The CFO Automation Experience is an independent Round Table, where CFOs and practitioners freely discuss automation. Recently a new edition was organized by founder Armand Angeli, in which the benefits and challenges of robotization in the finance function were the main topic. “The RPA journey of the company is the RPA journey of the individual employees as well.”
One of the participants who shared his experience with robotics and automation was Mihai Faur, who as Chief Accounting Officer was responsible for introducing RPA to UiPath’s finance department. As any finance department they were struggling with a lot of processes. And most of the processes involve a lot of manual and repetitive work, with high peaks and tight deadlines. Especially if you’re talking about accounting and operations when you have to close, that goes for both public and private companies. He said: “We have to meet all of these deadlines. So I do not think that there’s any other solution but RPA that can make a process faster, and eliminate the manual work in such a short period of time.”
RPA proved to be very flexible and easy to implement. “So far, we have built about 200 automations just in finance. This year, we saved more than 65,000 hours for our employees. We are on the way to 250 automations. And this really helps us in eliminating manual work. We have been able to reduce our closing from 30 days to seven days, which is actually required when you’re a public company. So you can get the return on investment very, very fast.”
All this happened in a period in which UiPath rapidly went from a startup to a publicly listed company. In this journey RPA was sometimes a patch to fix processes. But at the same time a great way to connect systems and establish a flow of data between systems, which is very important for closing. And in terms of people, they were given a more challenging career path thanks to the robots, they promoted from transactional processes to more dedicated value added processes such reviewing sales contracts.
One of the attending CFOs adds: “I totally agree. We are talking about more time efficiency, or cost reduction, creating more value for a company, because people can focus on strategic business processes. If I have a someone on my team who processes invoices all day RPA would be very beneficial. It is not only related to reduction of costs, but also the focus of the team, the people, our talents, on creating value in the finance department.” Another CFO adds: “It is about taking the robot out of the human. It’s just a step, an initial step, to what will happen in the future, like adding artificial intelligence. It’s a way of transforming towards the way of working in the future.”
The participants agreed pure cost reduction is not the main goal for RPA and automation. Above all it is improving the quality of work for the employees, making their jobs better. Organizations who do a good job with automation can get 20-30% more productivity having a well governed process. A participant shares his experience: “My recommendation is to start as soon as possible to implement the suite available on the market that gives you a first but very important integration benefit with automation. Put the data in dashboards, for example real time dashboards are available on your smartphone. This is very important for us; all these dashboards can be used in financial planning.”
Collecting and combining data with RPA is a recurrent theme during the round table, in which one of the participants described the old way of manually collecting data from multiple sources as ‘a nightmare’. Another one says: “When we have to connect to different systems RPA is the solution. In order to integrate all of them we do not have to make big changes. I don’t need to change any business related information.”
Before starting with automation it can be worthwhile to ask several questions. The first, looking at the processes involved, is do you even need them? Go back to basics. Don’t automate processes you don’t need. The second thing, assuming you have to keep the process, is: is it as efficient as it can be? Is it working the way it needs to work? And if it does, can you automate it? Is automation the right next step? Can we improve efficiency, and maybe redeploy individuals into more value added activity to the business? Only then becomes the question what automated solution you need to have.
This has important consequences for the career paths for individuals, and the required skill sets. Moving someone from a transaction processing role into a decision making role requires a very different skill set. So the company should have not only an automation strategy, but a people strategy that supports it. Automation is not done in a vacuum. As one of the CFOs puts it in the discussion: “The RPA journey of the company is the RPA journey of the individual employees as well.”
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