AI is the most revolutionary change in accounting in decades, and most accounting firms are not ready to take advantage of it. That was the clear message that emerged during a recent interview Intapp conducted with its partner T-Tech, a premier accountancy and IT managed service provider in the U.K.
During this Q&A session, Daniel Teacher, Managing Director at T-Tech, and Marc McNicholl, Managing Director of Sales for Intapp Collaboration and Content, revealed exactly how AI will transform accounting — and what firms must do to successfully use Microsoft Copilot and other AI-powered tools.
How will AI and Microsoft Copilot in particular transform accounting?
Teacher: Microsoft Copilot will handle time-consuming tasks that literally millions of accountants around the world do each month, including data analysis in Excel spreadsheets. The video below shows Microsoft Copilot’s considerable capabilities in financial analysis.
Other tasks that Microsoft Copilot will accelerate include extracting information out of PDFs, summarizing long email strings, and creating initial drafts of reports and presentations.
We’ve already heard first-hand accounts from clients of the impact of Microsoft Copilot on their work. One accountant recently told us about returning from a 2-week vacation and happily using Microsoft Copilot to summarize her 200 unread Teams messages into only 12 bullet points.
What are some of the other advantages AI and Microsoft Copilot will provide to accounting firms?
Teacher: In addition to saving your professionals time on rote or labor-intensive tasks, the tool potentially solves the biggest challenge many accounting firms are facing right now: staffing. That is, many firms are understaffed and struggling to bring in new accountants. With Microsoft Copilot, your firm can potentially avoid having to hire because the software can handle extra work you have.
But even if you would still like to add staff, having Microsoft Copilot will be a powerful selling point for prospective team members. We know of at least one accountant who is so fond of the AI tool that he has decided he will only work for firms that have Microsoft Copilot.
This viewpoint is likely to become commonplace in the months and years ahead as AI tools — just like computers and the Internet before them — become indispensable trappings of modern work.
Likewise, clients will grow accustomed to the efficient service they receive from AI-powered accounting firms. As a result, going forward, not having AI capabilities might also cost you client opportunities.
What do accounting firms need to have in place to take advantage of these capabilities?
Teacher: First, accounting firms needs Microsoft 365. But having that alone is not enough. You must also have a structured data governance framework in place that allows Microsoft Copilot to pull from your data and files.
Instead, what we see every time we look at an accounting firm’s systems is what I call islands of data. In other words, there are disconnected files everywhere — some on a shared drive, some in people’s inboxes, other files in Microsoft Teams, and some on people’s desktops. It’s just a complete mishmash.
Why can’t Microsoft Copilot operate effectively with disorganized data?
McNicholl: Microsoft Copilot, like all AI tools, works best when its outputs are “grounded” in — or informed by — use-case-specific data. To achieve effective grounding at your accounting firm, Microsoft Copilot must have two things:
- Access to all your accounting data (including documents, spreadsheets, emails, Microsoft Teams messages, etc.)
- Tags that help Microsoft Copilot distinguish between different data points (such as an audit-related document and a managerial accounting spreadsheet)
If Microsoft Copilot only has access to a fraction of your work product (because most of it is on data islands), then the software won’t generate very useful outputs.
For example, when you ask Microsoft Copilot to create a PowerPoint presentation of your firm’s audit process, the software will draw from general knowledge in its large language model — rather than your specific data — to generate a presentation. Such a presentation draft is unlikely to have what you want.
You can see how Microsoft Copilot works with grounding and the large language model in the below video.
Even if Microsoft Copilot can access all your data, if that data is not organized with tags that identify it further, the program won’t generate useful results. If you query Microsoft Copilot with a tax accounting request, you want the program to be able to distinguish between all your files related to tax accounting and those relating to cash flow forecasting. You wouldn’t want the program extracting information from the latter set of data points for a request about tax accounting.
Nor would you want Microsoft Copilot pulling in information from a team whose work you shouldn’t have access to.
For all these reasons, reliable data organization is necessary for Microsoft Copilot and other AI programs to function effectively.
How can accounting firms achieve effective data organization that supports the grounding of AI?
Teacher: If your firm’s data is a mess (and based on our experience, it likely is), you’ll need outside help to organize it. T-Tech provides an AI-readiness service in which we evaluate your data organization and determine what help you need. While each firm’s particular situation will be different, many firms will need two services:
- Data migration (which T-Tech can provide)
- Implementation of software that automatically organizes your data and tags it with identifying information
McNicholl: Intapp Workspaces is software specifically designed to enable accounting firms to organize and tag their data, including their teams’ workspaces, with identifying information. If you combine Intapp Workspaces with Intapp Walls, you’ll also ensure that Microsoft Copilot doesn’t pull from sources that a requestor doesn’t have permission to access. Intapp Walls communicates with Microsoft Copilot to enforce permissions.
In sum, if your data isn’t in Microsoft SharePoint and isn’t organized by Intapp Workspaces, you won’t be able to realize the benefits of Microsoft Copilot. And if you don’t also have Intapp Walls, your team members may inadvertently see confidential materials.
Where should accounting firms start if their data isn’t organized?
Teacher and McNicholl: You should start with an objective AI readiness evaluation, which you can schedule by contacting T-Tech. You can also contact Intapp to get an overall sense of the change management process involved in your situation. In addition to providing software, Intapp has proven plans for helping accountants navigate change, whether that change is simply organizing their Microsoft data or moving from a legacy document management system to Microsoft SharePoint.
Once you initiate contact with either us or our partner, T-Tech and Intapp will work together to help your organization migrate and organize your data so that you can take advantage of the revolutionary capabilities of Microsoft Copilot and other generative AI tools.