How to train your staff when embracing AI

Article by Sanjay Swarup, SKS Business Services

Your firm has invested in Artificial Intelligence accountancy software; the next challenge is staff training.

SKS has spent the last two years developing and rolling out our proprietary AI software to over 900 staff across our member firms and outsourcing partners. Here, we share what we have learned in the process.

Whether you are shaking up your own systems or introducing packages such as Dext or AutoEntry into your workflow, the advice is universal.

Identify barriers to change

Nothing will set off a companywide revolt more than an email stating: ‘Mandatory AI training begins on Monday.’

Before you so much as mention the ‘T’ word, it is essential to recognize and address common barriers to change. These are the four most common fears:

  • AI will take my job
  • Things are working just fine 
  • I don’t have the technical ability
  • I’m too busy for more training

Next stop, communication

Communication is the first step to calming these fears and should not be missed. A simple internal communications plan should outline the ‘why?’ behind the new technology.

One way to do this is to quantify the time employees save with features such as automated document capture, data extraction and categorization, and automatic transaction creation (more on this below). 

It is also helpful to paint a picture of how the software will transform, rather than eliminate, your employees’ working day: less time spent on basic tasks and more time on client advisory projects. 

The software will thus create capacity to handle more revenue. More revenue per head should then translate into higher fixed and/or variable remuneration. Adoption of modern techniques will invariably create a win-win for all the stakeholders.

Communication should be delivered in stages in the run-up to when you want training to begin. Ideally, the software move should be introduced at an in-person all-company meeting, reinforced by line managers, and supported with email or intranet articles.

Once your team understands that AI will enable them to spend more time on (quite frankly!) more exciting work, it is time to outline what the training will look like and how long it will take. 

Training top tips

We are lucky to live in ‘the Apple age,’ where new software is generally intuitive and user-centric. Off-the-shelf SaaS packages will likely come with a suite of online training tools and, in some cases, free help via email or chat. However, this does not mean you can step back. 

  • Appoint AI champions, early adopters who are tech-savvy and willing to help others. Channel your resources into ‘training the trainers’ who can buddy up with less confident employees.
  • Tailor the training to the needs of individuals. Some people will learn in different ways. Some employees will learn more from an in-person Q&A session than an online tutorial, and vice versa.
  • Divide training into small chunks; trying to cover everything in one session will overwhelm employees. Start each session with clear learning intentions, such as ‘create a client account and integrate it with your software.’
  • Be creative with training materials. At SKS, we find short videos to be effective. Many off-the-shelf SaaS solutions will provide these online.
  • Create a manageable timeline so busy employees can dedicate diary time to training sessions.
  • Use hands-on exercises, as people learn by doing. Set up a dummy environment where your staff can experiment without fear of mistakes.
  • Provide ongoing support, a powerful way to reassure those who doubt their technical ability and to catch user errors early on.

Make training mandatory

As any busy accountant knows, non-core tasks such as admin and training are the first to get pushed to the back of the to-do list. Though it sounds harsh, it is essential to make training mandatory for all staff members. Despite being the busiest, senior leaders must lead by example.

Describe the carrot - in detail!

At SKS, we have found that employees both appreciate and are motivated by rewards for training completion, such as bonuses or gift cards. However, the most significant incentive (which must be clearly explained by your comms) is the promise of a workday free of repetitive tasks with time to focus on client relations and advice.

For example, a typical AI system can take care of:

  • Automatic data entry by extracting data from various document formats eliminates the need for manual data entry, which can save time and reduce errors.
  • Transaction categorization based on extracted information to organize bookkeeping records quickly and easily.
  • Error identification of duplicate transactions or incorrect amounts. This can catch and correct errors before they become a problem.
  • Financial insights, such as top spending categories and average profit margins.

Short-term effort for long-term gain

Effective communication, tailored training, and ongoing support are critical to successful AI software training. With the right approach, a short-term effort will lead to long-term gains in efficiency, productivity, and job satisfaction.

Want to know more?

You can find out more about future-proofing your accountancy firm by speaking to our team. Please feel free to give us a call on +4420 7096 0662 or complete the form below and one of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.