It’s fair to say that 2018 was the year of artificial intelligence and robotic process automation. According to recent research from Forrester, adoption of intelligent process automation will only continue to accelerate, with finance and accounting as major beneficiaries of process improvement and innovation. But that’s just the beginning. Because once the ‘heavy lifting’ is done to automate high volume processes and the systems have essentially paid for themselves, they can be applied to more complex/lower volume operations that consume much of our work efforts.
Forrester’s Predictions 2018 report suggests that enterprises under increasing pressure to digitize their operations see robotic process automation as a key component in their strategy to boost productivity without disrupting existing operations. One of the most attractive aspects of technologies like RPA, according to Forrester, is that RPA doesn’t require the kind of ‘big spend’ that is typical of other technology investments, like implementing an ERP or CRM system.
In fact, citing ease of deployment as a driving factor, Forrester predicts that RPA will become a $2.9B market by 2021. The dollars are impressive, but the really revolutionary shift we’ll experience is organizational and cultural. As Forrester suggest, RPA will accelerate an overall trend within companies in general and IT departments in particular to evolve from centralized, ‘command and control’ models for choosing and implementing technology, to a more democratic system. In that new world of intelligent process automation, end users and subject matter experts can choose, deploy and manage their own technology. IT can support those efforts, but they are no longer burdened in the same way with tons of implementation, maintenance and support activities.
From Forrester’s perspective (and the perspectives of the surveyed organizations), financial processes across purchase-to-pay, order-to-cash and record-to-report represent perfect candidates for quick wins when it comes to process automation.
One area where process automation stands to drive value is in closing that gaps within semi-automated processes that may existing within accounting and finance today.
Take the example of accounts payable, where well-established systems and technologies already exist to automate a large portion of processes like vendor invoice handling. In the past, cost justifying the effort to purchase, set up and implement automation might have required a significant volume and velocity of invoices. Today’s business transformation platforms like Artsyl’s docAlpha, however, leverage RPA in a way that allows for most of the set-up work to be pre-configured, while bots work behind the scenes to learn and adapt from process owner input along the way. By creating a system and learns and adapts, rather than following rigid, prescribed business rules, companies can automate more tasks, boosting efficiency for manual tasks they used to tolerate because they didn’t reflect a huge volume on their own.
Of course, look at any department in any organization, and you’ll likely find tons of processes and tasks that fit this description. In aggregate, all of the smaller, discrete tasks within lower-volume operations are sapping the productivity of workers. So while process automation is great at handling those high volume/velocity processes like vendor invoices or sales orders, once those systems are in place and have paid for themselves, it is relatively easy to apply them to other process and tasks where common bottlenecks like document handling and data entry get in the way.
Once that happens, workers can stop ‘sweating the small stuff’ and think bigger about their own goals and contributions to their organization. Let the robots handle the rest.