From AAT Apprentice to Data Analytics Manager, Ellie Dignam gives us an insight into the pioneering use of data analytics in audit at BHP.
“Data Analytics is fast becoming a buzz word in the industry, and over the last year I’ve definitely noticed more of our apprentices are aware of data analytics and what it means in the accounting world,” Dignam says.
BHP’s apprentices are a key part of the business, and get involved in data analytics as soon as they start their training contract, says Paul Winwood, Head of Audit at BHP.
“Our apprentices are normally at the coal face of auditing; they’re onsite with clients and have significantly helped us drive this change in working and audit methodology,” he notes.
“They bring fresh, new ideas to BHP and we always encourage them to consider different ways of working.”
Learning on the job
Ellie Dignam went down the accounting apprenticeship route herself, bypassing a university degree altogether. She joined BHP accountancy firm as an apprentice 7 years ago and studied AAT level 3 and level 4, and is now a Chartered Accountant.
Dignam thoroughly enjoyed her apprenticeship. “I really loved learning on the job, and the challenge of maintaining a full-time role whilst studying really suited me,” she says.
“No two days were ever the same and I was able to work in different locations, at various types of business, including PIE’s, charities and academies, whilst I studied.”
Dignam’s role has grown significantly alongside BHP’s growth, and she’s now responsible for training the firm’s apprentices in data analytics within audit and introducing them to Inflo software.
Evolving role of data analytics
“I report to the audit partner group and work with them to embed data analytics into the firm’s methodology and processes,” she says. “I manage the data analytics across all audit staff, spread over five offices.”
So what does a Data Analytics Manager do? Dignam’s responsibilities include:
- liaising with clients
- training new staff and apprentices
- resolving data integrity issues
- contributing to tenders and pitches
- and providing insights and special reports.
Dignam also co-leads BHP’s internal Innovation Team and in 2019 they embarked on a further 20 projects.
Why Inflo for data analytics?
It takes things to a new level. The key benefit of using data analytical tools in auditing is the way it helps us track and identify unusual activity, trends and outliers, along with any risky transactions, Winwood says.
“This means our clients get greater assurance over their financial processes and improved audit quality, because the audit is focussed on key areas of risk.”
Winwood says the Inflo data analytical software they’ve invested in has been incorporated into their audit methodology at every level. “It helps provide us with bespoke insights for clients, which add value to the overall audit process,” he notes.
One of the major issues for any data analytics platform is getting the financial data from the clients’ accounting system into the data analytical tool. “But a key benefit of Inflo is the ability to extract this data across an extensive range of accounting packages in a flexible and easy manner.”
Once the financial data is obtained, they can then transform it into usable formats for the audit team to use, which also saves the clients time by not having to provide numerous reports.
“In addition to aiding our testing of management override, we use the software as part of our revenue testing to understand what transactions are impacting revenue outside of the normal recognition path (sales, debtors, VAT and cash),” says Winwood.
They can then offer key performance indicators and benchmark it against other similar businesses in their industry and region.
What’s next for data analytics?
“Going forward, we see audit becoming more of a specialised service because of the pressure to adopt evolving technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and robotic process automation,” Winwood says.
“Data analytics is the first real step on the the path towards a more technology-centric industry. And with the exploding growth in data being collected, through ever-increasing connectivity across platforms, there will be more and more opportunities to expand the range of data analytical tools in the future.”
AAT graduate, Ellie Dignam, has risen through the ranks at BHP since her apprenticeship. And as Data Analytics Manager, she’s now at the forefront of BHP’s move towards a more future-focussed initiative.
Bucking the trend, BHP are even recruiting more, as their integration with technology increases. Apprentices are brought on-board with data analytics from the get-go so they’re hitting the ground running.
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Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.