According to Advanced’s latest Trends Report, technology will become a business spending priority over the next 12 months for 55% of finance professionals.
So what kind of technology are we talking about here?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, predictive analytics and business intelligence tools come out top. But the same survey also reveals that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is making headway. Two-thirds of finance professionals say they would be happy to work alongside robotic technology if it meant less manual processes in their day-to-day roles.
RPA isn’t new but it is certainly going to climb in popularity over the next 12 months and, eventually, become ubiquitous among businesses. It can relieve teams from mundane and repetitive work to focus on higher-value and strategic activities. Moreover, the technology is easier to access, expand and scale than other technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI).
One very simple function that can benefit from RPA is Accounts Payable (AP). The responsibilities here are to get invoices in, processed and ensure they get paid at the right time. Traditionally, this task is laborious, prone to error and expensive.
Finance teams are inundated with documents, and their time is taken up with sorting and routing the invoices, data entry, chasing budget holders for approval, printing and photocopying, resolving queries and locating associated paperwork. RPA can automate these manual and usually administrative heavy processes, meaning finance teams will see increased productivity and efficiency levels. They’ll work smarter, not harder.
It’s not just about productivity either. RPA gives finance professionals increased visibility into the entire organisation and better data for reporting to the board. The data generated can be used for strategic work, management reporting, financial forecasting and trend analysis.
RPA can help with a host of other external factors too.
With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now in place, it will help the finance department (and indeed other areas of the business)get their data in order. RPA is a good starting point for GDPR compliance as businesses can store, manage and track electronic documents and electronic images of paper-based information in one place and in real-time. This ensures compliance requirements by providing traceability on all documents.
For whatever reason finance teams will adopt RPA, there will need to be a change in culture among the workforce. Automation technologies will only be effective if the people using them understand how they work, appreciate their true potential and recognise the value they bring rather than fearing them. Arguably, investing thousands of pounds on technologies such as RPA when users simply don’t believe in them is wasted, suggesting a robust upskilling and training programme is necessary to ensure future digital success.
RPA isn’t the only technology that organisations will prioritise in 2019. We will start to see a sharp focus on AI and how it can be combined with RPA. With a combination of the right technology, with AI handling decisions and chatbots managing customer queries, completely unmanned AP is achievable by 2020 as a result of invoice automation.
For now though, many businesses will be implementing RPA to reap the immediate productivity benefits and to test the water for AI in the future. Planning and testing automation software to see the impact it has on their operations and staff is a great indicator of the benefits large-scale AI deployment could bring in the future.
Any business looking to use RPA in 2019 and beyond should take the following steps:
- Audit your processes and identify which involve low-skills, manual and repetitive tasks, such as many of the core yet daily finance functions of invoice processes—those that are most ripe for automation.
- Determine the key technologies your business needs to become more agile, competitive and productive. Decisions must be made based on need, not hype.
- Understand which new technologies are best placed to modernise or integrate with your organisation’s existing legacy systems.
- Ask yourself what the potential benefits of RPA are to your finance team. Understand employees’ pain points before deciding which digital tools will help.
- Appoint a digital pioneer—someone that will drive positive technology change and that has the backing of your CEO and the rest of the C-Suite.
- Engage with your younger workforce. Typically, they are more digitally savvy and open to change. Find out what technologies they think will make a real difference.
So there’s one clear trend for 2019—and that’s RPA. Done right, it will change the face of finance for the better.