Over the last nine months, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to groups of accounting and finance professionals around the world about digital transformation and the future of our profession. Most of these discussions focused heavily on generative AI, the latest technology breakthrough that impacts all business functions (you can read more about new developments in AI in the four features posted to www.sfmagazine.com this month). Other technologies, from robotic process automation to blockchain, continue to improve finance and accounting operations and improve productivity. All of these discussions ended, rightly, with a framing of the ethical considerations of technology development.

What seems to be missing from most of these discussions is the importance of internal controls. In the dynamic landscape of technology development, where innovation and complexity intertwine, the significance of internal controls cannot be overstated. Particularly in areas like generative AI, where advancements are rapid and ramifications are far-reaching, internal controls serve as the bedrock for ensuring accuracy, integrity, and accountability.

Accounting internal controls constitute the cornerstone of financial integrity, encompassing measures to ensure accuracy, prevent fraud, and safeguard assets. These controls, such as segregation of duties, clear lines of authority, audits, and documentation practices, are not only applicable in financial domains but also are equally imperative in technology development. In the hypothetical scenario of Company A, the meticulous implementation of internal controls translates into reliable financial reporting, instilling confidence in stakeholders. Conversely, the absence of such controls in Company B underscores the perils of neglecting internal oversight, risking financial stability and reputation.

Moreover, the challenges inherent in preventing accounting errors underscore the need for a nuanced approach to internal controls. Factors like company size, complexity, sector, and regulatory environment necessitate tailored control mechanisms. Companies operating in highly regulated sectors or the public sector face heightened scrutiny, demanding robust internal controls. Similarly, the escalating number of accounting and auditing errors, as indicated by recent reports, underscores the urgency for stringent control measures. The surge in SEC enforcement actions and audit deficiencies underscores the repercussions of lax controls, highlighting the need for proactive measures.

In the realm of technology development, where the stakes are high and risks abound, the implementation of robust internal controls has never been more important. A comprehensive risk assessment serves as the cornerstone, identifying vulnerabilities and laying the groundwork for control mechanisms. The control mechanisms then need to be comprehensive, including investments in employee training on technology and fraud detection that foster a culture of vigilance and compliance. Leveraging technology for automation not only enhances efficiency but also mitigates human error, bolstering the reliability of processes. Continuous monitoring and periodic reviews ensure the adaptive nature of internal controls, aligning them with evolving technological landscapes.

Internal controls are indispensable guardians of integrity and accountability in technology development and should be considered as a forethought and not an afterthought. Whether in the realms of generative AI or any other technological domain, the principles of accounting internal controls offer invaluable guidance. By embracing a holistic approach to internal oversight, organizations can navigate the complexities of technology development with confidence and integrity. As the technological landscape continues to evolve, the role of internal controls remains steadfast, anchoring innovation in a bedrock of reliability and trust.

About the Authors