Featured interview - Bryan Powrozek

Bryan Powrozek

Bryan Powrozek is a manager with Clayton & McKervey, a global tax and accounting firm in Southfield, Michigan. This is a partial transcript of his interview on Talking Industrial Automation podcast.

ADDEDMonday, June 14, 2021

  • Q
    But this doesn’t mean the company should avoid digital transformation, right?
    A
    No, not at all. In fact, if you’re just going to try and bury your head in the sand and say, “Well, I’m not going to do any of this because I could potentially be hacked.” You will quickly find yourself left behind. 
  • Q
    No talk about digital transformation is complete without bringing up cybersecurity. What can you say about that?
    A
    Unfortunately, this is a side effect that comes along with a lot of these technologies. While they provide a lot of opportunities for businesses to have a better understanding of everything that’s going on, it also dramatically increases the surface area that they have to try and protect from cybersecurity threats.
  • Q
    We also hear a lot about big data and artful intelligence on the plant floor. But again, how are those concepts changing the business of the admin end of things?
    A
    If you think about how an integrator is trying to use big data to predict when a machine needs maintenance or is a bearing starting to go out so you can order it and have it before it fails.
    
    The same thing applies to how the business is being run internally. 
    
    There are a lot of businesses operating off Excel spreadsheets that have been built over the years and require a lot of manual input.
    
    But now as devices and databases are becoming more connected, a lot of that data can be pulled out automatically as opposed to having to get somebody to input it.
    
    You’re no longer dependent on somebody keying in the information correctly. It’s coming directly from the source. Then there are the tools that are available now for business owners to gain insights, such as Power BI, which is  essentially Excel on steroids.
    
    It lets them analyze data to a lot greater detail, potentially find trends and things that they might not have seen before. The fact that those kinds of tools are now available to the masses is enabling business owners to make better decisions.
    
    We’re  also seeing a shift in finance and accounting departments away from historical viewing of information to trying to look more toward the future. Typical financial statements and key performance indicators are descriptive or diagnostic. It tells the business owner what happened previously.
    
    But some of these new AI tools help business owners look to the future and find prescriptive or predictive KPIs that will help them tell where the business is going. 
    
  • Q
    What are some ways that you’re seeing that play out?
    A
    If you think about repetitive manual tasks, you think about when the robots were first starting to be implemented on the manufacturing floor, it was driving in a screw or picking up this part and placing it over there. You can take that same approach to the work being done in the finance and accounting department.
    
    Not in the sense of putting robots in chairs at the desk and they’re taking care of things. But installing bots on their network that are handling some of those repetitive tasks like accounts payable and accounts receivable -- you can have a bot set up on your network.
    
    When your vendor invoices come in, the bot recognizes that there’s a new invoice. It collects all the information using optical character recognition, pulls all the pertinent information off the invoice, enters it into the accounting system, forwards that on to a human to review it.
    
    If everything is OK, then the bot moves on to the next step of following up on payments and things like that. A lot of those things where you had people sitting around and keying in information and potentially mis-keying information. Then things don’t balance and staff are chasing down pennies.
    
    With the right program, you can eliminate some inefficiencies in the process. 
    
  • Q
    This exposure to a large cross-section of SIs and other companies lets you see some opportunities that these companies may be missing. Can you expand on that a little bit?
    A
    That’s actually probably one of the more exciting parts of my job is that I get to see what different integrators are doing and how they’re managing the back office of their business. I get to see the things that work, see the things that don’t work, and then carry some of those lessons across to other clients of mine.
    
    Most companies right off the bat are trying to find ways to free up cash, and so one area that we see a lot of companies not taking full advantage of is the R&D tax credit for research and development activities.
    
    So that’s one thing that we speak to a lot of our clients about. More recently, we are also having a lot of conversations about digitally transforming their back office. 
    
  • Q
    What is your typical client like?
    A
    Our focus is small- to mid-sized companies -- say anywhere from $5 million in annual revenues up to a couple hundred million in annual revenues on the high end.
    
    But beyond just those numbers, all our clients are privately held. They’re not publicly traded. We don’t do any work with governments or non-profit entities. That lets us focus on the entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their business and need advice and counsel on how to accomplish the things they’re looking to do.
    
    An entrepreneur who’s growing their business, particularly someone who might be a system integrator, they’re probably a very strong engineer who eventually got the bug to start a business and trying to do it on their own. 
    
    They understand the robotics and the controls and all the things that they sell to their customers extremely well. But they don’t have that background in finance or accounting or marketing or things like that. So, when they can lean on us to bring that skillset in, it helps them continue to grow until they reach a critical mass where they would probably bring those resources in house.
    
  • Q
    How are the two professions similar?
    A
    I get this question a lot, because I think most people, when they think about accounting and engineering, they don’t see very many similarities between the two. As accountants, most people think that our primary role is to prepare financial statements and tax returns. But, the roles are – or the professions are -- very similar.
    
    You go beyond the foundation of mathematics and the analytical skills that both professions use. But really when you come right down to it, both professions are really focused on solving problems.
    
    It’s just that the subject matter you’re dealing with is different.
    
  • Q
    You mentioned you shifted from mechanical engineering to accounting. How did that happen and why?
    A
    When I was going back to school for my MBA, I knew going into it that I didn’t want to stay in engineering. I was looking for some opportunities outside of engineering to move on with my career. I went into it with an open mind, looking at all the different potential options -- marketing, finance, accounting - when I first got involved in my accounting courses, I realized there was a lot of similarities between the skills you needed to be successful with accounting and the skills you needed to be successful in engineering.
    
    That’s where I found the profession and decided to change careers.
    
  • Q
    Why don’t you start by sharing some information about your background?
    A
    My undergrad education is in mechanical engineering. I spent 12 years in the auto industry doing product development and systems engineering for a supplier. Then in 2011, I changed careers, came over to Clayton and McKervey, where I am currently a manager in our system integrators practice.