2019 – The Year Automation Moves from the Shadow of AI

Artificial Intelligence has been a buzzword on many business and finance leaders’ lips. It’s tipped to revolutionise how we work and, for some organisations, change is already happening. However, AI demands significant time and financial investment, making it out of reach for many businesses.

This is why Dean McGlore from V1 believes that in 2019, we’ll see CFOs switch their focus from AI to automation.

In 2019, automation – also known as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – will move from the shadow of Artificial Intelligence. And rightly so. Like AI, it can relieve teams from mundane and repetitive work to focus on higher-value and strategic activities. But, unlike AI, automation is easier to access, expand. It’s a forecast echoed by experts around the world. Forrester, for example, predicts that the RPA market will reach $1.7bn in 2019 while Advanced has found that 65% of people would be happy to work alongside robotic technology if it meant less manual processes.

Over the next year, we will especially see RPA climb in popularity within the finance function. Teams will use it to automate the data capture and processing of supplier invoices, sales orders and other accounting documents. By automating these manual and usually administrative heavy processes, finance teams can drive unprecedented productivity and efficiency levels as well as benefit from increased visibility into the entire organisation and better data for reporting to the board.

RPA will help with a host of other external factors too. With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now in place, it will help the finance department (and indeed other areas of the business) get their data in order. RPA is a good starting point for GDPR compliance, as businesses can store, manage and track electronic documents and electronic images of paper-based information in one place and in real-time. This ensures compliance requirements by providing traceability on all documents.

Automation technologies will only be effective if the people using them understand how they work, appreciate their true potential and recognise the value they bring.

And then there is Brexit. Because RPA helps free up time for the finance team, more resources can be devoted to planning for when Britain leaves the EU in March. RPA provides an opportunity for businesses to scale up or down volume to meet demand from outside of the EU, for instance, as well as to assist the development of new products and services for new markets – all of which is essential for business growth. Moreover, with the threat of other countries hiking up tariffs after Brexit, RPA has the potential to replace the need to hire more employees and it can also help keep production costs to a minimum.

Regardless of the reason behind RPA adoption, CFOs will need to make sure that there will be a change in culture among the workforce. Automation technologies will only be effective if the people using them understand how they work, appreciate their true potential and recognise the value they bring. Arguably, investing thousands on pounds on technologies such as RPA won’t be effective if users don’t believe in them. A robust upskilling and training programme is necessary to ensure future digital success.

However, saying that businesses will turn their backs on AI in 2019 was never my intention – Artificial Intelligence will still play a key part of many organisations’ digital transformation plans. What RPA does is allowing businesses to test the water. Planning and testing automation software to see the impact it has on your operations and staff is a great indicator of the benefits that large-scale AI deployment could bring in the future – minus the fear of large-scale failure.

Planning and testing automation software to see the impact it has on your operations and staff is a great indicator of the benefits that large-scale AI deployment could bring in the future – minus the fear of large-scale failure.

In the future, we will see RPA and AI working together to transform the finance function like never before. With a combination of the right technology with AI handling decisions and chatbots managing customer queries, completely unmanned Accounts Payable (AP) for example is perfectly achievable by 2020 as a result of invoice automation.

RPA will be the first step for many and businesses looking to realise the power of automation over the next 12 months should take the following steps:

  • Audit your processes and identify which involve low-skills, manual and repetitive tasks, such as many of the core, yet daily finance functions of invoice processes;
  • Determine the key technologies that your business needs to become more agile, competitive and productive. RPA and AI have different capabilities, so decisions must be made based on need, rather than hype;
  • Understand which new technologies are best placed to modernise or integrate with your organisation’s existing legacy systems;
  • Ask yourself what the potential benefits of RPA and AI are to your finance team. Understand employees’ pain points before deciding which digital tools will help;
  • Appoint a digital pioneer – someone that will drive positive technology change and that has the backing of your CEO and the rest of the C-Suite;
  • Engage with your younger workforce. Typically, they are more digitally savvy and open to change. Find out what technologies they think will make a real difference.

RPA has the potential to change the face of finance for good. And, eventually, it will become ubiquitous among all key processes.

 

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