Robots transforming the future of finance

28th March 2017

Cloud computing, analytics, artificial intelligence and robotic process automation (RPA) are transforming finance operations but just how disruptive will these digital technologies be to your business?

In 2015, The Wall Street Journal article ‘The New Bookkeeper is a Robot’ gave the impression that the use of RPA in finance and accounting was a new and threatening phenomenon declaring, “Robots are taking over corporate finance departments, performing work that often required whole teams of people”.  It cited research from consulting firm, Hackett Group, that found the median number of full-time employees in finance departments at big companies had declined 40% to about 71 people for every $1 billion of revenue, down from 119 in 2004. 

Robots – threat or opportunity?

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) upgrades, replacements and integrations can be costly and onerous.  Manual work is often required to bridge the gap between applications or as an add-on where functionality is lacking.  The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) report, ‘The robots are coming: Implications for finance shared services’ states that “despite billions of dollars spent on ERP systems, finance delivery still requires a significant amount of manual labour to complete a process or transaction”. 

The use of “robots” is not new but RPA is rapidly gaining momentum as businesses find innovative applications for the technology. The beauty of RPA is that it is application agnostic, providing flexibility to develop processes that meet business requirements, extending the automation reach beyond APIs. 

Errors and the resultant re-work can typically account for up to 30% of manual process time.  Robots do not make mistakes – they stick rigidly to the rules you set them.  That makes them highly compliant and produces a full audit trail for regulatory compliance.  RPA operates within all existing security controls and access restrictions so there is no impact on security, compliance or governance.  An enterprise wide digital workforce is scalable; once ‘trained’ digital workers can undertake a range of tasks, providing the agility to put extra resource on a process that hits a peak.

ENGIE now uses its digital workforce to process BACS and cheque payments; eradicating human processing errors, reducing processing times and increasing capacity with 24/7 processing.  Rather than being perceived as a threat, the virtual workforce has released staff from tedious, repetitive data processing to focus on higher value, customer facing and more fulfilling work. 

You can learn more about how ENGIE has deployed its robotic workforce to transform North Tyneside Council’s back office processes here.  

Are you ready to meet the digital challenge?

Genfour’s Robotic Workforce Research 2016 report revealed a positive attitude towards automation, with 94% of respondents saying that they are open to a robotic future and 34% strongly considering automation in the finance department.  However, based on ENGIE’s experience of implementing RPA, there are some essential ingredients to getting automation right.

Leadership is critical to transformational change. As Henry Kissinger stated, ‘The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been’.  Leadership needs to define the digital vision and create a roadmap to the future.

The right mindset will create a culture that supports continuous improvement and wider, faster adoption of digital transformation.  Addressing the threat of automation must be part of the equation – will automation impact jobs? Yes, but it will also create opportunities for more fulfilling, value-add work.

Digital skills are vital to ensure your workforce has the capability and capacity to embrace new technologies.  ENGIE has created a training programme providing an opportunity for all staff to gain a ‘Digital Passport’, ensuring we can continue to accelerate our own digital transformation.

Embrace change!

There is no doubt that RPA has a major role to play as a digital disrupter; it improves quality assurance resulting in strong compliance, improved customer experience and increased efficiency.  However, it is important to be ready for change - leadership, culture and skills are critical to successfully transforming your business.  At ENGIE, we are embracing a digital future and our Centre of Excellence is supporting the deployment of RPA across the business.

For more information about how ENGIE is transforming processes with RPA, please contact Martin Ruane, Programme Director on 07772 532101 or at martin.ruane@engie.com.

By Martin Ruane, Programme Director (Cities & Communities), ENGIE