In order to enable their team members to focus more of their time on higher value, higher satisfaction tasks demanding high levels of flexibility, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership and emotional intelligence rather than repetitive tasks, CFOs are increasingly turning to RPA.
Short for Robotic Process Automation, RPA uses software to complete repetitive, structured, rules-based tasks to automate business processes at scale. It starts with simple, local tasks and scales up to enterprise-wide, intelligent automation, driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence.
In the finance function, RPA is being used to automate tasks that are of a repetitive nature and require tedious manual efforts.
Examples of such tasks include bank reconciliation process, sales ordering and invoicing, fixed asset management, financial and external reporting, inventory management, receivables and payables management, financial statement consolidation, tax planning and accounting, and forecasting.
Given the diverse applications of Robotics within finance, before introducing RPA into the finance function, it’s imperative for the CFO and everyone involved in the process to clearly assess and understand the benefits and risks attached.
Not every finance process is a good-fit for RPA
RPA implementation essentially depends on structured data and defined workflows. Thus, for any process to be a viable candidate for automation, the process must involve only structured, digital input and follow a rules-based processing approach.
Correctly identifying the process is therefore a critical step and holds the key to the success of any automation initiative.
However, the current plethora of new digital technologies and applications all promising to disrupt the way finance work is done is pausing a big challenge for finance leaders to separate hype from reality.
As a result, some leaders are deploying robotics into their operations simply due to a speed-to-market goal, resulting in missed benefits and unnecessary costs. When deploying RPA into finance, it’s not about following the herd or what your close competitors are doing.
Rather, you need to perform an objective analysis of your finance processes including an evaluation of which RPA tool or vendor relationship suits your unique needs. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Only a handful of processes can be neatly and entirely automated using an RPA tool alone. Therefore, it’s important to start your objective analysis with end to end process thinking because you will need to use multiple tools and techniques to realize the most transformative benefits.
Robotics tools are non-invasive
This means organizations do not need to make existing legacy changes when implementing RPA. The technology can be installed on any desktop or computer in a non-interruptive way with minimal IT involvement or coding abilities.
Because of this faster deployment, CFOs need not make the mistake that IT involvement is not required at all. Though RPA increases efficiency, it also brings with it the concern of system hacking and data breaches.
Also, platform security vulnerabilities, privacy implications and denial of service may yield ramiﬁcations that impact the RPA integrity, reliability and downstream business processes.
That is why it’s important to involve the IT from the upfront as the team plays a critical role of ensuring strong systems are in place to raise alerts of data breaches or process errors, and proactively remedy the situations.
Similar to every other system used in the organization, software bots need to be operationally managed and technically maintained.
Risk control and governance
Automation agendas are exciting and groundbreaking, yet intelligent and informed risk decisions surrounding their implementation need to be made to proactively create value and protect the business. As robots extract, aggregate, transform and upload data, risk and control considerations should become key discussion topics.
A robust governance framework should therefore be put in place to support the robotics deployment. The framework should succinctly address areas of concern such as approval of any system changes in case of process which have been automated, scalability, data storage and regulatory compliance.
The RPA tool should be capable of generating a detailed audit trail, highlighting any change or decision taken by the bot.
Just like humans whose performance is assessed, we should also be able to monitor and confirm the accuracy of the tasks being performed by the bots, reliability of the systems and adaptability to process changes.
Robust monitoring and security governance is critical to ensure all the tools and related infrastructure developed in RPA are compliant with IT security policies, regulatory provisions and risk policies across the organization.
CFOs and other leaders thus need to be aware and ready to deal with new complexities that could arise as a result of introducing robotics in finance.
Avoid putting the technology or tool ahead of your people
Many new technology implementation initiatives fail because decision makers leave people out of the equation. People decisions are often an after thought, secondary to technology decisions.
Implementing robotics is about driving operational efficiency, productivity, quality, customer satisfaction and more. These outcomes will not be realized if the key people who are meant to drive the change are not informed from the start.
As a leader, despite not having complete details about the final benefits of the initiative, you still need to communicate across the team why the organization has decided to bring about the change, what the ultimate organizational structure will look like after the change and the change impact on the existing employees.
People drive change and not technology. Reskilling of the employees who will be interacting and interfacing with the bots is therefore necessary for the overall success of the initiative.
In order to gain maximum benefits out of the automation exercise, have a long-term view and consider its strategic relevance to the business.
Engage employees throughout the organization and focus on automating cross-functional end-to-end processes across multiple stages instead of deploying RPA in pockets.