Using robotics in the finance department

Using robotics in the finance department

Wed 07 Oct 2020

With the deployment of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems in the 1980s, the finance department centralised its functions as a service centre. Now, after the cloud, robots are showing up increasingly in companies. Undoubtedly, companies that choose to incorporate these solutions must now adjust the structure of their organisation.

What is the robotisation look like financial departments?

To begin, automation is the use of a computer programme which is capable of manipulating or performing transactions using a decision tree. In practice, robotics or digital assistants replace manual actions or semi-automated actions (i.e. reconciliation, data entry, sending reminders) performed by accountants, auditors or any other administrative operator. At an international level, there are two types of providers on the market today. The first providers lead on the user interface and code all the procedure stages (this is called Robotic Process Automation). The second providers offer IT solutions directly connected to ERP systems – without prompting the user interface, a specification phase adapts the robot’s standards to the company’s needs. The selection of one of the solutions depends on the business needs, the desired gain and the information systems department’s requirements.

In less than a year, automation has taken a prime position in the market for new technologies offered to financial departments.

  • For businesses, digital assistants are adaptable to the needs and activities, operate 24 hours a day and increase the quality of processing and reduce mistakes.
  • For IT, robots complete an existing information system with a low investment in infrastructure and will become an access point for machine learning or blockchain.
  • For financiers, costs and gains are measurable and the project duration is reasonable. Deployment and return on investment appears to be quite fast for everyone.

Since the summer of 2016, the market has been on standby with a new opportunity where all low added value repetitive processes are automated. The ‘Proof of Concept war’ began in the autumn of 2016. It’s a phrase that captures the great interest of managers to experiment with this new IT offer. Those who were the most innovative started with the experiment stage using external consultants or directly with their own IT editors. Given the challenges, the project typically starts with a business case by identifying the scope, costs and expected benefits. The project takes place in two or three waves. Within the first two months, the POC must convince the business and IT managers of the return on investment and develop the solution restricted to a simple business skill. Then, the business runs a pilot test on a process and starts the project on a department scale or accounting cycle.

Who is involved in a robotisation project?

An automation project generally involves all the company’s functions: business, finance, IT and HR. Beyond the promise of enhanced productivity, digital assistants free processes from time-related, organisational and technical constraints. The implementation involves identifying the eligible processes and giving careful consideration to support required during the changes.

General management and finance departments are naturally the sponsors for these types of company projects. The IT department also plays a support role in order to guarantee the security and protection of data while waiting to integrate the new skills.

How can we identify processes that are eligible for automation? And what are the day-to-day implications for monitoring these processes within teams?

Only specific skills based on digital data are automated. Normally, the maturity of a process is verifiable via a decision tree that lists all of the management rules. This formalisation work comes the specification process and is generally an opportunity to rationalise and optimise processes such as data collection, claims for restitution or reprocessing. Furthermore, priority is given to repetitive and frequent actions to optimise the gains from robotics.

During production, the manager works autonomously with digital assistants. A dashboard lists all the indicators in the shape of a calendar and identifies block points and rejections. The management and maintenance of automated processes is key for continuous improvement. The finance function should be directly involved in the maintenance of the robots, in order to identify the causes for any abnormalities and solutions provided.

From the initial step to automation: the key stages in a successful transition.

Interdependence between the IT solution, automated processes and human resources requires a change implementation backed by the project’s sponsors. The project sponsors will help bring the teams together, identify the organisation’s changes and encourage ongoing innovation.

The company has two options for integrating robots on a daily basis: progressively adjusting the integrations or completely restructuring the organisation. The choice generally depends on a number of questions: Is the team receptive to change? Is the team turnover rate high? Are time savings spread across the whole organisation? Is transformation on the same pace as staff attrition?

Transformation success also depends on the involvement of employees who deal with automation projects. Acculturation to new technologies and training are prerequisites to save time. This time saving is an opportunity for personnel to refocus on the activity of their company, increase their scope of action and take on greater responsibilities for the administrative oversight of new processes. The number of participants in financial management tends to be streamlined with automation. Strictly financial profiles will no longer be the norm. Personnel that are more independent and have a higher level of responsibility will be required to resolve new issues. Although, as with the technological revolution, we continue to see major changes in organisations, the automated company will have to rethink its relationship with its employees, providers and clients.