Future Proofing – need of the hour

A few days back, October 13th to be exact, I bumped into a friend of mine, working for a major Education Group. He has always held fascinating job titles but his current job title of “Chief Disruption Officer” certainly takes the cake!! I never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that someone could be paid to cause disruption in Business! But frankly, this job title is a clear indicator of things to come. If there is one thing, we can be certain of in the future is the fact that the future will be full of disruptions, of twists and turns and several heartburns and shocks, more so if we are unprepared.

Interestingly it was just about a month back, I was (physically) chatting with my fellow accounting professional (for over an hour on the road side and he had completely forgotten that he had asked a friend to come home) and we concluded that while everything around us can change, Accounting and Finance are least likely to change. We concluded unanimously that Debits and Credits are not going to change till the world comes to an end and Assets and Liabilities will carry on with these nomenclatures till Armageddon!

The scenarios above indicate the two extremes that can manifest but we all know that the truth lies somewhere in between. While the fundamental principles will not undergo (or rather should not) any change, the interpretations and applications can undergo sea changes. These principles will often be challenged and put under enormous pressure as human beings become more and more innovative. Take the case of India, for example. While everyone agreed that digital payments would eventually replace currency and credit cards, the problem of connectivity was considered to be a costly barrier, especially in a huge country like India. But the introduction of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has blown away such misgivings and in FY 2023, the number of UPI-based digital transactions has crossed 83 Billion (nearly double of 45 Billion transactions in the previous year). Who would have imagined that a simple push-cart street vendor would collect payments using a QR code or through Google Pay? Another vendor who was selling cups of tea around the corner of the street completely did away with cash payments as collecting payments through QR-code or G-Pay actually helped him to spend more time on selling, instead of wasting time to give change to currency notes. Anticipating or not anticipating these disruptive changes would mean expanding or shutting down one’s business.

My personal conviction has been that disruption often brings welcome changes and more often than not, huge conveniences and improvements in quality of life. Having waded through the era of dial-up modems to today’s 5G technology, I can only admire the perseverance of humans to keep challenging the normal. Organizations and individuals should actively pursue scenarios that could significantly change their ways of doing things and be prepared. On a relative scale, individuals can future-proof themselves far more effectively than Organizations which are often slow to change as they have their internal dynamics to contend with.

So how can an individual prepare oneself? The answer is simple – keep upskilling yourselves. Keep learning new stuff. For all the talk about AI and Metaverse et al, how many of us have done some serious preparation to face the inevitable challenges that will be forced on us willy-nilly? One excuse I often hear is that things are changing so dramatically, I don’t know if I am pursuing the right path. The answer to this dilemma is that yes, there is no need to jump and start training on something which is still evolving, especially since such training is often very expensive and even the trainers may be scratching the surface at that stage. However, there is no shortage of evidence about which route things are proceeding, sooner or later. That’s the inflexion point when we will need to take some proactive action, failing which we run the huge risk of being left behind. How many of us are well-versed in blockchain now that it has reached some level of maturity? How many know more about 3D Printing enough to at least take a call on whether it suits your business and whether you will be able to contribute to the decision-making process?

In my opinion, we can future-proof ourselves by adopting the following 3 steps.
Step 1- Keep reading, listen to what’s going on around you, keep your ears to the ground, and subscribe to sources that give information on what’s evolving.
Step 2- Evaluate which of these shifts could affect you and your organization – with enough reading and listening to different viewpoints, this will certainly be possible to a large degree of accuracy.
Step 3- Train yourselves on the areas which you found by virtue of Step 2. Organizations should be bold enough to set aside a budget for such learning. Individuals may use a judicial mix of free and paid training to get maximum value for money. Finally, remember that no preparation or training goes to waste.
One final observation– remember your managers are as clueless as you are and such preparation will help you to be one-up on them and who knows, Management may eventually feel that you possess the knowledge needed to lead the Organization forward. So, good luck with future-proofing!!
V S Ramachandran FCA, AICWA, CIA, CISA, CFE Chief Financial Officer

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