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BY KEVIN EMPEY “Every company is a software company. You have to start thinking and operating like a digital company.” Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft. Satya Nadella’s quote talks directly to how we see business change today. The opportunity The possibilities and potential being presented by technology are increasing at an exponential rate. It’s not just about what the internet or increased mobile connectivity can do to improve a business’s commercial relationship with its customers. It’s also about what multiple, converging technologies – from drones and 3D printing to robotics and blockchain – can do to change the future of the business itself, and the workplace. Whether your objective is revenue growth, cost reduction, worker efficiency or industry disruption, innovation and digital change are impacting on every sector. And Ireland is boxing above its weight. Take Ireland-based success stories such as Ryanair’s international leadership in online and ticketless travel in the 1990s and more recent examples such as Stripe and Cartrawler competing on the global stage. Or global technology companies choosing Ireland as a location due to the availability of talent and a supportive business environment. For our size, we have an impressive story to tell and a technology ecosystem that can help other Irish companies stay ahead into the future. The problem However, a challenge we often see in traditional organisations that are adapting to the digital world is one of mindset – and the knock-on, limiting consequences this can lead to. For those who have grown up in a managerial context where IT was seen as a separate service function to the ‘business’ and a necessary but inconvenient cost, this can result in some mental baggage being brought into the very different digital world we have today. Employees and executives often treated large IT projects as episodic or ‘one-off’ changes where they needed to install the new system, get trained up and then get on with their jobs. These traditional "analog" ways of thinking about technology-based change may be valid from time-to-time, but they are working against the more open digital approach and mindset needed if we are to avail of the opportunities (and deal with the risks) that a more technology-enabled world will inevitably provide. The solution The organisations we see winning with a digital mindset tend to have the following habits: IT/technology is a core and integral part of the business and not perceived as a separate entity or service partner – a model that reinforces traditional thinking, attitudes and decision-making around technology, financial decision-making and change. Does your technology function report directly into the CEO? Does IT influence business strategy? Collaborative experimentation and innovation are woven into the business and operating model (maybe utilising a separate budget and governance model to encourage product/customer innovation). Do your business teams work with IT to jointly deliver technical innovation? Do you have a product function to streamline this process? There is a clarity of purpose in the business mission, and technology is seen as a vital enabler of that mission. Are technology and digital innovation embedded in the business strategy? Technology is an investment for the future of the business and the workplace, not just a cost to be managed with water-tight business cases required for every spend. Some failures may lead to longer-term successes so long as lessons are learned, and skills increased. How much of your technology budget supports existing business as opposed to new, innovative ways of working? Employees and leaders are fully engaged and invested with the digital journey; they get involved in projects that affect their jobs and futures and embrace more adaptive, agile ways of working. Leaders don’t need to have all the answers, just an openness to allow others to find them. Does your culture encourage full engagement in the digital journey? These early adopters are finding that rather than obsessing about the technology itself, which will inevitably change regardless, developing a digital culture and mindset – as suggested by Satya Nadella – is ultimately the bigger prize in creating the future of business and work. Kevin Empey is Managing Director at WorkMatters Consulting.

Feb 19, 2020
Strategy

BY SIOBHAN RYAN With robotic process automation (RPA) set to be nearly universal within the next five years, accountants – and the accountancy profession – must be prepared for a change that will revolutionise the sector. Firms often push more administration onto their staff to stay competitive. And this is where new technologies, such as RPA, can help: by automating repetitive and rules-based tasks, employees can spend more time on value-add activities that differentiate accountants from other roles and create a pipeline of much more dynamic business leaders. Accountants are natural leaders in finance functions and tend to migrate towards leadership positions. With the right automation tools, they will be placed higher in the value chain in terms of their skills mix and ability to bring insights back to the business. The ultimate cost of not automating the drudgery is often attrition. At a minimum, the staff covering the day-to-day operations will be unable to get their head above water to analyse the data and contribute to meaningful, insight-driven decisions. After all, accountants do a great deal of work that isn’t accountancy; it’s picking data from different sources, pasting it into spreadsheets, creating sets of tables and gathering data from other sources. There’s a big future for automation in accounting – enabling improved accuracy and customer experience, as well as creating more billable hours. The next generation of technologies is exciting, but it can be daunting – particularly for smaller companies – to consider embracing artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) or RPA. Companies need an outcome-focused solution; one that is compatible with existing IT infrastructure and can deliver immediate return on investment. In an accountancy context, RPA can improve productivity, drive down costs and streamline compliance, thus ensuring that Irish operations are lean and add value. 59% of accounting and finance leaders believe that RPA will make their business more competitive over the next two years, highlighting the scope of the technology in the accountancy profession. The need for automation will be particularly prevalent in the coming years given the widening sector skill gap, according to a recent survey of accounting and finance professionals. 62% of respondents report a ‘significant’ skills gap within the industry, up from 51% in 2016. While skills like accuracy remain important for accountants, technology like RPA will enable accountants to outsource accuracy and effectively create time to become more consultative and add value for clients. After all, accountants’ time and skill shouldn’t be tied up in cutting and pasting and pivoting data in a spreadsheet; it should be spent on meaningful analysis and making better decisions. In this way, RPA will help open up a field of accountancy that doesn’t exist now. Siobhan Ryan is Sales Director, Ireland at UiPath.

Feb 19, 2020
News

BY CHRISTINA REIP The world is changing faster than ever. New technologies and services are popping up constantly and it can feel overwhelming trying to keep employees up to speed on everything. What skills should a company prioritise? What platforms should it adopt? What are an organisation’s moral responsibilities to educate employees, or to keep them employable and employed at all? Virtually all organisations and business functions – including finance and accounting – are asking the same questions. Continuous adaptation There is no way to know what the future will bring, but change is a given. Building a workforce that is inclined to adapt and develop new areas of expertise – not just once, but continuously – is critical. Rather than teach employees a specific technological skill, empower them to learn and adapt, to seek out opportunities to learn the things that are most relevant and interesting to them. Why develop a culture of learning? People want to learn. The PwC Upskilling Hopes and Fears Survey, which published in 2019, found that 77% of adults would learn new skills or completely retrain to improve their future employability. Employers can embrace this self-motivation and encourage their people to learn. Furthermore, with the rise of mass audience training through platforms like Coursera, Master Class and EdX, it is clear that people want to learn and will seek out opportunities to do so. Learning can be an antidote to stress. Though one potential argument against upskilling/reskilling employees could be the burden of the additional work involved in – or stress caused by – learning new things, Harvard Business Review published research results that suggest the opposite: that learning can relieve stress. It’s corporate social responsibility. The Chief Operating Officer at EdX suggests that companies have a moral obligation to educate and reskill employees. Whether or not one agrees on the extent to which a private institution is responsible for such efforts, the benefits of ensuring sustainability and continuity of an organisation’s workforce – such as the reduced cost of hiring or loss of knowledge – are significant. How to build a culture of learning Though a great deal of learning can be pursued by employees individually, wide-scale change requires intentional and strategic organisational support. From programmes on specific technologies to the provision of funding and leave to take classes, companies must create the infrastructure necessary to enable the culture. Though some of these channels may require significant investment, many solutions can be relatively low-cost or even free (such as sharing curated lists of books to read or podcasts to listen to). Harnessing curiosity According to the 2019 PwC Global Annual CEO Survey, leaders believe that their people can reinvent themselves if given a chance. Harnessing that curiosity can enable companies to keep up with or stay ahead of the competition, and even establish the technology curve of the future. Christina Reip is a Senior Manager at PwC Consulting.

Feb 19, 2020
Management

Olivia Buckley outlines how small- and medium-sized business can avoid being taken in by fraudsters. SMEs today are faced with many fraud types from old fashioned cheque fraud to cyber-attacks such as ransomware. Organisations of all sizes are open to attack, but SMEs are often a prime target as their security systems may not be as robust as those of larger organisations. Fraud can significantly damage a business both financially through lost funds, lost revenue, the cost of any legal action and security upgrades, as well as non-financially resulting in a tarnished reputation, loss of trust and low employee morale. Therefore, it is critical to prevent fraud from happening in the first place. Two types of fraud which are particularly common amongst SMEs include invoice fraud and CEO/executive impersonation fraud and they have been known to catch out even the most prepared businesses. Invoice Fraud Using a spoofed email address, the fraudster emails you pretending to be a supplier. The email will mirror an email that you regularly receive from your supplier, including logos and signoffs. The email informs you that they have a new bank account and that all future payments should go to the new account. When you receive the next legitimate invoice from the real supplier you make a payment to the new bank account. Generally, it is only when the reminder to pay the invoice comes in that you realise what has happened. By then the fraudster has their money and it’s too late to recall the payment.  CEO/ Executive impersonation fraud CEO fraud is a scam in which fraudsters hack into the legitimate email of a CEO/senior executive and impersonate them sending an email to another employee in the business who deals with payments. They use malware to hack into the email and will monitor how the CEO/senior executive writes their emails, the tone and common phrases they use, and how they sign off an email. The fraudsters take an opportune moment when they know the CEO is out of the office, such as on annual leave, to send the mail telling the employee to pay money to a supplier and providing the account details to do so. In some instances, in might not be a payment request but a request for personal information such as P30s or customer information.  10 ways to keep your business safe Have a verification process in place before changing saved bank account details of your suppliers or service providers, e.g. verbally verify bank account change requests from suppliers. Ensure employees are fraud aware and understand the controls and procedures in place to prevent fraud. Provide cyber security training for staff which includes awareness around clicking links sent in emails and ensuring systems are password protected. Fraudsters may already have basic information about you or your business in their possession (e.g. name, address, account details). Do not assume the caller is genuine because they have these details. Be wary of payment requests that are unexpected, irregular or require changes to bank account details, whatever the amount involved. Always check your bank statements. If you notice any unusual transactions, report them to your bank. Don’t assume you can trust caller ID. Phone numbers can be spoofed so it looks like a company is calling even if it’s not the real company. Similarly, fraudsters can change an email address to make it look like it comes from somebody you email regularly. Look out for different contact numbers and/or a slight change in the email address. For example, .com instead of .ie top-level domain. Ensure security software is regularly updated and maintained using official and reliable brands. Back-up the system regularly. Always exercise caution when forming new relationships with potential customers. Undertake appropriate due diligence. If in any doubt, do not make a payment unless you have verbally confirmed the payment with your CEO/supplier. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Take your time to do the relevant checks. If you fall victim to a scam or have noticed unusual activity on your account, contact your bank immediately. The sooner the bank can investigate potential losses, hold funds in accounts and place recalls on transfers made in error, the better. Fraudsters withdraw funds as soon as it hits their accounts, so time really is of the essence.  You should also report the incident to law enforcement authorities. Olivia Buckley is the lead of the FRAUDSmart campaign at Banking & Payments Federation Ireland.

Feb 14, 2020
News

The best way to lead with clarity and confidence is to recognise your blind spots. Patrick Gallen explains how. Blind spots, by their very nature, are unknown to almost every leader. We don’t know what we don’t know, which makes reducing blind spots so difficult. How can leaders understand their blind spots, and take corrective action to mitigate against potential unintended consequences? The answer is feedback. By seeking feedback from a variety of people at all levels of your profession, leaders can increase awareness and understanding of their performance. In order to create an environment where people are confident to give their leader feedback, trust must also be prevalent. It can be difficult to ask for feedback and yet, we know that it is essential to give and to receive it. The temptation is to only ask for feedback when we know it is going to be positive, but the feedback we get when we know we have done a good job is unlikely to decrease a blind spot. The Johari window model, developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, is often used to explain how leaders can increase their awareness and decrease their blind spots. The model is useful because the four boxes (or windowpanes) show the difference between what is known/unknown to self and others. The only way to decrease blind spots is to ask others to share what they know about the impact of your actions, things you do that others appreciate or don’t, etc. Once feedback is shared, it increases the size of your ‘open arena’ – traits known to yourself and others –  and is no longer in your blind spot. Three quick steps to addressing your blind spots Address your blind spots by acknowledging that you have them. We all do, so let’s not pretend otherwise. Get into the habit of asking for feedback. After every meeting, speech, presentation, or project, ask someone who observed you in action – from a new intern to the CEO – to give you honest feedback. To make it easier for them, you could ask them to name one thing you did well, and one thing that could be even better next time. This gives them permission to give you a positive point and a development point and creates rapport and trust. When someone gives you feedback, do not justify or explain why you did or said things the way you did. Simply thank them for their time and effort. After you have done this for a short period of time, you may start to notice a pattern that could be a blind spot revealing itself. Lead with clarity As the old hymn Amazing Grace goes, “I once was lost, but now am found. T’was blind but now I see”. Clarity of vision is critical for leadership and will help you lead with confidence and grace. Patrick Gallen is Partner of People and Change Consulting in Grant Thornton NI.

Feb 13, 2020
News

With increasing sophistication in fraud schemes, how can we stay safe? Shane Flanagan shares three essential tips to protect ourselves and our organisations against cyber-crime. In the past 10 years, we have seen increasing levels of sophistication in fraud schemes and a significant rise in the number of cyber-criminal groups and organisations targeting both companies and individuals. Traditional fraud, focused on monetary assets, continues to exist but the exponential growth in the amount of data held by companies, facilitated and created by technology, is now a target for fraudsters. On the dark web, private health data typically sells for 10 times more than other personal data. As our lives and finances move ever more online, so too does fraud.  Trading one fraud for another The introduction of chip and pin on credit cards saw a significant reduction in credit card fraud, but this has subsequently seen fraudsters move online with a rise in online payments fraud. Phishing continues to be one of the most common and effective methods for fraudsters to target victims. Estimates suggest that over 90% of cyberattacks start with a phishing email, tricking users into handing over information. While many phishing emails use generic wording, some fraudsters are using personal information (typically sourced from social media) to add legitimacy to their requests. This tactic is known as “spear fishing”.   Advances in technology have made it easier and cheaper for fraudsters to dupe victims. For example, professional-looking or near replicas of legitimate websites can be pulled together in minutes with little or no technical knowledge and at very little cost to lend credibility to fraud schemes.    Advances in communication tech have created messaging and chat apps that enable fraudsters to collude in more covert ways. Thankfully, advances in discovery technology mean that conversations held using such applications can be easily and effectively analysed using appropriate tools should an investigation prove necessary.   Artificial intelligence: friend or foe? Developments in artificial intelligence (AI) are likely to pave the way for future frauds. When given a variety of audio samples, AI can now clone the sound of a target’s voice, and if overlaid on synthesised video of them speaking, the result can be uncanny. Either in video or audio form, this technology could be used to commit extensive and damaging fraud. Of course, AI can be a source for good. In fact, AI-enabled data analytics can now detect and stop transactions before they are even processed. What can you do to protect yourself? These tips may seem self-evident, but they will help to protect you. Stay fraud aware – Use the many resources available online to ensure you know about the latest fraud scams and how you can avoid them. Think before you share – The information you share online, especially about where you live, work and the specifics about your career, can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Do you really need to share the specifics of your life in an open forum such as social media? If not, don’t. Be sceptical – If a situation seems odd or an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your instincts and follow them and make enquiries about the legitimacy of the person or company you are about to engage with to ensure you don’t fall foul of fraudsters. Shane Flanagan is a manager in Deloitte’s forensic practice. 

Feb 13, 2020