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University and accounting firm in digital audit project

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 20 Jun 2023

The partnership between Aston University and Beever and Struthers highlights the benefit of knowledge-sharing as firms increasingly move to adopt more digital tools in audit.

Now is a critical time for accountancy firms, as they move towards a digital transformation of the audit process, and the collaboration between Aston University and accounting firm Beever and Struthers aims to drive this process forward. 

The management Knowledge Transfer Partnership (mKTP), designed around identifying strategic management-based initiatives, aims to increase business effectiveness and improve management practices.

As part of the mKTP, led by Aston University in collaboration with Professor Brian Nicholson and Dr Sung Hwan Chai (Alliance Manchester Business School), Dr George Moyenda Salijeni (Aston Business School) and the team will evaluate Beever and Struthers’ existing data systems. 

John Toon, Technology Strategy Lead, Beever and Struthers, says: “The opportunity to bring in research and change management expertise, often lacking in traditional firms, is an opportunity worth investing in to help facilitate change unencumbered by the typical client service demands. Universities up and down the UK are looking for commercial partners to work with to improve both education and business outcomes, and the costs and risks of entering into a KTP are relatively low.”

Following the assessment, specific methodologies will be proposed to ensure alignment between the mKTP and the firm’s ongoing data systems and to work with the firm to add and improve new tools in its armoury.

The 30-month programme will aim to develop, embed and exploit smart data-driven technologies within the audit function, enabling the firm to increase its quality, productivity and capacity to deliver additional insight and value to clients.

Dr George Salijeni, a lecturer in accounting at Aston Business School, says: “This mKTP offers an opportunity to share and utilise knowledge and technical exposure that academics at Aston University and Alliance Manchester Business School have generated over the years through multi-disciplinary research and engagements with practitioners and audit regulators on data driven technologies, which include artificial intelligence.

Salijeni says the project offers the potential to generate insights and workflows that could transform the way audits are performed, by using data-driven analytics tools and models.

Michael Tourville, a partner at Beever and Struthers, says: “We are now keen to embrace the opportunities that a truly digital transformation could offer. Although we are a firm with a long history, we are also an entrepreneurial business and are keen to grasp opportunities when we see them. 

“This mKTP is all about giving our clients more insight and helping us navigate data far better, too. The main improvements for us will come from increased efficiency and insight, but we will also be able to further improve the quality of the service we offer.”

Professor Andy Lymer, head of the Accounting Department at Aston University, says: “Digital approaches to accounting are increasingly at the heart of how the accounting industry works – and therefore increasingly at the heart of what we teach, and research related to this industry and its practices. 

“This extremely innovative project will enable us to work with the partners in this programme to go in depth into an organisation, exploring how the latest developments in the use of digital tools such as advanced data analytics can further enhance the processes of audit. The experience and knowledge gained in this work will be brought back into the classroom for our students to benefit from also.”

Ian Pay, Head of Data Analytics and Tech, ICAEW, said it was exciting to see more and more partnerships springing up between accounting firms and universities, to help firms develop their technology propositions: “Building an in-house technology capability from scratch can be daunting and expensive, particularly for smaller firms, so being able to tap into the academic expertise offered through an mKTP can be a great way to accelerate the digital transformation process. It also exposes students to the profession in new and innovative ways which may entice entrants who had not previously considered a career in accounting.”

Toon adds: “With the challenges of technological change, increasing regulatory scrutiny and ongoing pressures regarding talent in firms, we’re hoping this mKTP can equip our firm with a new way of delivering audit services for the benefit of both our staff and clients. It’s something that will disrupt the market and allow others to follow in our footsteps, through the sharing of our experiences – for good and bad – with our professional networks and as a result of the research gains made by both Aston University and Alliance Manchester Business School. 

“In addition, our increasing profile in the audit market, backed up with validated research, will allow us to contribute to the regular discourse and consultation on audit market improvements and an informed voice for change.”


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