Aren’t robots in finance still some way off? Absolutely not. They are closer than you might think, which means that financial administration can be handled automatically. Should finance professionals be concerned?
From virtual assistants to customer service chatbots: robots are an increasing feature of our daily lives. Google’s DeepMind and IBM’s Watson go one step further. These supermachines use global databases in a completely new way. With a speed inconceivable just a few short years ago.
New technologies play a crucial role in the development of current business software, by enabling machines to make improvements previously undreamed of. This is done with algorithms, the analysis of large amounts of data and the conversion of that data into knowledge. ERP software, for example, develops from the automation of a number of tasks to the total automation and direct processing of all tasks and responses, without any human activity whatsoever. Unsurprisingly, this has a tremendously positive effect on the speed and effectiveness of business processes. By applying this type of smart software to frequently recurring activities, the risk that comes with human activity is limited as well.
A serious option
The automation and robotization of administrations and financial processes are options that must be researched thoroughly, as they could well increase your chances of outsmarting competitors. Fewer manual actions are required, freeing up time for activities which generate more added value to the business. With better control of data, you acquire more insight into possible successes and risks.
No hands accounting might not be available for full integration at present, but it nevertheless offers several options which can be implemented immediately. Your first point of action here is to effectively map and analyse processes which involve a large number of repetitive actions. Subsequently, manual activities can be significantly reduced by deploying the right technology in the right way. Consider the following processes:
- The O2C process is characterised by numerous manual actions which can be effectively automated. When invoices are no longer sent as PDFs in an e-mail, but via UBL2.1 instead, digital invoices can be immediately included in the administration. This essentially makes misunderstandings and late payments a thing of the past. And that’s a good thing, because research shows that 62% of companies struggle to get paid on time; their DSO (Days Sales Outstanding) is too long*. With a digital process design, standard checks proceed automatically, with human intervention only necessary in the case of anomalies or exceptions.
- The P2P process is characterised by a high volume of standard and repetitive actions, especially where incoming invoices are concerned. These can easily be digitised with scan software, which means that employees do not have to enter transactions: a simple check is all that is needed. In the future, and even that human check will not be necessary in the end. Invoices will be automatically processed by a specific debtor. Amounts will be scanned, and if correct, the invoice added to the financial administration. It can be that easy.
- Finally, let’s explore the possibilities for your reports. Compiling monthly reports costs an average of 7 working days per month. If your business has different administrations, you need extra help and a way to speed this up. In general, 80% of the time is spent on compiling figures, with the rest of the time spent clarifying them. Due to no hands accounting, these percentages can likely be reversed. With centralised master data, standardised processes and system checks, you can work far more accurately and be more confident of your numbers.
A matter of the right mindset
Is it just about acquiring the right solutions and technologies? If only it were that simple. It’s crucial to analyse processes and determine where people are still carrying out unnecessary manual work.
The role of the finance professional also has to be developed: How can you apply the latest technologies? How do they benefit your role? And the company itself? How do you deploy digitisation and robotization strategically? Take on a consultancy role for the entire organisation, and make the finance position indispensable to all.
*Exact Barometer 2016 is a survey conducted by Exact among SMEs (50-250 employees) in the Netherlands.