Three ways your finance team can save hours with RPA

Published 29/10/2019 by Dean McGlone, V1

More often that not, we are expected to take on extra tasks at work – and this makes freeing up time incredibly difficult. The good news is that, with the right technology, it’s certainly possible.

Let’s take the finance industry for instance. It has plenty of manual and repetitive tasks that involve searching and entering data as well as combining data from multiple sources. These can quite simply be eliminated through automation. In fact, Gartner believes Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can save finance departments a whopping 25,000 hours of avoidable work annually.

So what exactly is RPA? It can mean many things to many people but, essentially, it refers to the use of a software robot or tool with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to automate high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously only humans could perform.

Now, both RPA and humans can work together. In other words, RPA can do all the ground work (so the data entry, searching and consolidation) to provide more accurate and timely data at people’s fingertips. Humans will still need to have some oversight which means learning how to monitor AI systems but the reward is gaining greater control and far more incisive decision-making.

It won’t be long before we see RPA become part of our daily working lives so it’s reassuring to know that, according to Advanced’s latest Annual Trends Survey, most business professionals would be happy to work alongside robotic technology if it meant fewer manual processes.

Here are three ways finance teams can immediately benefit from RPA:

Time saver 1: Compliance

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) brought in big changes when it came into effect last May but, 18 months on, organisations are still struggling to meet its requirements.

This strict legislation isn’t going away so many need to face up to the reality and take accountability into how they process, store and secure their data. RPA is a great asset for GDPR compliance as it provides traceability on all documents. While it will never take away an organisation’s compliance responsibilities, it will certainly help make the journey to compliance less stressful.

RPA can support the finance function on a range of issues including:

  • Privacy by design – the GDPR calls for data protection to be hardwired into the processes and behaviours of a business. Automating key processes – like document management and invoicing – encourages everyone to work to the same procedures, and shows strong compliance by evidencing all communications and involvement with clients and suppliers.
  • The right to access – workers have the right to access their personal data. The information provided to them must be done using ‘reasonable means’ and within one month of receipt. By automating information into one system, it can be easily accessed, and efficiently sent to the individual. All actions will also have audit trails plus documents cannot be accidentally deleted, providing confidence that the right data can easily be passed on.
  • Breach notification standards – organisations have a duty to report certain types of data breach to the relevant authority, and in some cases to the individuals affected, within 72 hours of becoming aware of it. A breach can be reported immediately with RPA, which is almost impossible when dealing with paper-based documents in multiple locations.

Time saver 2: Document Management

RPA can remove the challenges posed by paper-based working. It can seamlessly integrate into an organisation’s financial management system to ensure an efficient and intelligent way to create, capture, store, authorise, deliver and manage key business documents in one place. And, if RPA is cloud-connected, users can even benefit from depositing documents from a tablet or phone.

By replacing the paper-based processes with electronic procedures, they will eliminate the printing, posting and manual filing of documents – thus supporting the growth of the modern workplace. 

Automated document management also gives users greater control and visibility across the business. It also gives access to business intelligence and process analysis in which users can look at their entire business process to find and eliminate bottlenecks, as well as identify opportunities.

Processes are ultimately streamlined, which can only be a good thing, improving access to information, reducing costs and enhancing productivity.

Time saver 3: Accounts Payable

A significant amount of time and cost is wasted in this crucial financial process. Finance teams are regularly inundated with documents, their time is taken up with sorting and routing the invoices, manual invoice data entry, chasing budget holders for approval, printing and photocopying, resolving queries and locating associated paperwork. 

In addition, documents are more likely to be lost and it’s not uncommon for duplicates to appear. This could have a detrimental effect on an organisation’s relationships with suppliers if they are repeatedly asked to replace invoices that have been lost or mis-managed.

RPA simplifies and streamlines these processes, seamlessly integrating into financial management systems to intelligently digitise how finance teams work with invoices. It is able to read, interpret, verify and validate invoices before they are posted to purchase ledgers automatically.

This can address the concerns around avoidable time and cost. In fact, an organisation typically processing 50,000 annual transactions can save as many as 3,750 hours and $112,500 annually.

Simply put, here are just a few of the major benefits of invoice automation:

  • Fully procure to pay (P2P) automation
  • Touchless processing of emailed invoices
  • Automatic invoice data extraction and validation
  • Intelligent workflow for electronic invoice approval

If these examples are anything to go by, RPA is the must-have solution for freeing up time.