Robotic process automation (RPA) is a burgeoning trend; the so-called bot market is projected to grow from $2.9 billion in 2016 to nearly $49 billion by 2022, according to Forrester Research. Within the bot industry is a subset that is especially appealing to finance—visual automation tools especially designed for non-technical users.
These visual automation tools are essentially software bots that help automate routine workflows, allowing staff to focus on value-added strategic activities. No programming expertise is required for visual automation bots because these tools are designed for non-technical users.
WHY IT MATTERS FOR FINANCE
But what are the use cases for finance and FP&A? Consider these hypotheticals:
Accessible RPA. A finance staffer is migrating to new accounting software and needs to enter specific transactions in the new system. The problem is that these transactions are only available in a spreadsheet and there are thousands of them. Entering them manually into the new system would be a very tedious and time consuming.
The finance employee could instead use visual automation software to record such actions as mouse movements, mouse clicks and entering text, and then play them back as if they were performed by a real person. The finance staffer can design a process that enters the transactions into the new system as if performed by a human. It would take only a few hours for the process to enter thousands of transactions.
Programmed data manipulation. Every morning, a finance staffer compiles a report on borrowing and lending trades, which takes about 30 minutes every day. To produce the report, she must check her email inbox and save a spreadsheet she receives daily from a colleague. After that, she must double-check the spreadsheet to ensure that the data is correct. If everything looks good, she appends the new data to historical trade data and runs a few calculations in Excel. The whole routine is repetitive and unrewarding.
Visual automation software can be scheduled to automatically obtain data from various sources, including email attachments, databases, network folders and remote computers; extract meaningful information from them like orders, price lists, transactions and account balances; and then prepare it via filtering, aggregating, merging, matching and calculating new metrics for additional financial analysis or reporting.
Instead, the software can be trained to retrieve data, perform all data quality checks and calculate necessary metrics automatically. The finance staffer can then schedule the process to run every morning and free half an hour of her time every day.
Workflow processing. Two finance employees are required to review and approve their colleague’s report before publishing it on a corporate SharePoint portal. Besides that report, they need to vet a few more reports produced by other employees. At times, the vetting process lacks clarity, and it is not immediately clear which reports have passed certain approval stages. To automate the approval process, they use visual automation software that automates repetitive tasks involving Microsoft products like MicroSoft Flow—more than 200 integrations in all.
The cost of using automation software typically is a few cents per hour—exponentially less expensive than human labor. In addition, automated routines are typically performed much faster than when done manually. And because automation is designed to be used by non-technical business people, help desk costs are minimized.
The Bots You’re Looking For
The bottom line is that bots have arrived and are significantly impacting the way work is performed and work teams are organized. There are powerful arguments for adopting these solutions, and if these challenges are addressed, great advantages can be obtained.
Dmitry Gudkov is CEO of EasyMorph, a visual automation software.
AFP 2018 has multiple sessions on robotic process automation. See the full agenda here.