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Is your future in data science?

James Taylor looks at how big data is changing the world for accountants – and creating opportunities, too

June 2017

In March 2016, ACCA published an article entitled ‘The Big Data Effect’. The article focused on the notion that as businesses are being transformed by the impact of big data and data analytics the role of accountancy and finance professionals will change, too.
I remember reading the article and thinking, does this mean that accountants need to start developing and adopting data scientist skills-sets?

What and who are data scientists?
Data scientists are big data wranglers. They take an enormous mass of messy data points (unstructured and structured) and use their formidable skills in maths, statistics and programming to clean, massage and organise them. Then they apply all their analytic powers – industry knowledge, contextual understanding and scepticism of existing assumptions – to uncover hidden solutions to business challenges.

Why now?
A year ago only a handful of our clients were talking to us about big data, R programming and linear-regression-in-python. This is changing. In most client meetings now we have discussions about future skills needs, big data, analysis tools and how we can help them change the finance department from a service function to a business-critical service, central to strategic decision making.
A number of our clients recognise that data science is the intersection of technology, statistics and business (domain) knowledge.
They also recognise that their finance departments are ideally positioned to take advantage of this transition from traditional data analysis to something that is more data interrogation, analysis of data from different sources and more intelligent data samples.

What does the future hold?
From what I see, the accountants of the future are going to need to be able to tackle more in-depth data analytics:
• Descriptive analytics: historical and current data.
• Diagnostic analytics: patterns and irregularities.
• Predictive/prescriptive analytics: forecasting.
There is clearly an opportunity for new ‘hybrid accountancy/big data’ teams to be established. These teams/individuals will not only process a large amount of unstructured, semi-structured, and structured data that flows into business every day, they will undertake more in-depth analysis to give businesses a more comprehensive understanding of their functions and opportunities.
While we are helping clients develop training programmes to take advantage of the obvious opportunity and I would recommend looking at some of the free SQL, R or python resources out there to see if it’s an area that interests you.
• James Taylor is a partner at HTFT

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