I started my career at PW as an accountant. I have a long since expired CPA certificate as memory. It was good business grounding for an MBA and required experience back then before you could move into PW’s consulting arm. But I was bored as hell and tried to get a job on Wall Street and a couple of firms looked at me for their early “quant” programs. I am sure they saw that I did not have a solid statistical grounding, even though my GMAT quantitative scores were in the top percentile. Fortunately, PW moved me into consulting and I spent the next decade implementing systems around the world, while staying pretty close to accounting colleagues.
So I have seen many an accountant influence software selections and implementations. Plenty of accounts payable feature/functions in RFPs, not as many focused on MRP. In the mid to late 90s at Gartner, I saw the Big 5 firms drive many ERP projects. Focus on GL and other financial modules, and years later if ever, plant maintenance and warehousing focus. In the last decade, I have seen accountants apply complex interpretations of Sarbanes Oxley to processes, treat sustainability as an opportunity to focus on carbon accounting, not emission reduction. I have seen them use BI projects to primarily improve financial reporting. No wonder finance and other white collar, corporate functions have seen layers of automation in the last two decades.
I now see them salivate to use Big Data projects and things like ERP on HANA to make faster financial analysis and reporting.
Time to deemphasize their influence, and bring in the quants – math and stats majors. The big difference is math/stats majors love all kinds of puzzles – on the shop floor, in genomics, in climate forecasting, wherever. They don’t have green eyeshades to keep looking for financial scenarios. It is pretty clear that the highest payback advanced analytics projects are happening in preventative maintenance, in social analytics, in sports– mostly out in the field, away from corporate functions.
Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google, got it right a few years ago when he said “the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians”. You know Jeff Bezos at Amazon is surrounded by math majors, not accountants, when his annual shareholder letter starts with “Random forests, naïve Bayesian estimators, RESTful services, gossip protocols, eventual consistency, data sharding, anti-entropy, Byzantine quorum, erasure coding…”.
More corporate CIOs and yes, even CFOs need to make the same switch. My accounting colleagues still add plenty of control and compliance value, but as Wall Street found with me, they do not often have the quantitative rigor or curiosity. We cannot let them influence IT as much as we did for the last couple of decades.
(Read this and other articles @ Deal Architect)