Going digital, fighting bias

Appearing in In The Black magazine, October 2021

Digital Transformation in Accounting
By Richard Busulwa and Nina Evans
Routledge, $74, 284 pages

The field of digitisation is growing fast and this book would be useful to anyone in the finance profession who wants to improve their capabilities, even though it is aimed primarily at advanced students. Digitisation adds a new dimension to the finance/IT nexus, opening novel opportunities as well as challenges for accountants.

Busulwa and Evans are senior academics at Australian universities and they keep the Australian experience of digitisation in mind. They unpack the key concepts and explain how traditional accounting information systems can be integrated with digital transformation. They illustrate their points with relevant case studies and finish each chapter with tests and exercises, as well as a ‘Google and reflect’ section.

This is important material but the real value of the book is in the concluding sections, where Busulwa and Evans take a dive into the direction of digital technologies. They examine IoT, machine learning and Big Data management, with a focus on where accountants can add value. There is also a framework for ongoing learning and tools for staying ahead of the curve. The authors write with admirable clarity, so it adds up to a good package, and a timely guide on where the digitisation path is leading.

Unbias: Addressing Unconscious Bias at Work
By Stacey Gordon
Wiley, $42, 256 pages

Building a diverse, equitable workforce is no easy task, as Gordon, CEO of a company specialising in the area, makes clear. But companies that make a point of encouraging diversity tend to perform better, especially in innovation and market response. The central problem is that recruiters and managers, like all people, have a natural ‘affinity bias’ and generally prefer those like themselves in race, gender, background and outlook. In most cases, says Gordon, this is an unconscious process, and there is a further level of difficulty due to managers asserting that they are blind to race/gender/background and just want the best person. That is a dangerous claim, says Gordon, and she suggests way to collect data on hiring and promotion decisions to get the true picture.

This can lead to conversations that are difficult but necessary. It can also mean some painful self-examination for senior executives. Gordon offers a set of tools to guide this journey, including questions to ask and procedures to establish.

A drawback with Unbias is that a good deal of it relates to the American experience, especially with race. However, there are universal lessons here that make this book useful to recruiters and managers anywhere.

Downloadable Resources

Leadership advice

Anjali Sud is the CEO of Vimeo, a global video posting and sharing platform with over 200 million users, a position she took up at the age of 33. In this TED Talk, she explains her views about balancing a formal role with informal communication, especially when providing feedback. The CEO role is more about enabling others than being a ‘doer’, although it is important to have demonstrated outstanding competence in previous roles. Another essential is to appoint good people, including ones who disagree with you. The more power you hold, she emphasises, the more accountable you need to be.

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Malware warning

Ransomware attacks are on the rise, according to data from the Australian Cyber Security Centre. Corporations are the most common targets but individuals, SMEs and government agencies have also been hit. The ACSC has a section devoted to the problem, with advice on preventative measures and examples of recent incidents. Paying a ransom to unlock your devices or files is very unwise, as it will almost certainly lead to repeat attacks and further demands.

The ACSC site includes a useful video on ransomware attacks as well as practical guides on how to respond to an attack and how to report one.

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Working women

The Business Women Australia site provides a wealth of information and services. It focuses on leadership, business improvement, professional growth, and networking. Its services include a podcast series, an online magazine, coaching options, and a wide selection of events held around the country. There is an Insights section of articles (connected to the magazine) provided by women with specialist expertise: the pieces on book-keeping myths and supporting remote workers are especially interesting. The BWA emphasis is consistently on the useful and the practical. There is a subscription/membership service but the site offers plenty of advice for occasional guests as well.

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Tech hiring

Artificial Intelligence, blockchain and proactive cybersecurity offer quantum leaps in efficiency and productivity. The current problem is finding people with expertise in these areas. Recruitment firm Michael Page and the Economic Development Board of Singapore have released their joint report Humans of AI: Innovations and Hiring Trends in APAC which explores the issues in Australia and south-east Asia.

The report looks at the specific skills needed, noting the need for cross-disciplinary knowledge. Creativity and problem-solving is as important as technical skills. Many companies will need to improve their talent management strategies to locate, recruit and retain the people they need.

To read a summary of the report, and access the full document, go to:
Humans of Tech: 2021 hiring trends in APAC for AI, Blockchain and Cybersecurity

Depth of data

The Australian Bureau of Statistics collects and releases huge amounts of data, ranging from the national accounts to the economic impact of COVID-19. Despite the volume of material the site is easy to navigate, and there are sections dealing with industry sectors and trends. There are also tools such as Microbuilder which allow users to draw off data sets to create comparative tables or graphs. This can be used to add depth to a presentation or research report.

Aside from this, the ABS offers a Consultancy Service where specialised data and information can be requested (although there is a cost).

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