By Harel Tayeb, CEO, Kryon
It comes as no surprise that the name of “CFO” has become almost synonymous with stress. In fact, in the UK, it was reported that 78%(1) of CFOs foresaw that their stress levels were bound to increase with time, particularly with the pandemic continuing to loom large over the world’s economy.
There’s no typical ‘day in the life’ of a CFO. They tend to have ongoing roles and responsibilities such as developing strategic business initiatives that consider growth, dealing with cost management, risk and aligning internal stakeholders.
As a result, CFOs have directed their attention to technology in a hope to alleviate certain process-based headaches.
One form of technology that has been turning heads recently is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). By using a form of artificial intelligence, RPA works by administering software robots to businesses. These bots act as’ digital assistants’ that work by an employee’s side through the automation of repetitive business processes.
Gartner(2) has suggested that “The finance digital workforce is growing: 50% of controllers are in the process or have already implemented robotic process automation (RPA), and that number is predicted to increase to 88% over the next two years. Effective implementation can result in greater efficiency, fewer errors and higher workforce productivity”.
In addition, Google(3) and Microsoft(4) have recently made announcements that show an attempt to move into the RPA space. Although their technology remains unproven in an enterprise environment, the move could be a sign of willingness for enterprise-wide RPA adoption.
The demand and scalability surrounding RPA in finance was also highlighted in the Forrester Wave™: Robotic Process Automation, Q1 2021 report(5) which stated that “customers want to scale existing bot environments and extend the scope of their automation projects beyond classic desktop-based tasks to more complex processes”. As you can imagine, finance teams have a multitude of complex processes that fit this brief.
So with all the hype surrounding this technology, it’s important to ask ourselves: is RPA all talk, or does the action justify the investment?
Which processes should be automated?
The finance world is full of manually-intensive processes that can easily be automated using RPA.
Budget approval proposals are stacked with unclear advantages as well as unforeseeable ROIs. RPA will help CFOs gain budget approval by automating the business processes involved, building a business case that adds value to the organisation.
- Traditional operational finance
CFOs are very wary of the potential revenue deflation caused by errors and leakage, especially with growing transaction volumes. Traditional finance and accounting processes such as procure-to-pay, order-to-case and record-to-report can be supported by RPA, eliminating this human-error margin.
- Uniting disparate systems
CFOs face challenges from their finance and IT departments as their enterprise applications have excessive costs and risks. With the incorporation of RPA, companies no longer need to feel inclined to maintain disparate systems, processes and procedures across the company.
- Employee productivity
Another responsibility on the shoulders of CFOs is to keep an eye on workforce productivity levels and operational costs. RPA ensures performance support by helping employees navigate through their business applications more efficiently. By using in-application guidance and task automation, time can be spent more productively on the things that matter.
CFOs are well aware of the need to adhere to compliance requirements in many areas. RPA allows required processes to be executed automatically in accordance with specific policy requirements. With constant changes in government regulations, it can have a direct impact on finance and accounting procedures, for instance, in claims processing. This problem is more prominent if a company operates within a number of countries with their own sets of laws and regulations.
What’s talk without action? What to watch out for.
CFOs need to focus on the importance of scaling RPA successfully. Having the right fundamentals in place will prove to be key. There are times when a process seems as though it would be a fit for RPA automation, but when you get down to it, the value it adds doesn’t justify its automation.
Most of the effort that’s involved in getting RPA into finance teams is at the assessment phase. Internal teams are advised to work together and pinpoint ways to identify what processes should be automated. Teams should be mapping out a model of value realisation through agile practices.
As a result, choosing the right people to implement RPA is also key. Nobody can understand your systems better than your own people. Therefore, finance teams should choose the right people who can help the developers understand the process, to achieve on time and in-budget results.
RPA is upon us, and the finance sector shouldn’t delay.
Theoretically, RPA offers CFOs a whole host of lucrative sounding benefits. It helps to obtain budget approval, reduce errors, incorporate acquisitions, manage talent and guide adherence to compliance regulations. Therefore, the hype that surrounds RPA isn’t just empty talk.
However, in practice RPA can be difficult to implement due to the feasibility of scale and the need to identify the right processes. To help, finance teams should consider an end-to-end approach from process discovery, to implementation, to ROI and impact evaluation for the best results – and technology now exists to support every stage of the RPA journey.
RPA has the potential to revolutionise the finance industry and it’s starting to do so. However the conversation that surrounds RPA needs to shift. Instead of focusing on ‘what it could be’ we should focus on ‘how we can get it to be’. If the finance industry changes their mindset, the rewards will be remarkable.