​MYOB banks on AI, big data to shape the future of accounting

MYOB has touted artificial intelligence, big data, and utilising an organisation's people as the new focus of the accounting world.

According to CEO of MYOB Tim Reed, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, data and the Internet of Things (IoT), and people and the future of work are going to be the biggest breakthroughs in the Australia and New Zealand accounting world this year.

Speaking at the company's annual Incite conference in Sydney on Monday, Reed explained that MYOB's bread and butter has been providing its customers with disparate core business processes, but with the emergence of the three industry trends, he expects transaction processing, compliance, and advisory processes to be dissolved into one.

"The three trends are going to affect each of these three business processes individually," he said. "[They will become] one business process that is done in real time, where data is captured and the transaction processing, compliance, and advisory happens on an ongoing basis.

"I am absolutely convinced that is the future we are looking to."

Currently, the online accounting software provider has a strong focus on the future, with Reed spending less time at Incite detailing current products and more on advising customers on the trends it is expecting to see, and walking them through the MYOB "transformation".

"It's an optimistic future -- a future filled with opportunity. I get the sense that you understand it is happening but are holding back," Reed said, noting that MYOB has also changed its focus.

"That is really what we have done as a business; when we look at our investment profile, this year we'll invest over AU$60 million in research and development. Everything as we step up that spend is focused on the future."

The transformation is not new, however, as Reed explained that almost 10 years ago, MYOB was working on a customer retention strategy and found that customers were not ditching the product out of dislike, rather as the result of outgrowing the platform.

From there, the organisation's Enterprise Division was formed, with MYOB realising there was a real opportunity to leverage what the company had brought to the small business space to the next stage of growing enterprises.

Speaking with journalists in Sydney on Monday, Reed unveiled the company's newest offering: MYOB Advanced People.

The latest product from the enterprise team is a cloud-based payroll solution for bigger businesses, and allows for payroll information to flow between functions, which Reed said reduces duplication of effort and manual data entry, and provides real-time business insights for the Australian and New Zealand mid-market.

Built on the same platform as MYOB's Advanced Business, as a unified solution Advanced People offers the ability to consolidate systems and processes into a single platform, Reed explained.

Advanced People is also part of MYOB's strategy to automate the workforce. Reed told ZDNet that AI has a huge amount to play in all the components of the new product.

"The concept of narrow AI is that computers just think better than people do and the further and further on any business process that you push down that thought of automation, of being able to see trends, see things, and then actually proactively ask questions, the more benefit it is," he said.

According to Reed, AI isn't just part of the company's products; it runs through the organisation as well.

"If I think about our business, we're 1,600 people and we run MYOB PayGlobal as our internal system -- we might move to Advanced People soon -- and I think about the processes that are involved in that. There are so many places where we have managers going back and doing manual things with individuals ... we have spreadsheets and emails that go right around the business; AI will take care of that," Reed explained.

To the CEO, AI is now a business necessity rather than a gimmick.

Quoting Bill Gates, Reed said that organisations often overestimate the amount of change that will happen in the next two years and underestimate what will happen in 10 years' time.

"You hear about these businesses that are moving forward, and in 10 years' time people will look back and say: 'I can't believe that's the way that we did it', yet today the challenge of convincing businesses to take that step still exists," he said. "Change is not an option and the status quo will not remain."

For the six months ending June 30, 2016, MYOB recovered from its net loss experienced during the same period the year prior, posting AU$26 million in net profit after tax on revenue of AU$178 million.