Plus ça change (reprise)

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In the latest UK200Group blog post David Macdonald, Managing Partner The Martlet Partnership discusses the rate of technological change within business

David Macdonald
When I prepared my last blog, I chose the three French words above as a lead in. I’ve now revised my thinking as I grow more bewildered by events and think that the modern world is better represented by a revision to this sagacious Gallic observation as follows:

Plus ça ce n’est plus la même chose!

Meaning basically that in fact the more things change the more they really do change as the digital revolution gathers pace, altering the way we do a huge amount of our daily routine tasks to say nothing of changes in the working environment.

I will revert to my amended dictum. As a linguist first and an accountant second I was already in a minority some forty years ago by pursuing arts A-levels rather than science and maths, but I did attend an all-boys grammar school. At university the ratio of males to females was about one to eight. As far as I remember, most graduates then returned for a further year to train as teachers, as the industry was not interested in recruiting language graduates and the only gainful employment as a linguist was in education.

It took at least fifteen years before I began to use my foreign language skills in my work and I consider myself fortunate that I now do so each and every working day. Native British indolence (and undoubtedly American too) seems to assume that people from anywhere else will automatically speak English in business and that therefore there is no need to bother to acquire these skills.

Yet dealing with foreign clients in their native tongue makes a huge difference.

Less than 9000 students took French A-levels this year and less than 3000 took German. Many of these will not then pursue these studies further. Foreign language skills will most probably be even more important post Brexit but these skill sets are diminishing almost into extinction.

It is one area where computers cannot yet replace human skills. The voice recognition software on my I-phone and I-pad works extremely well in whatever language I need to use it (less well in French than any other as it happens) and the translation software can generally assist for finding isolated words but can produce laughable results for extended passages of text.

I was working in a Spanish client’s office a few months ago and needed to use a hole punch. Not knowing the relevant word I plugged this into Google translate and the result literally came up with “a thump with a cavity” with no likelihood of this referring to the commonplace item of office stationery. The software will of course continue to improve in this field in time but in contrast the range of products now available to us as accountants is already mind blowing, causing us all to contemplate how we will embrace the pace of change not only for ourselves but also how we will implement this for our clients.

It doesn’t work for all of course and trying to explain encrypted files and GDPR to some elderly clients is a task requiring sensitivity and in some cases has obliged us to go back to snail mail and paper and eschew all these modern techniques.

Either way, things really will never be the same again.

Sent from my iPad

Tags: UK200

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