Integrating RPA for finance? Don’t plan too much

While mapping out the entire process might seem like a thorough approach, it will delay RPA implementation and create extra work.
20 November 2018

RPA software could become the norm within your finance team. Source: Shutterstock

Spend on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software is on track to meet US$680 million worldwide by the end of the year, representing an uptick of 57 percent on last year.

By 2022, that figure could sit at an eye-watering US$2.4 billion.

While the bulk of this expenditure comes from large banks, insurance, utilities, and telecoms companies with annual revenues surpassing US$1 billion, the price of software is swiftly falling, making RPA’s benefits accessible to a new breed of SMEs.

Designed to mimic the ‘manual’ path a human worker would take to complete a task, RPA tools could become “commonplace” in the next couple of years, particularly within the finance department.

Here, the software can speed up and automate routine processes while reducing errors, freeing accounts teams up for more high-value tasks which can’t be so easily automated.

But while the technology can deliver such benefits “from day one”, according to Gartner’s managing vice president and head of finance research, Johanna Robinson, long-term RPA success comes down to a decisive move away from legacy systems and approaches.

“To deploy RPA successfully finance leaders must embrace a new mindset,” said Robinson. “Unless finance departments take a more agile approach when implementing RPA, they are likely to experience failures at each phase of implementation and won’t realize the full potential of the technology.”

As we know all too well, digital transformation at any level is no easy gig, so here are some pointers to consider when starting out with an RPA strategy.

Don’t plan too much

RPA deployments often don’t deliver on expectations because they are planned as an end-to-end process, rather than focused on a single activity. While mapping out the entire process might seem like a thorough approach, it will delay implementation and create extra work.

Instead, look to get one activity automated successfully, so the code can then be quickly applied to similar activities within the same or different processes.

“Finance departments can start relatively conservatively with RPA by focusing on using one bot against a number of individual activities,” said Robinson. “It’s still conservatively possible to see an output gain of up to ten times, compared with a full-time employee working during the same amount of time.”

Taking this approach can help businesses make immediate gains in efficiency, with minimal time invested in planning, standardization or implementation. Once gains have been realized and the pilot proves effective, the process can be rolled onto other activities in an agile and methodical manner.

In the building stage, difficulties occur when IT leaders treat RPA deployment the same way as they have legacy technology, where the potential use cases are mapped and tested before implementation, after which point a list of requirements that would be passed onto possible vendors.

“You don’t need to figure out every possible use case and requirement of an RPA solution before you begin,” said Robinson. “This will just result in spending more time and money than is really needed.”

Assign and allocate

When it comes to identifying where in your organization the human responsibility of RPA management lies, meanwhile, an iteration of planning and foresight is needed. While these roles shouldn’t necessarily be fixed ones, relevant competencies, such as digital process design, should be front of mind when recruiting new candidates.

Responsibilities for RPA activities should be clearly defined, so both RPA and IT teams can deal efficiently with issues such as setting up and monitoring robot performance, with IT providing support for the underlying technology infrastructure.

Once an RPA management team has been established, it should take lead on identifying the business issues and needs in most crucial need of robot deployment, clarifying and directing support from IT teams and vendors, rather than relying on them wholesale.

“The benefits of successful RPA deployments within finance include a reduction in errors from manual work and a redeployment of full-time employees to higher value activities,” said Robinson.

“But robots are only as good as the people who design and manage them. CFOs should start any RPA deployment by ensuring they understand the new agile mindset needed to implement the technology, with the right competencies in place to manage it.”