Petri Karjalainen from Helsinki in Finland was among the very first to introduce RPA. That was back in 2014, when he managed more than 600 accountants. Today, he has made a shift to software industry to Accountor Group, where he works with over 2000 accounting offices as SVP, Business Solutions at Accountor Finago Oy.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a fast-emerging automation technology in the field of Artificial Intelligence that allows organizations to automate high volume routines. Being a frontrunner in the field, there were couple of doctoral thesis written and academic papers published based on Petri Karjalainen’s RPA experiences.
From your point of view, how is RPA (Robotic Process Automation) developing in your country, Finland?
Since I was one of the pioneers introducing it in 2014, it has become a mainstream business for many systems integration companies. Anyhow as the hype is over, we can now start to see a shift towards using AI for further benefits. One of the software pioneers in this area is a Norwegian company called Semine, maybe worth looking into what the world after RPA starts to become.
Has covid-19 accelerated this development?
I think it was the opposite, as many of the larger investments were put in hold in early 2020, which still affects the software industry as whole.
How do you use RPA today in the finance department?
We have several bots in our group accounting organization where we have a massive program to automate all the cases where business case is supporting using RPA. We did systematically go through every process to automate it, so I would say that every task that has automation potential is now automated. Also, I think the market has already some time ago moved beyond finance; now we also have bots in customer service etc.
In your company, which challenges would you like to address with automation?
I think automation is a wide topic, but it starts with quality of the accounting data. Basically, to automate you should have electronic purchase invoices to start with to ensure high quality of data. Then you can apply one of the many tools including rule-based automation, RPA, and AI tools. The priority for challenges and tasks should be based on business cases, i.e., how much manual work can we remove. In contrary to e.g., southern European countries where most of the work is in accounts receivables here in Nordics that process is already almost fully automated so the biggest benefits can be gained in accounts payable process.
Which tasks or processes do you consider automating?
We are now moving to use AI for enhancing the automation potential. E.g., purchase invoice posting (VAT deduction, VAT amount and company account) cannot effectively be automated with RPA or Rules. That’s where most of the work is, so we built an AI based solution to our accounting software called Procountor. Now the plan is to continue looking other labor-intensive tasks for further automating. In my opinion, RPA is not scalable towards very small companies whereas AI being embedded directly to accounting package is. Therefore, AI is more likely to become the mainstream automation technology for SME sector.
In your opinion, what are the primary barriers to automating more?
Quality of the data, i.e., too much paper or email invoices coming in.
With the time & resources you can free up with automation/RPA/robots; what should they spent on instead?
Usually you can only automate tasks, not full processes. Therefore, the time gains can mainly be seen as more transactions per person. Further changes in how the available time can be used often requires changes to job agreements or collective agreements which then reduces the options how the time could be used. This need for a new job/collective agreement something I could not really foresee until recently when the benefits start to become tangible.