Geetu Ahuja, Head of GCC, CIMA

Today we consume and utilise data more than ever before. About 20 years ago, our average daily intake of technology was around 6 hours, mostly in the form of TV, radio and computer usage. In 2015, it won’t be far-fetched to assume that almost 95 percent of our waking hours is spent connected to technology. Trillions of tweets, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram posts are created by the hour and this number is only expected to rise further. Apart from social media, which only forms a miniscule part of this data, retail transactions, medical records, travel records, commuter movements, educational records, and even security surveillance data are captured on a daily basis. Our consumption of these massive amounts of data and information has today given birth to the Big Data buzz and as data gets generated at the speed of thought, we simply cannot discount or ignore it.

So, what is Big Data and what does it have to do with management accountants in the Middle East? Interestingly, Big Data has been ranked as one of the ten most influential technology trends that will have the potential to significantly reshape the business and accountancy landscape. In the region, it is slowly gaining momentum among the accounting fraternity, however, its influence is yet to be fully realised.

The challenge for organisations and business managers in this exciting new space is to first recognise the potential of Big Data. They then need to develop strategies for capturing and managing data, followed by developing and encouraging talent within their organisations to exploit the benefits of Big Data. It is in this last step that management accountants have a significant role to play given their training, skills, competencies and mindset.

As a business organisation, what really matters is the value Big Data brings to the table rather than just looking at it as a technology hype that needs to be adopted and this is where the management accountant’s role begins.
Management accountants standout from their typical counterpart, the financial accountants. In that respect, they are not limited to internal financial data and performance analysis but are involved in the overall performance of an organisation from financial, productivity, efficiency and effectiveness measures. In the era of Big Data, management accountants need to redefine many traditional boundaries and definitions and acquire new skills. Their role demands the same output at a higher rate of adoption and they need to be agile, learn new skills, and probably challenge some fundamentals too.

As decision makers in their organisation imagine the opportunities they can have with the insights of the online searches filtered for their customers. If they work for a bank and if they know that their customer is, at a particular moment, browsing on websites for vehicles to buy or houses to rent, knowing the customer’s financial position through the accounts they maintain, the bank might be able to offer car or housing loans before the customer goes to another financial services company. The possibilities are endless and it is the identification of what is valuable real time or near real time information to their organisation that is the real game-changer.

I think management accountants are poised to be tomorrow’s data scientist if they acquire the required skills such as advanced algorithms, use of new technical tools, data handling and mining and so on.

Organisations today expect their management team to provide predictive insights that will enable decision makers to develop strategy and deliver strategic outcomes. Getting to grips with Big Data and business analytics will provide them the ideal platform to achieve the recognition as truly value adding business partners. What they should recognise is that they must be open to the idea of transforming themselves by looking and thinking outside the box. Big Data and business analytics is an opportunity that should not be missed.
Management accountants must recognise that they have a very powerful toolkit that can complement their current roles and responsibilities in their organisation and now is the time to get involved in the Big Data buzz before it is too late.