Today’s accounting students are facing new professional demands due to emerging accounting technologies, specifically data analytics. As accounting technologies are becoming more automated, the role of the new accountant is shifting into that of a business advisor, which requires accountants have the skills to understand and interpret data. Therefore, accounting grads who have the skills to provide actionable insights with data have a competitive advantage over their colleagues who aren’t as technically savvy.
So how can accounting students acquire the data skills needed for these new professional demands? Is it up to their accounting professors and schools to help them understand, process, interpret, and provide valuable insight into data for their clients?
To get a better understanding of how this can be done, we decided to reach out to Tracie L. Miller-Nobles, CPA -- an Associate Professor of Accounting at Austin Community College. Previously she was a Senior Lecturer at Texas State University, San Marcos, TX and has taught as an adjunct at University of Texas-Austin. She is the lead author of Horngren's Accounting textbook (Pearson). She has public accounting experience with Deloitte Tax LLP and Sample & Bailey, CPAs.
Roger CPA Review: How important do you think it is for accounting professors to include the topic of data analytics into their classroom curriculum and why? Should this be an accounting course or an IT course?
Tracie L. Miller-Nobles: I think it's very important for accounting professors to include data analytics in their accounting curriculum. First, employers are asking that accounting graduates be skilled in this area. I recommend that accounting graduates take as many courses that incorporate technology skills as possible. This could include courses in the area of Excel, computer programming, data analytics, and data visualization. The more technology skills an accounting graduate has, the better job opportunities they will have after graduation. The accounting profession is rapidly changing and technology, including data analytics, will be a key component of those changes.
Professors should also include data analytics in their accounting courses because it is beginning to be tested on the CPA Exam. The AUD and BEC section both require students to use data analytics to analyze and interpret results. The more experience a student can have with data analytics in their courses, the better prepared a student will be to sit for the CPA exam.
Lastly, many of the accrediting institutions (such as AACSB and ACBSP) are looking or have already included data analytics as a required component of their business and accounting curriculum. In addition, both the AICPA and IMA have also emphasized the importance of this.
RCPAR: How can current accounting students acquire the skills and knowledge needed to meet the technical demands required in their future careers as CPAs?
TMN: If a student's current school or university is not currently teaching data analytics, I would encourage them to speak with a faculty member or department chair. The faculty member can help advise which courses the student could take (even if they are outside the accounting curriculum). There are also a lot of videos available online that can help students learn data analytics software. Both the Tableau and PowerBI websites provide free resources for individuals who want to learn more and apply themselves.
My colleague, Wendy Tietz, and I have also developed a series of projects that students can use independently to learn Excel, Tableau, and PowerBI. They can find these projects on our websites: iteachingaccounting.com and accountingintheheadlines.com.
RCPAR: How do you see Data Analytics transforming the accounting profession in the future?
TMN: Tremendously! All a student or professor would have to do is pick up an industry magazine or read a business article in the Wall Street Journal for examples of how data analytics is transforming the accounting profession. For example, here are the highlighted topics that have been on the cover of Strategic Finance (the industry magazine issued by the IMA) in the last couple of months: Adapting for Digital Survival (Feb 2018), Relevance in the Digital Age (Apr 2018), Blockchain (July 2018/Jan 2019), Data Science (Sept 2018), and AI Risks and Rewards (Apr 2019).
Technology, including data analytics, is driving how businesses are operating. If the accounting profession doesn't get on board and become skilled in this area of technology, "we" are going to be left in the dust! We won't be able to advise or consult businesses on how they can be profitable in this ever-changing economy. Students who have these technology skills will immediately rise to the top and I believe will be highly sought after in accounting firms and in the industry.
We would like to thank Professor Miller-Nobles for taking the time to provide her valuable insights into this very hot topic within the accounting profession.