Robotics Process Automation (RPA) in Finance - A guide to implementation

Robots are not invading the finance floors yet

Until then, Robotics is in fact an opportunity where a combination of human and robotics automation has the potential to achieve wonders. Human workforce will still be an integral part of the overall process post implementation of robotics. Bots will free up the human workforce to focus on more important tasks like analysis, decision making & improving quality. Further, humans will still be required to deal with exceptions.

Robotics enables organisations to automate repetitive tasks which are based on a set of rules. They can increase the efficiency by automating the process which are high error prone, repetitive and time consuming.  

 

This brings us to the question on shouldn’t these processes have been automated long ago? Is robotics really a completely new phenomenon? While robotics has been there since long, it was not one of the priorities of Finance leaders considering the arbitrage offered by offshoring the process as against implementing robotics.

Bots will free up the human workforce to focus on more important tasks like analysis, decision making & improving quality.

Finance organisations spent the last decade in creating the Shared services model mostly at offshore locations. While this model is firmly in place now, coupled with new advances in technology, and it’s potential to create efficiencies and cost savings, robotics has suddenly become the new darling of the Finance world.

 

It’s given that there will be job cuts as the processes mature, but it will be more a of a combination of humans and machines as opposed to machines replacing the former on finance floors. At least not in next 10 years.

 

 

Caution in implementation

 

While there is little doubt that next decade will be focussed on robotics, it’s important that there is caution in implementation and focus is put on doing it the right way. Software vendors and BPO service providers may be in a rush to sell robotics solution to potential clients without first knowing if they are offering the right solution. Software vendors or BPO organisations need to understand how organisation structure and design operates and how robotics can enhance the current process without turning it into an unwanted waste which organisations normally accumulate over time and periodically, do a big change management project to get rid of.

1. Define what organisations want to achieve by RPA implementation and communicate it thoroughly

For robotics to really achieve its potential, it should have a significant impact on the end processes. It is important that organisations clearly define what they want to achieve by implementing robotics and then communicate it down the hierarchy to the lowest level so that there is clarity on the objective. It will be prudent to not expect huge cost savings considering there will be overheads in maintaining and servicing the robotics infrastructure.

 

The objectives can include the below points among others:

  • Improving process efficiencies & reducing manual errors.

  • Freeing up staff for more analytical and decision making work.

  • Catering to more work of a growing business without adding substantially to the workforce.

  • Taking the process back inhouse after implementing the robotics solutions.

2. Identify processes which are right fit for implementation

One of the crucial aspects of robotics implementation will be to identify the processes which are right fit for robotics implementation. Finance organisations still have a huge percentage of legacy systems as part of their overall infrastructure. While there may be plans to replace some of them, others may be left as it is in favour of less costly robotics solutions. Traditionally, changes are often carried out with one arm not knowing what the other is doing. In this light,  a quick look into the log of planned changes over next 1-2 years may well reveal which processes are expected to change. Any robotics solution implemented on them may have a very short term benefit with dual costs attached.   

Ideal processes for implementing robotics:

  • The process should be stable

  • Higher volume processes should be targeted first

  • Process should not involve human judgement and interventions

  • The backend feed for the process should be streamlines and free from material error                                                                    

3. Testing Rules based automation

Robotics implementation will be fraught by risks just like any other change management project.  Audit of rules which go into automation, right amount of testing & knowledge retention will be the right precaution. Bots will only do what they are told to as we are not talking Artificial Intelligence yet which are limited to front end processes like trading. A thorough audit of these rules before implementation can save organisations lot of headache later on.

 

Right things to do :

  • Involving people from different departments of the organisation to gauge impact of the processes downstream.

  • Thorough audit of rules going into these automations.

  • Rigorous testing of the output produced by the bots in different scenarios.

 

4. Retaining knowledge & fixing ownership/responsibility

 

In the past decade, Macros and Access queries were the preferred tool of automation though they never quite had the IT support. They were implemented mostly by the business and with a churn in workforce over the years, the knowledge was often lost with people continuing to use them without really knowing what it does. This often turned out to be a big issue in accounting and reporting as the output from these macros/queries could not be changed in line with any changes in the wider infrastructure. Retaining knowledge and fixing responsibility will make sure organisations don’t see a repeat of this scenario.

5. Leverage the efficiencies created for data quality improvement

Organisations can treat robotics as a pure cost saving measure at their own peril. Robotics in fact needs to work in tandem with the human workforce to achieve more efficiency and better quality. Emphasis on this aspect will not only reassure the workforce, it will also set organisations on the right path as this essentially is a partnership of humans and machines.

Considering macros were never a trusted solution for automation, implementation of robotics will mean first time in a decade, organisations will have bandwidth to focus more on analytical and qualitative aspects. It should be treated as an opportunity to focus on these aspects and the workforce released though robotics should be leveraged for something which is long due.

Data Quality has long been Achilles heel for Finance organisations. 

Biggest banks across the world don't have confidence over their data. They should use the capacity capacity freed up by implementing robotics to improve data quality. 

6. Right training – upskill

 

With the advent of robotics, people would need to upskill as when all the repetitive and manual time consuming jobs are taken up by bots, the human workforce will be expected to focus on analytical and qualitative aspects. Data sourcing, spreadsheet creation and copy paste jobs will no longer be available. With organisations expected to move big portion of manual tasks to bots over next two to three years,  people risk becoming obsolete if they don’t upskill in time.

 

Organisations need to invest in training people who will essentially be knowledge workers performing value added services like advanced analytics, review of output & decision making and will have an understanding of the robotics process.  

Reach out to us for assistance with planning & monitoring RPA implementation in Finance processes.

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