Last year, staff at The Daily Telegraph turned up to work to find small black boxes fitted under their desks.
That lunchtime, they received a memo explaining what they were – sensors that measured, in real time, how long they were spending at their desks.
The aim, apparently, was to make the building “as energy-efficient as possible”. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down well. Employees saw the boxes as a serious invasion of privacy, and the National Union of Journalists accused the newspaper of putting staff “under surveillance”.
The trial period was over before it began. Though that experiment failed badly, people have accepted monitoring in a different work setting – company cars.
From Getty Images to Oxfam, more and more companies are automating travel expenses by collecting real-time data from their travelling staff. And it’s all made possible by the internet of things (IoT), which is making almost everything we use ‘smart’, from our cars to our washing machines.
The IoT is already redefining offices, homes, cities and industries worldwide.
What the IoT means for you
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers estimates that the average IoT user will have as many as 30 connected devices in the near future, while the International Data Corporation suggests that, by 2020, over 40% of all data globally will come from digital devices talking to one another.
The IoT is also set to have a big impact on people’s financial lives. Everything from insurance to banking is ripe for disruption. For accountants, the biggest opportunity lies in the abundance and accessibility of data.
With the UK government mandating that all companies must transition to digital accounting software in 2018, smart devices will increasingly be used to stream financial data to the cloud. Already, businesses operating fleets of vehicles can integrate IoT sensors with their accounting software.
TomTom, say, provides logging devices that record mileage, journey time and vehicle location. This data can be seen in real time, and also used to calculate fuel costs and automate expense reports without accountants even pressing a button.
Even office printers may soon be able to order ink and report the expense independently. However, automatically understanding the ramifications the purchases have on the company’s quarterly cash flow is still beyond the abilities of a machine.
As chasing receipts and balancing books becomes easier, establishing a clear picture of how company accounts are looking could become much more complicated. Specialist knowledge and accounting experience will continue to be invaluable in managing and comprehending the huge swathes of data being collected.
So accountants will need to shift their focus towards making sense of the financial data these tools provide.
Jesse Onslow Norton is a writer, editor and communications consultant at Flibl. A former coder, his editorial work focuses on fintech, digital transformation, policy and regulation. His clients include corporations, governments, startups and SMEs from across the world. Follow him on Twitter @JesseOnslow.