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RPA: Hype or Hope for Finance Teams?

Published  3 MIN READ

Due to the ongoing effects of Covid-19, many sectors of the world’s economy are accelerating their digital transformation journeys – and the finance sector is no exception. As a result of this ongoing change, conversations are taking place about digitising certain processes to future-proof workflows and keep finance teams as productive as possible. One area of technology that’s been a focal point in the finance industry of late 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”.

Think about it: finance teams are engulfed in hugely complex processes on a day-to-day basis –and these are all ripe for automation. RPA enables them to automate their business processes. Software bots are deployed to support automation of manually intensive processes, giving rise to a new era of digital working.

Also, more recently in the world of RPA, Google(2) and Microsoft(3)  have made announcements attempting to move into the RPA space, demonstrating the lucrative opportunities surrounding enterprise-wide RPA adoption, however their technology remains unproven in an enterprise setting.

So, are finance teams willing to adopt it? Or is it relegated to being just hype?

A digital assistant for every member of the finance team

According to Gartner(4): “Around 80% of finance leaders have implemented or are planning to implement RPA.” In a move to improve workforce efficiency, CFOs are looking to adopt RPA for cost savings, accuracy and compliance. Soon, every member of the finance team will have a digital assistant.

These digital assistants augment human intelligence. Otherwise known as bots, they adapt themselves automatically by learning from their previous mistakes. For instance, they can learn to understand the ongoing analysis of structured and unstructured data. This optimises efficiency in workflows connected with loan processing, financial reporting, supplier invoicing, policy administration, billings and collections. These intelligent ‘workside’ assistants discover specific patterns, predict decisions and eventually offer recommendations to the user.

These bots are designed to target manually intensive processes, such as procure-to-pay, order-to-cash and record-to-report. RPA is used by CFOs to retrieve budget approval, grow revenues deflated by errors, incorporate mergers, manage talent and adhere to compliance requirements. With RPA, monotonous tasks can be taken care of, saving employee time for the bigger analytical tasks, keeping finance teams more productive.

How many bots?

While RPA’s features may seem enticing for finance teams, they should first step back to consider the best ways to scale the technology before automating.

To do this, corporates must first optimise their chosen business processes internally in order to achieve the best results. Taking the time to evaluate already-existing processes will enable companies to pinpoint which areas need development to scale at volume. But ultimately, 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 certainly a must.

As a general rule, 30% of your RPA-related time should be dedicated to process identification and 70% focused on implementation and value realisation. However, in the initial stages, it’s likely that the majority of time is spent purely on process identification alone, but a balance can be struck once the RPA projects gain momentum internally. Mapping each step in a particular process is critical when supporting the process identification cycle.

The future of finance

Before frantically running away with the idea to implement RPA for your business, it’s important to consult with an expert. Using RPA to execute business processes should be seen by most companies as a long-term venture. It’s never a good idea to cut corners, so ensuring that the right resources are in place before deployment is key. 

It’s important to have a clear overview of your organisation and the business processes that are being carried out. Technology now exists that maps the activities in a business and identifies the processes that are ripe for automation within days. The management team can then base automation decisions on data that’s been extracted internally.

When it comes to RPA, it’s also important to advocate for a holistic, end-to-end approach from process discovery to implementation to return on investment (ROI) and impact evaluation for the best results.

Ultimately, RPA can ingest any type of data, process it, run it, and make it more efficient. In that sense, the hype is real. And RPA undeniably has real benefits for finance teams, if it is used properly.