People Are Key to a Tech-Enabled Audit

Why an overemphasis of technological innovation at the expense of people and process is such a costly mistake.

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Technological innovation is taking audit and assurance by storm. But for PwC, it’s not all about robots and technology. It’s also about upskilling their people. “I think that technology has a role to play, and me being in the technology field, I'm very fond of technology. The reality is without competent people, technology's only going to take you so far, and it's not far enough,” explained Mike Baccala, U.S. Assurance Innovation Leader. “It's critically important that any organization that is taking this journey, including our clients, can't leave their people behind.”

Baccala was joined by PwC’s Maria Moats, U.S. Audit & Assurance Leader and Pierre-Alain Sur, U.S. Assurance Process & Technology Leader at a recent a PwC Audit Innovation Demo in New York where they sat down with members of the media to showcase the technologies enhancing PwC’s audit and the many ways they’re investing in their people. 

There are clear risks, Baccala says, to overemphasizing technology at the expense of people and process, giving lease accounting as an example. Five years ago, the process of reviewing one lease might take an entire day. Now, a machine can take the learnings of the baseline algorithms and pull certain data out. But as the individual reviews the document, makes corrections or highlights something that was missed by the machine, the algorithm improves.

“That domain knowledge in knowing how to interact with these technologies, is what makes them work. It's what makes AI, in most cases, successful in this context when you're applying it to complex problems like this. So, again, it's hard to just have the technology without the workforce behind it.”

“We call it ‘human and machine collaboration’ and this combination is more powerful than either one alone,” says Moats.

To ensure that employees are able to focus on innovating and master emerging technologies, the company has introduced the Digital Accelerators program, which allows employees to take 18 months to two years to completely immerse themselves in learning about a new area.

Moats pointed out that the program, combined with a commitment to upskill all employees across the workforce has been a helpful retention tool. “This talent in particular is looking to accelerate their career development in much faster ways than we ever did, and they can do a lot, and it's so powerful to put them in front of clients. It's like a win-win.”