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Australian finance leaders struggle to adopt AI due to skill gap
Thu, 7th Dec 2023

A recent survey conducted among 170 Australian finance, accounting and C-suite professionals has unveiled their readiness to adopt emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance their business finance operations. The study, commissioned by digital finance transformation leader BlackLine, revealed that whilst business leaders see the imperative need for such technology, there is the challenge associated with an existing lack of skills necessary to implement and harness its full potential.

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed asserted that cloud computing (88%), generative AI (78%), and novel forms of AI (84%) are vital in bolstering business resilience against potential disruptions in the future. However, the scarcity of skills within the F&A sector could intensify with the introduction of these innovative technologies, thereby expanding the already existing skill gap. About 31% of respondents identified proficiency in the use of new technology or software as a pivotal skill needed for their company’s agility amidst disruptive events. Yet, more than a quarter (34%) expressed anxieties about the lack of appropriate skills within their F&A teams currently, or their capacity to develop them for the effective adoption of AI and other newly emerging technologies.

Rosie Cairnes, Regional Vice President Australia and New Zealand, BlackLine, stated: "In today's business environment, financial automation technology is now a necessity for F&A departments, and many businesses are excited and optimistic about how technology, including AI, can further streamline processes and augment existing systems. While there is understandable apprehension in the adoption of emerging technologies, F&A leaders have an opportunity to enable the upskilling of their teams through automation and ultimately reinforce their position as internal strategic advisers and enablers of corporate performance."

Despite the advantages of AI, several challenges remain. Integration with existing systems, creating robust governance frameworks to prevent misuse of AI, and building confidence in the outputs of AI were highlighted as prominent hurdles. Adding to these, resistance to change, the pressure to adopt before readiness and training AI models to understand and accurately interpret complex financial data were also key concerns.

And, while organisations are exploring how best to integrate these technologies, a significant 69% concede they lack adequate expertise in these areas. Many are struggling to recruit and retain enough skilled F&A employees to fulfil internal control responsibilities, with 78% expressing difficulties. Only around a third of respondents stated their F&A department currently has sufficient skills when it comes to strategic thinking (32%) and the ability to analyse data (35%). Even fewer (31%) feel they currently have the skills to use new technology or software.

Mike Polaha, Senior Vice President of Finance Solutions and Technology, BlackLine, said: "Technology can provide some relief in helping to create an environment where accountants are not spending all day in spreadsheets, booking journal entries, and reconciling accounts. The more automation a company can provide, the greater the elimination of mundane tasks for F&A team members. This will go a long way to improving perceptions of the industry and, in turn, can create more exciting and challenging roles for new and existing talent alike."

As the business landscape becomes increasingly complex, organisations with skill-ready F&A teams stand at a competitive advantage. Those fluent in the use of emerging data, analytics, and AI modelling technologies will be better able to discern business insights that can serve broader organisational functions, helping them to seize opportunities and evade potential disruptions. Such teams will not only be better equipped to navigate the future but will also drive innovation and efficiency in daily operations. Now, according to Polaha, it is the time for F&A leaders to build the skill-set of their existing workforce to future-proof their operations and strengthen their organisations' resilience.