RPA Services for Accounting and Finance

How Finance and Accounting Are Unlocking Value With RPA 

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Mia Fischer 25th April 2020

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A Brief History

The rapid adoption of Robotics Process Automation (RPA) across various industries is proving to be one of the most powerful methods of achieving competitive advantage and innovation in today’s era of digital transformation. Among those industries, one of those reaping the most benefit is Finance & Accounting. However, regardless of whether or not your company is operating within this industry or not, finance and accounting are key areas of differentiation in gaining an edge amongst the competition for any vertical. Woefully, many of today’s organizations’ potential in reaching true digital transformation is being hampered by dated accounting operations, often plagued by legacy systems and rudimentary accounting functions.

At Edison & Black, we work with companies of varying industries to achieve digital excellence in leveraging leading RPA solutions to achieve world class process automation. By helping our clients reimagine the way in which they are currently structuring their processes, we provide a clear pathway for our clients to fully realize their potential in driving operational efficiency. From drastically reducing time to process, to facilitating accurate record keeping, leveraging RPA in Finance & Accounting has the power to vastly improve end-user experiences while providing for significant cost savings.
CFO is the New CTO
Accounting departments are under more pressure than ever to deliver optimal efficiency and performance within their organizations. In the wake of yet another global economic crisis, the value of managing risk, and controlling costs is significant as it has ever been. For these reasons and more, there is a greater emphasis being placed within the operations and reporting of accounting and finance. These changes have further added fuel to digital transformation that is happening within the more secular category of finance and accounting. While formerly exclusive to those in marketing and technology functions, Chief Financial Officers are now expected to play an important role in the broader context of digital transformation; and of this in these roles are turning to RPA to achieve just that. With the authority to facilitate such change and innovation, savvy CFOs are furthering their technological capabilities in order to advance their organizational strategies.

What all of this means is that leaders in finance and accounting roles now have front row seats in leading their company’s digital innovation in a vastly meaningful way. By providing the most valuable insights and financial reports that other leaders rely on, modern finance and accounting professionals have no shortage of responsibilities. Spanning from ensuring regulatory compliance to risk management, CFOs have to manage their time spent on the most important aspects of their role with those of lesser importance. In an attempt to strike this balance, today’s CFOs will often find themselves too inundated with routine tasks to be able to prioritize the more important process of strategic decision making. WIth the high frequency of repetitive tasks within today’s finance and accounting roles, RPA has the power to significantly reduce costs while producing tremendous return on investment. This power of this potential is further conducive to transparency within finance and account operations in a way that provides immense levels of scale.

Overcoming Legacy Impediments
In replacing legacy systems, pencil and paper processes and unstructured data, RPA is bringing teams and systems together while breaking down interdepartmental divides. Much of this divide was presented by the adoption of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems in the early nineties. Many of these implementations forced organizations to adapt their processes to fit within the system, rather than the system adapting to fit within the organization. This imposed adaptation has only fueled the disintegration and flow of processes in a way that have required heavy customization to existing systems through integrations and add-ons in a way that did not consider the needs of the end user. This is the very essence of what is preventing many modern organizations from achieving desired outcomes in seeking meaningful and impactful digital transformation. Modern, cloud-based RPA solutions, such as UiPath turn this point of friction upside down by eliminating the reliance on slow, and dated legacy systems. As just one example, incumbent solutions such as Oracle and SAP simply do not compare to modern RPA solutions' ability to enable straight-through processing, which allows finance and account professionals to accelerate the capacity to process financials without requiring manual intercession. This means less time spent on high volume, transactional tasks alongside an inherent improvement in accuracy.
Use Cases
The use cases for RPA in accounting and finance are extensive. With the advantages of robotic process automation falling into both financial and operational categories, the possibilities are seemingly endless. With RPA, accounting teams can now unlock the power of automation in covering use cases and processes in ways that were not possible to automate with existing, legacy systems. With customizable workflows, for example, you can create one workflow, then apply it to multiple components of a broader finance and accounting operations. This means your accounts receivables can benefit from the same workflows as your accounts payables; and vice-versa. The notion of reusable automation components allows for a rapid deployment across processes that can accelerate your organizational and inter department RPA adoption in a meaningful way.

In further dissecting real world applications of RPA in finance and accounting, some of the more popular usage examples exist within the category of procurement. Among the most notable tasks worth addressing RPA include receipt matching, purchase order entry, vendor statement reconciliation, and vendor setup. Similarly, as another function of finance and accounting, accounts receivable functions are also uniquely suited to benefit from the power of RPA in automation routine tasks spanning from collection activities, billing and invoicing to dispute management. As another key area of improvement as it pertains to the adoption of robotics process automation, the function of accounting can virtually eliminate the manual tasks of journal entries, as well as bank, general, and vendor reconciliations -- just to name a few. With one of the core functions of planning, reporting and analysis also being one of the most time intensive and repetitive tasks of a today’s finance professionals, this also happens to be one of the areas of greatest potential. At Edison & Black, we help our clients within the category of data aggregation and reporting by leveraging and implementing the automation of profit and loss statements, cash flow statements, balance sheets and many other forms of reporting saving countless manuals hours that are further susceptible to errors in reporting.

Among the reasons as to why leading RPA solutions can be so powerful within finance and accounting functions is due to the fact that the technology itself can sit atop, and across existing infrastructure. This means that it does not have to replace legacy systems all together, but rather it has the ability to connect and compliment them. As what is known as a non-invasive application, it’s infrastructure eliminates the need to change your company’s existing information technology stack. While this is attractive, perhaps even more appealing is that RPA is always on. This means no days off, no defined schedule, but rather it is always running twenty four seven, all year long. The average reduction in error rates spans upwards of 90% while data entry costs can be eliminated, in some cases, entirely. The technology therefore, has the ability to fuel levels of productivity that were not previously attainable.

RPA also positions adopters to benefit from error free data processing. All while these advantages are at play, employees can also enjoy the reduced or fully eliminated redundancy of tasks. This allows workers to further dedicate their time to high-value and more strategic tasks where their effort will yield greater output. Counter to the common narrative regarding automation and robots replacing humans, the truth is that robots compliment human effort in ways that relent impressive results. With the ability to implement a robot in as little as several days, the speed of which automation can be achieved is equally as impressive. While the actual analysis and planning that goes into such automations takes time, once deployed, the ability to instantly relieve finance and accounting employees of time draining tasks presents substantial ROI. From the managing of payables/receivables, to the closing of financial statements, and accounting and tax planning, RPA has the power to span across nearly every financial facet of your organization in driving tremendous value and cost cutting.

What to Automate
When it comes to what can be automated within finance and accounting departments, there are process categories that can fully realize automation whereas others will be supplemental. There are several key criteria in which automation process selection can be based on. UiPath, for example, has created a “fitness criteria” to which those seeking to adopt RPA in accounting and finance can use to determine what to automate. First and foremost, this list begins with those tasks of which are highly repetitive in nature and are frequent in terms of their volume are the most obvious places to start. Secondly, the process must be rule-based in nature and ideally will be relatively low in exception rate or variance between processes. Third, the designated inputs must also be digital, or electronically readable in other words. Fourth, the processes that are being selected for automation must be stable in terms of their base level application.

Among the primary components worthy of close consideration regarding what to automate in implementing RPA is variation. If the vast majority of a particular process can be mapped in the same quantity of steps, but there are exception rules in between those steps, this can impose additional challenges that will need to be overseen. These are known as exception paths, and though they can certainly be automated in a way that achieves impressive results, it does take time and will require additional expertise to implement in a way that is conducive to an error free outcome. For these reasons, organizations must conduct a careful assessment of which processes are worth dedicating resources to achieve automation, as obsessed to which are best to remain as manual. It is this very notion that further solidifies the human-robot connection in that the balance of the two entities can complement each other. For example, where exception rules are frequent, a human can supplement the review and decision making at that step to which the robot could then handle both preceding and succeeding steps of the automated process. This further builds on the value in leveraging those in finance and accounting roles to act more in a decision making capacity in applying complex thought and strategy whereas the formerly routine tasks of their role can be eliminated.

Where to Start
In taking the first steps towards the automation of accounting and finance functions, it’s important that organizations approach RPA with an iterative mindset. It is also very much advised that companies take an agile approach in adopting robotics process automation in order to yield successful outcomes that deliver value in a way that compounds over time. A great place to start is with a proof of concept plan. This process will help identify which areas of your automation and finance can be automated. This will also help in identifying a quantifiable return on investment. For example, in carrying out this planning exercise, you will find that certain processes can be fully automated, inherently providing a return on ROI in a rapid fashion. Some processes will provide such returns in a little as several weeks, where others may take longer. In one scenario, for instance, expense report processing is an ideal example of where you can achieve 100% robotization providing an immediate relief of your workforce’s attention.

Perhaps even more notable of a byproduct of a planning exercise, organizations will further be able to assess which processes can be fully automated, as well as which ones may be partially automated. Throughout this planning phase, by taking this one step further into the adoption of your RPA solution, it is also suggested to commence your robotics processing automaton journey with assisted automation. This simply means that the initial rollout of process automation should be monitored, or attended to, in a fashion that can ensure efficiency and maximum effectiveness. RPA consulting partners, such as Edison & Black can save tremendous time and effort throughout this initial rollout phase in reducing the number of inefficiencies and error by leveraging a deep expertise in multi-platform RPA implementation across complex use cases. Standardization is key in making the most of your RPA implementation as this is the key ingredient to process automation in the first place. For this reason, we suggest starting with an analysis on what can be standardized, as well as what is already standardized, as this will lay the groundwork for some of the more basic functions of RPA. In successfully completing countless RPA implementations, this can often be a key area of challenge for our clients and is further one of which an implementation partner can provide the greatest degree of expertise designed to assist in standardization assessment.

While there are a number of solutions best suited to accomplish best in class robotics automation for finance and accounting teams of all sizes, there are two of which we most commonly recommend and deploy. UiPath being our go-to, Automation Anywhere is also a rock solid choice. If you are in the position of considering either vendor, we have strong relationships with both and often will facilitate introductions to each respective RPA provider to determine fit. We have also put together a comprehensive comparison guide that assesses the pros and cons of each for additional consideration and analysis.

As a pure RPA consultancy, Edison & Black’s implementation process provides our partners significant edge in delivering lightning-fast solution roll outs. Leveraging an agile methodology we begin working with our clients preemptively in determining a proof of concept derived from close collaboration with the key organizational users. We then utilize this proof of concept in formulating key areas of where value will derive from the most, which will serve as the compass of prioritization in terms of what processes to target first. This is quickly followed by a delivery method of which is iterative in terms of its automation process deployment. The rapid delivery stage then is further refined simultaneous to in-depth training to end users to ensure adoption and total solution ownership is achieved. Lastly, in successfully launching our clients initial process automation functions, we then move into the phase of scaling and support in a way that delivers meaningful, long-term value.

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