Big Four accounting firms delve into artificial intelligence

Cynics would suggest there's no genuine intelligence within their four walls, so why not look to the artificial stuff?

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Interesting news last week from two of the Big Four global audit and accounting firms and a glimpse into the future of professional services.

First up was KPMG, which announced that it is signing up to IBM's "Jeopardy!"-winning analytics service to help with its auditing requirements. Given the time, cost and (dare I say it) inane world of audit, this could be an interesting move. IBM is, of course, pushing Watson incessantly as its huge opportunity for growth -- it acquired The Weather Company partially as a vertical big data opportunity, but also for its huge data sets to continue improving Watson's performance. Healthcare, too, has seen IBM push its Watson luxe.

But now financial services are the game, and KPMG advises that its consultants will use Watson to analyze massive volumes of financial data in order to detect anomalies. The idea being that, rather than simply analyzing a subset of total data (a necessity given the sheer volume and time constraints), KPMG will be able to crunch all the numbers -- more data, better insights and (most likely) bigger audit fees. An example that KPMG gave to The Wall Street Journal was one in which analysts could assess bank loans to ensure that risk was being understood, and responded to, appropriately.

KPMG isn't, of course, the only one of the Big Four looking at this space -- Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PwC are all doing similarly. Indeed, Deloitte announced, at almost the same time as KPMG's Watson love-in, a massive deployment of machine-learning software.

Deloitte has, for the past year, been ramping up the deployment of an artificial intelligence contract analysis tool, Kira. The machine-learning-based system studies what's important to reviewers in contracts and then identifies important information across large pools of agreements.

Deloitte has a reported 3,000 active users of Kira, and has trained the platform to identify thousands of different data points. Kira has, apparently, been used on over 100,000 documents thus far. The partnership between Kira Systems and Deloitte looks to be one that extends beyond Deloitte simply using the tool, and looks to be an opportunity for Deloitte, and specifically its U.S. innovation group, to commercialize some specific solutions for other document analysis tasks -- investigations, mergers, contract management and the like.

"Wading through miles of corporate jargon hunting for keywords and patterns can consume considerable time and resources," said a spokesperson. "By teaming with Kira Systems we can help organizations reduce their review time while redeploying talent to higher-value activities -- let's save our eyes for more strategic matters."

Of course those cynics would suggest that the Big Four actually delivering value on high strategic drivers is a long shot. They're not, after all, known as the go-to place for innovation or agility. But maybe A.I. will make the difference and help the Big Four deliver on all those promises from the glossy brochures.

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