Robotic Process Automation or RPA is the future of finance where the finance team functions much faster than others on huge volume of repetitive task without an error and maintains a noteworthy audit trail and all that at no significant overhead costs.
The finance function is more likely to bend to the robot revolution now than ever before. A highly disruptive and transformative technology, robotic process automation (RPA) is here to take the tediousness out from the typical finance function. As the CFO’s role matures and it is imperative to become operationally competitive, they are either evaluating the the possible benefits from this new technological innovation or in the midst of first implementations. RPA's significant potential to become a differentiator in the finance function has made the community curious.
A September 2015 report by ACCA, The Robots are Coming? Implications for Finance and Shared Services stated: “Finance leaders obsess about transformation levers – people, process and technology. But today’s solutions, save the requisite investment in an expensive ERP platform, have typically leaned heavily on the equation of people and process – cheaper people located offshore delivering transactions, plus added process improvement equals significant savings.”
Enter the robots. A very clever marketing tool, robots, robotics, robotics process automation, applied automation – whatever you call it – conjures up an image of a machine replicating the activities of a human doing the work. It is evocative, it’s high tech, but most importantly, it’s emblematic of what some see as the next step in the evolution of business process delivery – fewer people in favour of intuitive, machine-based learning technologies, the report said.
With RPA emerging as a tech solution capable of delivering multiple benefits including cost savings, enhanced accuracy, scalability, increased compliance, seamless collaboration in human-digital interactions, CFOs can now devote more time to reinventing their role as strategic decision-makers in the fast-changing financial landscape. However, there is an underlying apprehension that many of the lower end finance jobs will vanish under the onslaught of robotics and automation.
Kalpana B, Partner and Head – Robotics and Cognitive Automation, KPMG in India, disagrees with the notion, “I don’t think it’s a threat to the finance function but I do think it will definitely change the way the finance function looks. Just like we didn’t think shared services would impact Bangalore’s unending traffic jams, similar to that you would have some kind of fallouts in the way the whole construct is in finance.” If we look at it in that way, one would also find that accounting and auditing would be fast extinct in the next eight years or so…"that’s what the fourth industrial revolution is all about”, she added. Kalpana believes that the way in which we conduct business will change and robotics will be very similar to disruption like shared services or ERP and adds that we need to be prepared to do things in a different way.
As month-ends, quarter-ends and year-ends are extremely painful for most of the global companies or companies with multiple entities, the idea is to add to their human workforce a bot capability and create a flexible or a digital workforce. As Milan Sheth, Partner and National Leader – Technology Sector, Advisory Services, EY India, puts it, “People don’t talk about it for two reasons—one is it obviously leads to role reduction or redundancies so at least in India people don’t talk about it. The second aspect is that many of these organisations have over the years just run the processes in the same manner as they don’t have the right to change the processes end to end. So if you are doing a report to report process and you are doing reconciliations, it’s a creative use of where in your business you can reduce overtimes.”
He goes on to add, “Probably 12 months from now, people will proudly say that we have put 500 bots or 1,000 bots in our functions.”
RPA in Shared Services Environment
Shared services will likely be early adopters because of large amount of repetitive processes which are prone to being done well by bots existing within shared services, according to Kush Ahuja, Head – Business Relations, ACCA.
“Within shared services also, if you can make a flow chart of a flow chart then you have the option of automating that particular process,” he adds.
Though it is still early, Ahuja predicts, “There will be a change in how the talent pool within shared services would need to upgrade itself to meet with what the robots can bring in.”
Transforming Talent Landscape
There is certainly a consensus among finance leaders that RPA is not a threat to the finance function, but how does it affect the talent landscape in the type of people you require in the finance function? “We do not see it as replacing humans…we see it as in addition to humans,” avers Sheth. “As there are peak loads that our finance team faces at every quarter-end or at every year-end, we have issues around significant voluminous data so if you do reconciliation in our kind of a world you have couple of lakhs of invoices which have to be reconciled to the right client. Those are the activities I see that finance community can start exploring.”
Kalpana, on the other hand, feels that talent is stereotyped these days. “You will need to change that entire rooting of how an individual goes through a finance organisation, and therefore you will find that your entire job description is changing.”
Whatever humans do is done by robotics, whatever humans think is cognitive and whatever humans act is artificial intelligence, Sheth says. Even currently there are activities which the machine is doing, which is a thinking and a cognitive behaviour action.
Robotic process automation is the future, and the need of the hour is for finance function to prepare for it. There is no escaping the robots.