Robotic Process Automation in the Back Office
By Sven Lindemann, CEO, Hanse Orga Group
Robotics in the office is not as scary as it sounds. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can have significant benefits for your organisation, if you know how it’s used and how to deploy it.
RPA tools automate highly repetitive, labour-intensive, and high-volume processes, in turn leaving employees to focus on priority, higher value tasks. There are many existing business applications for RPA, some of which is just the repackaging of the existing screen scraping tools that automate a sequence of human actions on one or multiple applications that run on an end-user’s desktop. This approach can be useful for automating some interactions with back-office applications that can't be fully digitised, but it does not truly improve the underlying business process and it still pushes the tasks to a user’s desktop.
Many companies have already introduced automated workflows to handle invoice approvals or cash application and exception handling. RPA, however, is capable of taking the level of automation even further. RPA can be used to completely automate, without any human intervention, any task that can be done by applying simple business rules and data validation.
What are the key benefits?
RPA tools are rapidly emerging as a way to cut costs, eliminate manual errors and free up high-value employees for more creative problem solving, exception handling and troubleshooting. In the procure-to-pay space, people often look at RPA as a form of labour arbitrage, as it’s cheaper to use a robot than to hire people to process invoices. This is true even if the work is outsourced to an offshore location. In reality, the bots will free up staff from tedious tasks that take up time in their day so they can focus on the more important tasks and true exceptions that special artificial intelligence (AI) is still incapable of dealing with, as robots ensure that the work is done around the clock, 24/7.
RPA can benefit organisations of all sizes and in all industries. RPA has the potential to transform back-end operations, and this is especially true for organisations which run on SAP, including:
- Improving process efficiency and service effectiveness without a complete process redesign
- Optimising KPIs, allowing management to gain a faster and more accurate viewpoint of data in real time
- Remaining compliant with rapid data consolidation and a full audit trail
- Achieving more secure processes due to less manual intervention
Why Implement RPA?
Companies are not investing in back-office functions as much as before. Because of this, they are not necessarily adding to their back-office staff. The larger a company gets, or the more invoices or remittance advices it receives, for example, the more burden is placed on the existing staff.
Often, payment information received is incomplete or only available in an unstructured format, or the amount of the invoice is incorrect or paid by someone else. Payments from other countries are usually received in entirely different formats. Sophisticated software programmes are capable of using even unstructured payment information in the note to payee to identify the matching customer, invoice number, amount and other data.
RPA/bots are essential to not only prevent employee burnout, but to also automate simple tasks like coding invoices based on historic data or sending reminders for pending actions, allowing employees to turn their focus to more complex tasks. RPA tools are well suited for these back-office functions as they are repeatable and predictable.
Companies should carefully evaluate their procure-to-pay, order-to-cash and also treasury processes and identify areas where RPA can be used in place of workflows or manual tasks. For example, RPA can be used to automatically post invoices that have a three-way match (purchase order, invoice, and goods receipt). When RPA is combined with intelligent workflows, the procure-to-pay process becomes faster and more efficient. In addition to saving a lot of time, RPA tools are also vital for enhancing the quality and faster availability of data. This is important to the treasurer who needs reliable and real-time data to be able to make well-informed strategic decisions to ensure optimal liquidity levels for the company at all times.