Robots, not the shiny metal people but software that operates finance and other business processes like a person would do it, are increasingly common throughout functions of big business. CFOs and their companies are finding that robotic process automation (RPA) is often an invaluable driver of efficiency.
There is plenty to like about RPA. Companies can boost efficiency at shared services centers by using it. Insurance companies use RPA to process claims. Telecommunications and utilities companies use them to deal with invoices and billing services. Banks are even using bots to provide investment advice.
Any process that is repetitive and rules based can, theoretically, be automated and left to the (virtual) hands of robots. Deployment can happen relatively fast. According to Deloitte, a “proof-of-concept RPA project may take as a little as two weeks; a pilot could be up and running within four to eight weeks.” Much depends on how much data is already available in digital form.
But there are a few practical pitfalls that companies and entire industries should be careful of, even as advances such as incorporating cognitive intelligence in RPA solutions are proceeding. The next-generation RPA bots are being designed to handle unstructured data, raising concerns that jobs requiring the exercise of judgment and discretion could be taken away from humans as well.
Robotic process automation is not automatically for everyone. Smaller companies may only find it useful after reaching a certain size and volume of transactions and processes
Already in Asia
The basic forms of RPA have actually been in Asia for some time, mainly in Shared Services Centers and Business Process Outsourcing facilities. India’s Tata Consultancy Services, for example, has been using RPA in its business processes.
“Now we see a lot of interest generated in the market in terms of ‘what is this?’ and ‘what can it do for me?’,” says Suneet Puri, Head of Business Process Services for Asia Pacific. The company has started developing tailored RPA solutions for enterprises.
Most of the demand for RPA solutions in the region is coming from Australia, but both Singapore and Hong Kong are also stepping into the fray, says Dominic Wu, a founding member of the Asia Financial Risk Management Think Tank and a managing director and risk manager at an international bank.
Malaysia, where shared services centers are popping up, is an increasingly big market. Mainland China is also making strides, particularly in regards to using automation in financial reporting. In some ways, says Wu, the Chinese are ahead of Hong Kong or Singapore on RPA.
Professionals in Australia have found plenty to like in automation of financial reporting, standard bookkeeping and compliance. They all open up “more time to engage on a more strategic level with their clients,” says Peter Docherty, General Manager of Public Practice at accounting body CPA Australia.
“Technology is an enabler for change and can improve quality control systems,” says Docherty. He does, however, sound a tone of caution. “As with any system, there is also the potential for ‘garbage in, garbage out’ and an overreliance on the system without adequate quality control provisions,” says Docherty.
Who’s using RPA
But RPA is not automatically for everyone. Big companies with big budgets are likely to prefer a completely automated system that bypasses human interaction altogether. Smaller companies may only find it useful after reaching a certain size and volume of transactions and processes.
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