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Office auto pilots are getting smarter

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Is robotic process automation – RPA – the real deal? It depends on how you use it.

Sponsored Features CPA Australia 26 August 2019
— 3 minute read

“Why go for complex when simple is available?” asks Tim Ebbeck FCPA , managing director of  Automation Anywhere, a robotic process automation (RPA) software platform. 

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Among its hundreds of software offerings are “digital workers” that imitate certain roles performed by humans. There is the Digital Accounts Payable Clerk, for instance, which extracts invoices, reconciles them with a purchase order, then processes the invoice and the payment. 

RPA replicates the “doing” aspect of mundane, repetitive tasks, enabling the human to do more cognitive work.

Look before you leap into RPA

Is RPA the solution to every organisation’s operational woes, or is it hi-tech snake oil? 

It’s neither, experts say. It is an excellent solution for specific challenges, and it’s vital to be sure that RPA won’t sink your ship before you bring it on board.

“At this stage, these bots are just mimicking human actions, yet they are evolving to attain cognitive capabilities,” says Mohit Sharma, executive chairman of Mindfields Global, an RPA advisory firm. “In conventional automation, you have to do some tough coding. You have to change things in your current systems. With RPA, nothing has to change at that large scale and at that large cost.

“Right now, there are tasks RPA is not good at. If you are looking at digitising text from hand-written documents, for example, accuracy is only 60 to 70 per cent. I am an accountant and I will never implement an RPA process unless there is a solid business case behind it.”

Several vital factors must be considered, Sharma explains. The first is monetary saving; the next is the re-allocation of staff or enhanced customer experience as staff can now better focus on the customer.

Then there is error reduction. What is the current error rate and how much is that costing the business? What percentage of errors will be avoided via automation and what savings will result?

Seek IT specialist advice

RPA works in an environment that has a large number of transactions, a large number of people, a hybrid environment of different technologies and a lot of repetitive, rules-based work, Ebbeck says.

Farid Jarrar, chief information and digital officer at CPA Australia, agrees that RPA is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Currently, it is not good for anything that requires cognitive, non-rule-based processes.

“When new technology comes around … people fail to understand how to implement it. They don’t actually understand that the technology is one component, but there are a lot of business process changes that will also be required.

“The technology itself is not cheap, so if you don’t have a worthwhile ROI and you don’t have the volume, then don’t bother. It’s probably cheaper to get a human to do it.”

Success with RPA, Jarrar says, is about developing a deep understanding of how the technology will be deployed, how it will be leveraged within the business and what will be required for the best outcome to be achieved. Although it is a business-wide project, it is vital to involve the IT department at the earliest possible stage.

Where businesses go wrong with RPA

An EY report, Get ready for robots: Why planning makes the difference between success and disappointment, says 30 to 50 per cent of initial RPA projects fail. “This isn’t a reflection of the technology; there are many successful deployments. But there are some common mistakes that will often prevent an organisation from delivering on the promise of RPA,” it says.

Top issues shared across failed RPA projects, the EY report says, include:

  1. Considering RPA as IT-led, rather than business-led
  2. Not developing a business case for RPA and postponing planning until after proof of concept
  3. Underestimating, or not planning for, what happens after processes have been automated, including who manages the robot workforce
  4. Treating robots as simple automatons rather than drivers of a change program
  5. Automating the wrong processes, particularly highly complex ones

 

Automating the mundane work

When RPA is utilised well, it can be of enormous benefit to a business. Sharma describes a client who previously employed 40 people largely to manage change-of-address requests across several systems. The successful implementation of a bot that transferred new address details between systems meant only two people were required for exceptions handling. 

Ebbeck relates RPA to accounting by describing the downloading of bank transaction statements and the uploading of those statements into the business’s accounting system, all processes that could be handled automatically by a bot.

“We automate the mundane so people can get back to being customer-centric decision-makers, to being innovators. RPA can free up the capacity of the human workforce to do what humans are good at by letting robots do what robots are good at.”

Learn more about RPA and the future of accounting at CPA Congress 2019. For event dates and details, visit: https://www.cpaaustralia.com.au/training-and-events/cpa-congress

 

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