COMMENT:

Advances in technology are hugely impacting the way businesses in New Zealand, and around the world, operate.

New technology is also introducing new tensions – in particular, concerns about the impact automation will have on jobs.

We're at a critical juncture, and tech companies have an unspoken responsibility to use their innovation for good. We need to ensure that our innovation is solving, not adding to, human problems.

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Rather than simply replacing jobs with automation, we should be aiming to use technology to create new jobs, enhance businesses, improve working conditions and positively impact the economy.

The accounting industry is often held up as being very likely to be negatively impacted by advances in automation technology.

We're making some big advances in AI and machine learning, which means that much of the data entry work which once took up a large portion of an accountant's day can be automated.

Some argue that this means the role of the accountant will be forever minimised. But automation thus far has actually freed up accountants to do work that's so much more important, and can have so much more of an impact on their clients' businesses.

In addition, these same technology advancements mean that small businesses now have access to tools that were once reserved only for the largest corporations.

They can now make use of global platforms that make it easier than ever to find customers, plug into powerful cloud computing at scale, and tap into a world-class pool of on-demand talent.

So, with AI freeing up time when it comes to administration and providing equal access to essential platforms and tools, why is one of the biggest real-world challenges facing the New Zealand economy the low survival rate of small businesses?

According to Statistics New Zealand, more than half of all businesses with less than 50 employees go out of business within the first six years.

I believe that two key reasons for this is that much of the above technology has not been built with a human purpose, and it has not been created with small businesses in mind.

The key to improving a small business' chances of survival is human technology that makes it easier for them to connect all of their data and collaborate with their most trusted advisor – which is more often than not, their accountant.

Instead of minimising or eliminating data-centric roles within businesses, technology should seek to augment these kinds of roles.

Embracing platforms that enable closer collaboration and better sharing of insights and analysis mean a better result for everyone.

For example, removing the tedious work of coding transactions by introducing machine learning systems that provide code recommendations, enables small business owners and administrators to spend their time on things they are good at – whether that's further honing their product or service, developing a business plan for the next stage, or developing their online presence.

Streamlining business administration processes is just one example of how taking a human approach to technology development can help solve pain points today and lead to a successful future.

The pace of technological innovation will continue to accelerate in the coming years. Only human technology platforms can deliver a positive social impact. Technology alone will never be the solution. People will be.

- Craig Hudson is the managing director for Xero NZ.