School of Business Innovation Weekend

Experts from the world’s leading professional service firms discuss how artificial intelligence is disrupting the industry

More than 300 students, faculty, and staff attended the Wake Forest School of Business Innovation Weekend to hear experts from the world’s leading professional service firms discuss how artificial intelligence is disrupting the industry.

The event was held in Broyhill Auditorium in November and organized by the School’s Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) program and Professor of Practice Tom Aleman.

“Our students now have a leg up on many of their competitors and can, at a high level, talk about what these things are, what they mean, and how they will impact their careers,” said Aleman.

Innovation Weekend participants had the opportunity to network, interact, and hear presenters from Dixon Hughes Goodman, Deloitte, KPMG, FTI Corporation, PwC, and EY. The experts shared how machine learning, natural language processing, cyber, blockchain, social media, robotics, and advanced data visualization are impacting business.

While each topic varied, the central theme shared by industry leaders was the vital importance of balancing technology with human interaction. The experts encouraged students to focus on the business problem and the processes to get there — not the technology.

“The goals and objectives remain the same. How we get there is a lot different,” explained EY Senior Manager Lee Dixon, who presented on robotics process automation. “Technology allows us to expedite, streamline, and create an audit trail that is easier to follow.”

Denny Ard, partner with Dixon Hughes Goodman’s Professional Standards Group, shared during a presentation on machine learning that 90% of the world’s data was created in the last two years, and trends indicate that figure could double every 18 months. Ard said professionals with competencies in data literacy, critical thinking, problem-solving, change adaptability, and project management are needed to tame this tsunami of data.

“People have access to data, but they don’t know what to do with it. Business professionals need to become more data literate so that we know how to leverage it to make informed decisions,” he said.

Wake Forest alum Nilan Patel (BS ’16) works as a senior associate in KPMG’s business optimization practice and shared how the firm is using natural language processing for its financial services clients. He credited Wake Forest with providing him the skills to pivot seamlessly into a technology role.

“I didn’t have the background in data or AI, but the curiosity allowed me to ask the right questions,” he explained. “The coolest thing Wake Forest provides you with is the ability to ask questions, learn on the backend, and apply yourself. The work ethic is a given at Wake Forest, and you get to translate that into the workforce.”

A number of students from the School helped execute the event and were led by Vibhav Kollu (MSA ’19), who served as the student coordinator. He helped manage volunteer schedules and speaker introductions as part of his responsibilities.

“A lot of these business leaders flew in for the day, and I felt honored they would do that for us,” he said. “They are doing very innovative things that most people wouldn’t equate with accounting.”

Innovation Weekend was presented in modules by subject, allowing attendees to select which topics aligned with their area of interest. Many students like Janelle Lewis (MSA ’18) attended  all nine presentations. A future auditor, she said the lectures offered insight into what she will likely face with clients.

“Everyone should attend this event. From a networking standpoint, we heard from people from all the big four firms that are at the forefront of this information,” she said. “One of the things I learned is that the future is less about technology taking over and more about us adapting and having a more seamless relationship with technology.”