Only about 20% of five finance teams used robotic process automation (RPA) in 2018, but nearly 75% will do so this year as finance leaders implement it to tackle many of their top priorities.
RPA is system-agnostic software that seeks to mimic a human’s role in a process and make that process more automatic, repeatable, faster or less error-prone. The rate of adoption of RPA exceeds that of either artificial intelligence (AI) or blockchain in finance because the technology delivers against finance leaders’ cost reduction, efficiency improvement and quality enhancement objectives.
Consider using new RPA responsibilities as stretch opportunities for high-potential employees
“Coronavirus has rapidly forced most finance teams into cost efficiency mode and RPA can help with all of the aforementioned challenges,” says Sanjay Champaneri, Director, Advisory, Gartner. “Additionally, the technology is relatively mature compared to things such as blockchain or AI, and readily available from vendors.”
Certain benefits of RPA are obvious. For example, finance leaders consider 89% of accounting activities to be highly automatable. Eighty percent of finance teams also use three or more disparate systems and spend large amounts of time on manual data-cleaning before they can deploy analytics. But RPA’s potential is greater than the immediate gains from efficiency and automation. Automating routine tasks, for instance, frees up finance professionals to work on higher-level activities.
Consider using new RPA responsibilities as stretch opportunities for high-potential employees whose responsibilities will become obsolete with greater RPA adoption. This supports meaningful finance transformation instead of just cutting costs or head count.
A phased rollout of RPA — combined with gradual organizational structure changes — will help finance leaders to mitigate employees’ fears
Well-implemented RPA can change the configuration of finance employees’ job responsibilities, redesigning the finance organization. It creates opportunities to increase the added value of every employee hour and for new skill development.
“Finance leaders shouldn’t shy away from deep changes to their functions’ structures.” says Champaneri. “A phased rollout of RPA — combined with gradual organizational structure changes — will help finance leaders to mitigate employees’ fears that they’re being replaced by robots.”
Ideally, the structure of the finance organization should spur a shift away from transactional, repeatable work toward more value-added activities, such as quality analysis, strategy and development, that position finance as operational and enterprise decision support partners.
Learn more: Redesign Finance Department Structure and Roles
One way to think about the finance transformation RPA brings is to imagine how it will change the role of finance professionals.For example, consider today’s responsibilities of external reporting accountants. They might compile the organization’s company filings and GAAP statements, execute and document external reporting controls, or identify, evaluate and flag exceptions in reporting processes.
After an RPA implementation, they might instead monitor robots for quality control, approve their work, create and tune automation, make high-level decisions where a robot is unsure what to do and handle exceptions in process automations.