I am a strong believer in technology. Very deeply, I am
convinced that innovations and new technologies will bring about an
era of abundance.
The concept of abundance is very strong: true abundance is not
only about scale. It is not enough to have plenty of the things we
consume and use every day. Abundance must also incorporate a
dimension of scope, to be complete. That is, abundance must be
defined by quantity and by quality, thus filling all our needs,
including the ones we cannot foresee today.
How far are we from there?
It is tempting to think that the path is well engaged, and that
the challenges we are facing can be overcome. We do see a lot of
encouraging signs, from the brilliant successes of AlphaGo and
Watson to McDonald's automated cashiers.
However, we must not forget how hard the path ahead actually is.
Conceiving the scale part of abundance is easy: we can all imagine
having our fridges full of fresh noodles, veggies and craft beer
without us ever needing to order or go buy any of it.
Approaching the scope part of abundance is more difficult. It is
just like trying to think today about what the next big innovation
will be. No, don't mention big data or
blockchain: those already exist, though they haven't
yet saturated their respective markets, by far. What will be the
next big thing, which doesn't exist today? Tough question.
One way to be ready for such innovations is to be aware that
they may come. It is hard to focus solely on them, or to try to
anticipate them. But we can easily keep our focus on the easier
part of abundance: scale. We can work toward this direction, and it
will end up unveiling more than just scale.
This might seem very vague. Actually, it does apply to many
industries, among which is the audit industry, one of the core
focuses of KPMG.
Automation is not only about speed
We auditors continuously try to make our processes more
efficient. We deploy automated data treatment tools. We implement
new workflows to streamline the audit process. What would you
expect out of this? Getting the auditors to approve your accounts
twice as fast as before, right? That would be focusing solely on
the scale part of our path to abundance, without looking at the
scope side. All the data and analytics that we use in our audits
help us do the same job as before twice as fast, no doubt about
it—but it also opens opportunities for us to significantly
increase the quality of our work, making our audits more useful and
relevant for all stakeholders of the firms we audit.
A telling example of this is iNAV, an audit tool developed
in-house in KPMG Luxembourg. iNAV allows us to perform various
audit tests on investment funds, such as analytical procedures on
the performance of the funds, or validation of the pricing of their
portfolios. What started mainly as a quantitative improvement of
the audit of funds ultimately allowed us to make a great
qualitative jump in the way we audit funds: we are able to be more
exhaustive, more precise, and more consistent thanks to automated
processes. We are also able to communicate better and make the
audit more useful for boards and audit committees with the
visualisation tools that we have developed. Without the initial
automation efforts, we would never have reached this qualitative
state of fund auditing.
So ultimately, by working on scale we ended up innovating as
well. Thanks to our efforts on automation, we can now provide more
meaningful opinions in a timely manner. That is what the path ahead
looks like: It looks as if we will be able to deliver our opinions
twice as fast in a few years. But we must keep in mind that a
significant part of this freed-up time will be used to increase
quality. Thus, we will be pushing back further the achievement of a
full abundance, whether we approach it by scale or scope.
Automation does not only mean more speed, it also means more
quality, whether this quality can be anticipated up front or
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