XU Magazine - Issue 15

AI, Automation & Accounting

Microsoft May 9-556-HIGHRES - CMYK (1) copy
Written by Marin Perez

Staying on top of technology is always vital in the accounting industry, but sometimes, it’s tough to figure out what’s positively going to be important for your business and what’s marketing-hype. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation are two technologies that have taken a bite out of the many familiar tasks that were repetitive and boring. In fact, you may already be using these today, and if not, you will be soon…

Here’s what you should know about how AI and automation will impact accounting.

What Are Artificial Intelligence & Automation?

When you think of AI, it may not always be comforting. Movie fans out there may immediately think of a computer not opening the pod bay doors or even robots with thick Austrian accents trying to destroy humans.

Thankfully, AI is far more mundane than that. At its core, AI is teaching computers how to think like humans to solve specific problems. Typically, this involves using immense troves of data that would have previously required human intervention to resolve. If you’ve ever spoken to an intelligent digital assistant like Cortana or Siri, you’ve seen AI in action.

Automation is having machines do the work that used to be done by humans. Every time you walk by an ATM, you’re walking by an example of automation in everyday life. But we’re increasingly seeing software automate business activities that were once handled by people.

The Future Is Now: How AI & Automation Are Already Impacting Accounting

While AI and automation will undoubtedly improve by leaps and bounds over the coming years, we’re already seeing how these technologies are empowering businesses of all sizes today.

The MileIQ service is an excellent example of this. It provides a mileage-tracking
app that automatically tracks and logs mileage for taxes or reimbursements. It automates the task of tracking mileage, as well as the process of calculating the value of those drives. Thanks to AI, it learns how users typically classify their drives and can automatically classify future trips for them.

I understand that tracking mileage for business reasons doesn’t sound very exciting, but it can be essential for businesses. Business owners want to know they’re paying out the proper amount in reimbursements and employees wanted repayment of what they’re owed. Everybody involved wants to focus on valuable business tasks instead of manually logging and tracking miles.

How a Small Dose of Automation Answered the Issue of Accountability

The Edge Fitness Clubs felt this pain first-hand. The gym chain was growing like a weed across Connecticut and nearby states thanks to its personalized approach to fitness. But amidst this growth, it became easy to lose track of where workers were and why they were there. This lack of accountability came home to roost when it came to providing mileage reimbursements.

Terri Smith, a project manager at The Edge Fitness Clubs, had previously built an internal web ticketing system for The Edge Fitness Clubs, so she knew that there could be a tech-based solution. Tackling the mileage problem would help with the more significant issue of employee accountability.

She chose the MileIQ for Teams product because it automates mileage tracking and reporting. The AI features make it easier for employees to have drives automatically classified for them so they could work on things that are more valuable to the business. It was so successful that it got to the point where The Edge Fitness changed its corporate policy to say employees won’t receive mileage reimbursements unless it included a MileIQ report.

Along with the current hassles it solves, leaning on automation and AI allowed The Edge Fitness to focus on growing its company. MileIQ provided “clear and fair processes for mileage so we can expand into different states and open more and more locations,” Smith said.

This is just one illustration of how these seemingly far-flung technologies are already delivering value to the accounting world today.

How to Prep Your Business for an AI, Automated World

Still, I know it’s scary to envision a future where machines and software are doing your job. But the rollout of ATMs is a terrific example of how technology can boost an industry. When these first hit the streets, there was a lot of concern that automating core functions of a bank teller’s job would lead to devastating impacts on banking employment.

A funny thing happened, though: bank teller jobs have increased since the widespread rollout of ATMs. This technology made it more cost-effective to run bank branches, which led to more offices being open, which led to more hiring of bank tellers. It’s also created a cottage industry around servicing and repairing ATMs, which created even more jobs.

Similarly, AI and automation should have a positive impact on the accounting world. Instead of spending time on the tedious parts of your work, you’ll be able to focus on the interesting matters of your business like building financial strategies or working through the interpersonal facets.

Xero founder Rod Drury once said, “Every small business, accountant and bookkeeper now has a supercomputer working for them,” and that supercomputer is only going to get better in the AI and automated future.

You’ll soon have your business be more productive, work on more fascinating stuff and do it at affordable prices. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?


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About the author

Marin Perez

Marin has been writing about how technology improves lives for about a decade. He’s excited to see how entrepreneurs are using tools like MileIQ to be more successful. When not working, he’s thinking about his next trip.