Personally, I’m lucky enough to be too young to remember VisiCalc, but I do recall Lotus 1-2-3 in its heyday, as well as the emergence of Microsoft Excel. Although this post is not meant to be about my personal recollections of the development of spreadsheets, this BBC article does shed light on how technologies have, do and will continue to impact the way people work.
Technology continues to advance with seemingly unstoppable momentum - whether it is a computer winning a game of Go, to autonomous cars, to smart speakers in our homes. Technology will always push the boundaries and alter how we work, but often it changes the way we work, rather than replacing what we do in totality (although I appreciate it can have a severe impact on specific jobs/roles).
For example, the BBC article quotes the fact that there are an estimated 400,000 less accounting clerks now compared to 1980, but there are an additional 600,000 "...regular accountants." (this is one reason my Nan was most proud of me when I qualified as an accountant...apparently, I'd always be able to get a job!) Obviously, this is not all down to spreadsheets, but it does illustrate how technology drives change rather than replacement.
What is equally interesting and recognised in the article is the risk that technology can create or enhance. I liked some of the examples provided where human errors in spreadsheets had various consequences from embarrassment to a $6 billion loss!
What’s important therefore, is that for any businesses implementing technologies, they not do so blindly or in the hope that it will solve all ills. Technology, in all its shapes and sizes, represents significant opportunities for businesses, but they should also be conscious of the risks it can create for them too. I do not mean to sound like a luddite opposing change and technology – ultimately my job would not even exist but for technology. However, its implementation and development does need careful consideration - which people often forget.
Businesses will however strive to use technology more and more, make mistakes and need remediation. This is just one reason why our business technology, cyber, data analytics and forensics teams are kept so busy!
If we ask computers to do the wrong thing, they'll do it with the same breathtaking speed and efficiency that inspired Dan Bricklin to create VisiCalc. That is a lesson we seem doomed to keep learning far beyond the borders of accountancy.