- When I became a director, I wanted to do something to differentiate myself. I became a chief financial officer for clients and helped with implementing new software to assist clients transform their finance teams.
- We haven’t seen any job loss and that’s not our expectation either. It’s about focusing on the future of work and upskilling people in technology as well.
- I absolutely love where my career is now and I am so grateful the firm has taken a chance and invested in this.
As told to Hannah Tattersall
Photographer Graham Jepson
Tell us how you got into this line of work.
After getting my CA designation [in 2006], I lived in London for a bit and worked in not-for-profit doing project management and accounting. When I came back to Australia, I got a job with HLB [Mann Judd in 2008] in the accounting and tax division. I’ve always had an interest in processes and procedures and finding ways to improve a process, and when we went offshore in 2013 I helped to make that happen. When I became a director, I wanted to do something to differentiate myself. I became a chief financial officer for clients and helped with implementing new software to assist clients transform their finance teams. I actually created the first digital employee without anyone realising. It was designed to assist with work flow in our division and to automatically send out staff emails to let them know where their jobs were at. When a junior would start a new job, the senior would get an email telling them the job was starting or was ready for review. I hadn’t really told anyone I had done it; I just did it as it made sense for the division. I wrote a paper on introducing robotics to the firm and it went from there.
Pictured: Fiona Dixon CA
“I absolutely love where my career is now and I am so grateful the firm has taken a chance and invested in this.”
You’re working in quite a niche. Tell us about the bots you have created.
Using Microsoft Office 365 we have created eight bots so far. We created avatars and personalities for them to get engagement from staff. There’s ‘Shelley’, who assists with letters, resolutions and address changes. She was super helpful during our recent office move. We have Anna who does things like the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) searches and keeping track of proposals. Then there’s ‘Harry Botter’ who works in audit, creating planning letters and closing letters, audit reports, engagement letters and independence declarations. He also downloads Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) announcements for listed clients and formats trial balances. And ‘Warren’ [Buffett] who works in wealth and helps with the quarterly reports we send to clients, portfolio analysis and cover letters.
What impact have these bots had on the workplace? Has anyone lost their job to ‘Harry Botter’?
We haven’t seen any job loss and that’s not our expectation either. It’s about focusing on the future of work and upskilling people in technology as well. In the past six months we have saved more than 1000 hours and we expect to see that keep growing. We have spent a lot of time investing in this and everyone has been quite engaged with it. It’s changing the way staff learn and how they learn. Bots can be used to speed up the processing of back-end documentation and undertake other administrative tasks. A key part of the whole process has been making sure we can quantify time and cost savings. It frees up people to do less mundane things and deal more with clients.
Do you enjoy what you do?
I absolutely love where my career is now and I am so grateful the firm has taken a chance and invested in this. It takes a special type of place to give you the room to grow. I would never in my life have thought I’d be doing this sort of work and doing something I love.
Building a bot
Bots are simple software applications that can be programmed to follow a set of instructions to perform tasks such as answering common questions or booking appointments.
Previously, you needed coding skills to be able to build a bot. However, now there are frameworks (such as Bot Framework Composer, Power Virtual Agents and Bot Framework SDK) with preloaded bot templates that require little or no coding.
In order to do a task, a bot needs a set of instructions to follow – a flow chart or script of responses. In addition, if you build a bot to answer common queries the finance team receives, for example, you will need a database of those FAQs the bot can access to answer questions.
How to develop your tech skills
Fiona Dixon CA confesses she’s not an IT person: “I just had an interest in it.” If you’d like to develop your own tech skills, here’s her advice.
You already have skills that transfer well to tech
Most accountants are logical, meticulous and detail-oriented: ideal characteristics for simple programming.
“You can draw on your process mapping skills and that deep knowledge of what has to happen, when it needs to happen and documenting that process,” says Dixon.
Explore the platforms you have
“I first got interested in tech through the Microsoft platform, and I think most people would have access to it in some way, shape or form,” she says.
Dixon recommends seeing what Stream, Planner and SharePoint can do, before moving on to the Microsoft Power Platform. “That’s where you can start to build flows that can effectively be a digital employee or bot.”
If you haven’t encountered these tools before, Stream is for all things video, Planner is a project management tool, and SharePoint is for storing and organising information.
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