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Why finance and IT must work together to implement RPA

09 Jul 2019
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Article by BlackLine Australia and New Zealand vice president Claudia Pirko

Embracing robotic technologies is no particular stretch for ICT professionals, accustomed as they are to getting to grips with the latest developments on the high-tech frontier.

It can represent more of a challenge to individuals and divisions within an enterprise whose daily duties have not been significantly impacted by automation and digital transformation, to date.

In many Australian and New Zealand organisations, that includes the finance and accounting department.

While a growing wave of enterprises of all stripes have made the switch to cloud accounting software, many have only just begun to embrace the next level of change – the automation of a slew of finance-related tasks and processes historically carried out by human hands.

Helping business units implement robotic systems and exploit them to their full potential is a task that’s ideally suited to in-house ICT personnel, given their technical skills are likely to be complemented by considerable knowledge of the organisation’s business processes and corporate culture.

Appointing one or more individuals to the role of robotics change champion can help ensure a smooth rollout and more rapid acceptance of the technology across the enterprise.

Meet the robotic bean counters

Mention the word robot and many people think of something along the lines of the lovable Star Wars robot R2-D2; a clunky metal creation which can perform many of the same physical functions as a human being.

In 2019, not all robots look like this or take up as much space.

In fact, software robots take up no space at all, except in the virtual sense – on servers or in the cloud.

In the accounting department, robotic process automation sees automation software running on a workstation perform many of the tasks formerly carried out by accountants or accounts clerks.

Typically, they’ll be activities which are manual and repetitive and able to be reduced to a series of rules or solved by an algorithm.

Robotic technology can also be incorporated into workflows within software programs and platforms that cover a range of business processes, including customer and employee resource management, claims applications and general ledger tasks.

Wide-scale change underpinned by IT

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to undertake a robotic process automation (RPA) implementation without considerable involvement from the ICT team.

Their tasks will typically include establishing the virtual services the robots will run on and providing them with access to the processes currently performed by human workers, which have been earmarked for automation.

It’s likely they’ll also be responsible for establishing the rules under which the robots will operate and the parameters under which they can make decisions.

The techies will remain in the picture once the implementation is complete, to collaborate with business unit leaders on enhancements and train staff on any changes made to the system after the rollout.

Data analytics tools can be used to extract business insights from the data that’s processed by RPA-driven business systems.

Helping decision-makers use them to optimum benefit is also likely to be a task that falls to the ICT team.

Time to act               

Economic pressures are forcing businesses across all industries to identify areas where efficiency can be improved and productivity enhanced.

The rollout of robotic process automation can fulfil both these objectives and organisations which fail to embrace it are likely to find themselves at significant competitive disadvantage to their more technologically adroit rivals.

Adopting robotic technology across the enterprise can call for cultural change and necessitate increased technical support, in the period immediately following the rollout.

Making in-house tech experts integral to the process will help ensure finance and accounting professionals and other employees whose duties are significantly affected make the transition more easily.