This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.
Being a future-focused global accountancy, auditing and business advisory firm, BDO is keen to explore how open innovation and artificial intelligence (AI) can help it transform. To find out, it joined the Chamber of Commerce Business Challenge, an open innovation initiative in the Netherlands that brings corporates and start-ups together to address new challenges. Late in 2018 BDO set its challenge of building an Audit Intelligence Robot to enable innovative ways of doing audits – and AI business integration specialist Cnext stepped up to help.
Auditing is based on customer data, but the way that data is collected and processed requires huge effort and it hasn’t changed much in decades. The BDO Audit Intelligence Robot brings innovation to the audit process. “We believe that data can get us an advantage in an increasingly competitive world,” says Marcel Donkers, corporate technology and innovation officer at BDO. “When data analytics and structured processing comes into play, the real potential of data is unlocked. To achieve that, it’s crucial to master technologies such as AI and machine learning.”
At the heart of the challenge is BDO’s goal of anticipating the ways it can use AI to automate processes and make the best use of its client data. “As a big corporate, we at BDO need to learn more about open innovation initiatives, how we can be more successful as a network and how we can collaborate with start-ups and third parties that offer specific expertise we don’t have,” says Donkers. “Our company and our profession is going through digital transformation and we need to be creative. We need to anticipate emerging trends and technologies and translate them into a BDO context so we can optimise our audit process based on the data platform we currently have.”
Rising to the challenge, Cnext is building on the existing technology of BDO, which is a strategic partner of Microsoft and an early adopter of its technologies. Cnext’s expertise is proving invaluable in combining enterprise-grade Microsoft Azure technologies with open source frameworks to enable a future-proof platform for business and innovation.
“We are building on the information and technology that is available within BDO,” says Peter Van Kerkhove, CEO of Cnext. “The main technologies we’re using include Microsoft Azure Data Lake, Azure Data Factory, Azure Databricks and Azure Machine Learning. Microsoft also provides ample space to fit open source and other software into that environment, and we’re applying some open source frameworks that are well integrated with the Microsoft stack. The capabilities of open source initiatives enable us to capture all the available innovations in the market and apply them to the Microsoft delivery platform, which offers secure and scalable management.”
But successful AI is about much more than technology. One of Cnext’s key strengths is its approach to AI implementation, which is built around five levels of AI maturity comprising concept, active (building capabilities), operational, systemic and transformational levels. “We guide organisations along that journey to apply AI,” says Van Kerkhove. “AI is not something you can just buy from the store. It’s a multi-year journey in which many aspects come into play. It entails thinking about the business and figuring out the quick wins where you can add value, as well as selecting AI use cases where the necessary data is available. The availability and quality of data, in relation to AI, is crucial. At Cnext we have a multidisciplinary team that includes both data and industry experts to help organisations increase their level of AI maturity.”
While BDO hopes to have a prototype available around mid-2019, this project will entail long-term collaboration and continuous evolution. “This is not a product you build once,” says Donkers. “It is an innovative approach that will include some failures as well as successes. We’re at the start of a much longer journey in which we will keep adding intelligence to our platform.”
Ultimately, the aim of the BDO Audit Intelligence Robot project is to translate new technologies like AI into the context of BDO and its business, to provide meaningful solutions that add value to BDO’s clients and processes. “We need to move beyond the hype surrounding AI and show what the next step should be for using the technology within BDO,” says Donkers. “Adding intelligence will transform our data factory into a smart factory that will help our auditors in the most efficient, effective way with insights and automation. It will improve our audit quality and provide us with the insights to anticipate future business models.”
BDO offers a combination of local market knowledge and an international network. Its personal service and professional approach helps organisations of any size get a fresh angle on their business so they can make the right decisions to increase the agility, strength and success of their organisation.
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