By Harel Tayeb, CEO, Kryon
Bots can carry out a huge and increasing number of manual tasks in finance. Their ability to save time and money while boosting accuracy and compliance is unparalleled. Many CFOs are yet to embed the power of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in their departments, but in this case they should take the plunge. This time the hype is real.
As they view the post-pandemic world, an increasing number of CFOs are planning to digitise processes, future-proof workflows and make their finance teams as productive as possible. One area of technology becoming a focal point in the finance industry is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). According to the latest “The Forrester Wave™: Robotic Process Automation, Q1 2021” report(1) : “Customers want to scale existing bot environments and extend the scope of their automation projects beyond classic desktop-based tasks to more complex processes.”
The reality is that finance teams are engulfed in hugely complex processes on a day-to-day basis, and the vast majority of these are ripe for automation. RPA allows finance teams to deploy software bots to support automation of manually-intensive processes, creating a new era of digital working.
What are bots and what are they doing in finance settings?
Bots are essentially digital assistants that augment human intelligence. They adapt themselves automatically by learning from their previous mistakes and so come to understand the ongoing analysis of structured and unstructured data. This optimises efficiency in workflows to do with loan processing, financial reporting, supplier invoicing, policy administration, billings and collections. Intelligent bot assistants can discover specific patterns, predict decisions and eventually offer recommendations to the user.
Bots are now designed to target a wide range of manually-intensive processes, such as procure-to-pay, order-to-cash and record-to-report. RPA is also used by CFOs to retrieve budget approval, incorporate mergers, manage talent and meet compliance requirements. All this saves employee time for the bigger analytical tasks, and therefore makes finance teams more productive. There are also benefits for CFOs in terms of accuracy and compliance.
According to Gartner(4): “Around 80% of finance leaders have implemented or are planning to implement RPA.” Tech giants Google(2) and Microsoft(3) have recently said that they are attempting to move into the RPA space, suggesting the lucrative opportunities that they think will come from enterprise-wide RPA adoption, although their technologies remain unproven in an enterprise setting.
I forecast that very soon every member of a finance team will have a digital assistant automating previously manually-intensive processes. But while RPA’s features are enticing for finance teams, they need to step back and consider the best ways to scale the technology before they automate.
How to get there
As a first step to achieving the best results from RPA, CFOs need to optimise their chosen business processes internally. Taking the time to evaluate existing processes will allow companies to pinpoint the areas that need development to scale at volume. Putting in place the right foundations — including senior management sponsorship, robust process management to select and prioritise the right processes, and agile business practices — is a must.
In my experience, typically 30% of the time dedicated to introducing RPA should be dedicated to process identification, and 70% focused on implementation and value realisation. But in the initial stages, it’s likely that the majority of time will be spent purely on process identification until the RPA project gains momentum internally. Mapping each step in a particular process is critical when supporting the process identification cycle. It’s important to have a clear overview of your organisation and the business processes that are being carried out. The good news is that the technology now exists to map the activities in a business and identify those processes that are ripe for automation within days. The management team can then base automation decisions on data that’s been extracted internally.
For successful RPA implementation it’s important to advocate a holistic, end-to-end approach, from process discovery through implementation to ROI and impact evaluation for the best results. Ultimately, RPA can ingest any type of data, process it, run it, and make it use more efficient. RPA undeniably has real benefits for finance teams. This time the hype is real.