Robotic process automation (RPA) has made a particularly big splash lately with companies that are trying to ride the wave of artificial intelligence (AI)-powered applications. RPA empowers IT groups to configure software “robots” that are designed to capture and interpret data in a wide range of applications to automate common tasks. RPA bots have been finding new homes across a number of important internal processes. Following is a quick overview of where you’ll see RPA growing in the coming months and years.
Finance and Accounting
Finance is perhaps the most common department to make good use of RPA recently, and for good reason. Accounting processes are often done manually, or at least under the watchful eye of human accountants. However, a recent Deloitte Center for Controllership poll of more than 1,700 finance, accounting and other professionals reports that 52.8 percent say their organizations plan digital controllership improvements—leveraging process automation, analytics and other technologies for financial and accounting processes—in the year ahead. RPA is deployed to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of internal controls, which happens to be a top priority for 35 percent of accounting organizations.
If you dig further into the accounting profession you will find that RPA is also being used by CPAs to conduct audits, a process that has historically incorporated many computer-dependent tools. RPA is being used to transform a still somewhat handmade audit process into a more assembly-line audit process. RPA represents a dramatic and disruptive change in current audit practice that promises to allow auditors to operate at a much higher level. For example, RPA can assist auditors by logging into a client’s secure file transfer protocol (FTP) site to retrieve related audit information for a given year, then calculate whether the total revenue amount from the current and prior year listings is materially different, and generate an alert if the difference exceeds the materiality threshold.
The HR group can benefit from bot-based automation by streamlining a number of common (and potentially time-consuming) tasks such as payment processing and benefit distribution, which RPA applications can complete automatically without a great deal of human oversight. In other cases, RPA bots can be used to fill in missing information in various HR-related forms, far faster than their human counterparts. For example, if an employee’s address is missing on a given form, an HR worker would normally have to be alerted to the error, look up the information, update the form and reintroduce it into the payroll system. An RPA bot could learn to create and correct an exception for these cases and take care of them automatically en masse.
Reducing Organizational Costs
Enterprises employing many thousands of employees, including AT&T, Ernst & Young, Walgreens and Deutsche Bank, are among those investing in RPA to drive out costs. Fully automating routine tasks can reduce the cost of transactional processes by 50 to 75 percent while enabling people to focus on value-added tasks, according to The Hackett Group. At NASA, RPA pilots have been undertaken in accounts payable and receivable, IT spending, and human resources, all managed by a shared services center. In the HR portion of the pilot, 86 percent of transactions were completed without human intervention, and are now being rolled out across the organization.
RPA is catching the eye of product development organizations who want to build more enticing products and get them to market more rapidly. According to a Harvard Business Review report, 51 percent of executives surveyed say AI (which includes RPA) can help enhance the features, functions, and performances of their products. Software engineers can use RPA bots to automate more routine development tasks across the product development lifecycle, and free themselves up to put their expertise to work to build more creative and effective solutions.
In the travel business, new ways are being discovered to implement intelligent automation like RPA to speed common customer-facing processes. An example can be seen with American Express Global Business Travel, which automated the process of canceling airline tickets and issuing refunds, a task previously performed by employees. They are also looking to facilitate automatic rebook recommendations in the event of an airport shutdown. The bottom line when working with customers – whether it’s selling to them, answering questions or fixing their products or services – is to streamline the process by funneling common problems into one consolidated basket. RPA is designed to manage these activities far faster than a human team and with better accuracy and tracking ability.
What companies seem most excited about is that RPA is a cost-effective technology. On average firms expect to be ROI positive in fewer than 14 months of implementation, according to a PWC study. That’s a great value that any organization can, and should, be looking into.