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What is RPA?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is software that can be easily programmed or instructed by end users to perform high-volume, repeatable, rules-based tasks. It automates the logical transfer of data within processes quickly and accurately, freeing up valuable resources from mundane tasks.

More time for important matters

The benefits of adopting RPA in finance go way beyond cost reduction bringing improved control, faster processing speed, better data quality and happier finance team members freed up from mundane tasks for interesting and value-add work.

Fear of technological change is nothing new, and whilst RPA can lead to role displacement this is more than counter-balanced by the creation of new roles and the removal of remedial, boring tasks away from employees. This creates new learning and career opportunities, and helps create the appropriate cultural transformation needed in the finance team to successfully adopt and scale the technology.

It's beneficial to have a clear plan showing the impact on employees both short term and long term, as RPA is scaled as part of a wider automation strategy.

Description of five emerging finance roles within RPA adoption. Robot developer - A developer or robot configurator codes step by step instructions for the robot to follow to perform a task using business rules and sends the information to the robot controller.  Robot controller – the robot controller typically a centralised control function that ensures appropriate version control, assigns tasks to the robots and governs the process in terms of which robot do which activities as well as tracking and reporting on performance  Finance user – software robots then carry out the task instructions. Exceptions are usually dealt with by finance staff as a manual intervention over the process. Robot maintainer – the robot maintainer is responsible for ongoing maintenance of the performance of the software, prioritising software change reprogramming as well as security and software maintenance. Vendor – vendors are utilised to provide external support for “bot” performance issues and software update requirements. Graphic (page 34) showing the emerging finance roles with RPA adoption

Current state of play

There is still significant runway for further adoption of RPA technology in finance. Less than half of all respondents surveyed have deployed RPA, however certain markets are leading the way in terms of adoption rates and unsurprisingly many large organisations are already benefiting from RPA application across finance. This suggests however, that significant opportunity is currently being missed to drive efficiencies in finance through this technology.

The business case for RPA

The benefits of RPA adoption are multifaceted, and typically underestimate the non-labour benefits that come with it.

  • Improved control
  • Improved process speed
  • Reduced processing cost
  • 24-7 operational capability
  • Data accuracy
  • Improved finance process flexibility to scale
  • Improved process performance visibility
  • Ease of deployment of customised process solutions

The research indicates a significant percentage of companies remain hesitant to move forward with adoption. Some of the challenges of RPA implementation include:

  • Employee resistance to adoption
  • Understanding how to combine RPA with other technologies
  • Poor IT legacy systems making implementation difficult
  • Identification of the processes most suited to RPA
  • Risk of nonstandard and silo processes proliferating and weakening controls
  • Poor clarity on RPA process ownership and accountability
  • Poor IT security to govern implementation

Roadmap of implementation

Running an initial 'proof of concept' has been found to be a critical step during which benefits to the business can be demonstrated and the approach to implementation can be refined.

Organisations who have implemented RPA successfully follow a number of key steps during implementation.

  1. Prioritise the finance areas for automation
  2. Develop a multifaceted roadmap for implementation
  3. Select the right providers and partners to support design and implementation
  4. Build an enterprise-wide delivery model and governance strategy to help oversee the program
  5. Establish a change management strategy to drive adoption throughout finance

About Jamie Lyon, lead ACCA author