KPMG exec explains the value of data analytics in audits

Roger O'Donnell, global head of data analytics at KPMG, speaks to Fordham University students in March 2016.

Roger O’Donnell, global head of data analytics at KPMG, speaks to Fordham University students in March 2016.

Roger O’Donnell, the global head of data analytics at KPMG, scanned the lecture room on the third floor of Keating Hall and asked his audience of Fordham students a few questions:

“How many of you are seniors? Juniors? Sophomores? … How many have heard of the topic data analytics before?”

After each question, there was a show of hands. Then O’Donnell – who came to Fordham in March for a visit organized by Beta Alpha Psi, the honor organization for accounting and finance students – turned his “old-school” survey into a lesson.

“So I’m applying our data analytics approach on you,” he said. “I’m using the data that you just gave me and now I’m trying to formulate, ‘Well, what is it that I want to cover with you guys today? What’s going to be important?’”

Such is the power of data, even in its most simple form, O’Donnell said. The gathering and distilling of information, he said, “helps us do our business.”

Data analytics is not just for sales and marketing strategies. It can provide insights and improve outcomes for all types of business, including auditors.

“For us, the future really is about analytics and using data to make better informed decisions,” Gabelli School of Business Dean Donna Rapaccioli said in her introduction of O’Donnell. “So, for me, today’s session is [about] this link between more traditional accounting, which is at our roots, and a new way of looking at accounting, which is using analytics to drive better audits, better decision-making.”

Through examples and videos, O’Donnell showed how the use of analytics, combined with traditional auditing skills, can reveal insights that help clients make decisions on how to better market themselves.

Data analytics skills also can help Fordham’s accounting students to improve their employment possibilities, O’Donnell said. In addition to core competencies in accounting and auditing, creative thinking in the use of data, an analytical mindset, and a desire to continuously learn will be valuable for those about to enter the field.

The demand for people with data analytics skills is expected to outpace the supply for the next 20 years, O’Donnell said.

“Every client we talk to,” he said, “is talking about getting professionals with … an understanding of how you get the data and, once you have it, how you use it.”

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