robot warehouses.  Accountants will need to be aware of the multitudinous new services and business models that will result. 

Cybersecurity

With stories breaking frequently about high-profile security breaches at even the largest of companies, cybersecurity is charging up the priority list for boards to consider.  The costs of a breach can be significant, not only in the cost to repair, but also in reputational damage.  Accountants can help clients be prepared.

There are many ICAEW resources in this area; most are indexed at this hub site.

Distributed ledger technologies, including blockchain

Blockchain is the distributed ledger system that underlies the online cash bitcoin.  It allows a network of participants to share transactions and information with one another with absolute security and without the need for a central controlling party.  Blockchain is a potentially revolutionary technology for how transactions are made and stored, and accountants may be positioned to take a lead on how it is implemented and used. 

Digitalisation of tax

HMRC’s ‘Making Tax Digital’ programme is the second major wave for digitalisation of the UK system.  In tax administrations around the world, interaction between the taxman and the taxpayer is increasingly headed to digital communication.  Not only is the medium changing, but there are other significant changes for accountants, such as the rise of pre-populated tax returns that are primarily prepared by the tax authority, rather than the taxpayer.

 

There are also other trends on the horizon – most importantly, AI and automation.  As machine learning and other techniques feed ever-faster improvements in the capabilities of automated systems, the long term prospect may be that many of the current preoccupations of the accounting profession become partially or completely automated.  The profession will have an interesting time adapting to new ways of working, in particular looking to capitalise on opportunities to work alongside AI systems to deliver powerful new insights and services.

The march of technology is speeding up, not slowing down – but we are keeping ahead of it, and planning for technology in the 2019 syllabus is already underway.  Whatever twists are coming down the line, we’re here to respond to them.

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