The fact that nearly three-fourths of CPAs consider finance and accounting to have an important role in innovation represents a positive shift, according to Joshua Azran, CPA/ABV/CFF, CGMA. A management consultant and partner/owner of CPA firm Origins Group in California, Azran said that the results show a change in attitude from about 10 years ago, when, he said, some CPAs thought it was enough to implement an SAP or Oracle system to create reports and organizational dashboards for executives.

“I think after a couple years they realized it’s not that easy,” Azran said. “It’s not just about throwing the information out there. It’s about working with it. It’s about driving innovation from it, and it’s about improving technology functions and processes so finance and accounting become a true driver of value.”

Azran said organizational agility is helping innovation by finance and accounting occur more rapidly at midsize companies than at large corporations. His tips to help finance and accounting become more innovative include:

1. Be part of fostering a culture of innovation. “The best companies I’ve seen, of all sizes, really … include finance and accounting at the table, not just at the board meetings, but at the meetings when you’re trying to figure out how to do better for the company as a whole,” Azran said.

2. Leverage existing technology. “There are a ton of applications, plug-ins, technology resources, ways to leverage things, ways to reorganize your organization, and really become a sum of the parts,” Azran said.

3. Don’t be afraid of technology. Azran said people fear technology because they think it’s going to replace their jobs, but said he hasn’t seen that to be the case. “It definitely re-tasks people, and I won’t mince words about that. But in most all circumstances, [technology handles some tasks], and then those [finance] people go and add value or support in other ways,” Azran said.

4. Become an expert in a subject outside finance and accounting. “There’s not a hard-and-fast line between finance and accounting and IT, or finance and accounting and sales, or anything. And those people who I think realign themselves and identify those opportunities are going to bring significant value to their companies,” Azran said.

5. Take time to analyze the data and think innovatively. Azran said companies need to give finance and accounting professionals time to innovate outside of normal reporting, compliance, and budgeting activities. “We have to start pushing data. There has to be buy-in about that, absolutely, giving people the time to do the analysis, and … giving companies the opportunity to take advantage of that information,” Azran said.

6. Reexamine processes when installing new systems. “You’re not going to see the full value unless you go in with the perspective that we have to reexamine our processes and reevaluate. It’s something a healthy company should do anyway on a regular basis,” Azran said.