Why You Should Robotize Only Standard Processes

Anders Liu-Lindberg and Mark Smith

Part 2 in the “RPA and AI in Finance” series, which examines the role that robotic process automation and artificial intelligence can play in finance operations

When it comes to robotics process automation (RPA), one thing is for sure: The robot will do what you tell it do.

That means it can do a lot for you fast, including a lot of wrong things if your processes don’t work. The truth is that in many processes, there are broken links and manual workarounds. These broken processes typically prevent companies from automating the end-to-end (e2e) processes and leave them with robots handling parts of the processes. While that may still yield some efficiencies, it’s a far cry from the real potential.

That’s why in this second article in our RPA series, we look at the one thing you must do before starting with RPA: standardize!

Without standardization, there can be no RPA success

The benefits of standardization are likely clear to you even without talking about RPA. When it comes to RPA, though, the weaknesses in your process landscape will quickly become obvious to everyone.

Let’s look at an example: cash pool reporting. The logic and theory behind a company cash pool is easy to understand, but the accounting and correct reporting of the balances in ERP systems across the business can prove complex.

The heavy transactional nature of the daily movements of the cash pool in your ERP system make it a perfect fit for RPA. But if your business units do not follow a standard process for cash pool reporting, then you not only run the risk of issues in your reporting, but any attempt to use robots will fail at the first hurdle. You will likely see a lot of frustration with your employees if you try to use robots on processes that differ from country to country (or team to team).

To prevent you from ending up in this mess, here’s what we suggest you do to be successful with your RPA implementation, using accounting to reporting (AtR) as an example. Within AtR, standardization:

  • Leads to process improvement. By standardizing processes so the robots can work with them, you may find some surprising efficiency gains. For example, by taking a best-in-class process for intercompany recharges and applying it to all countries within your AtR department, you will probably save time before a robot has even been switched on.
  • Motivates employees. Believe it or not, your staff will be motivated by standardization of processes, which can lead to more efficiency within your department. A motivated employee is a happy and productive employee!
  • Supports the long-term vision. Standard processes give your customers confidence that your team can handle more activities. Moreover, if you are working within a regional finance hub, it’s easier to transition more tasks and take a bigger piece of the finance value chain.
  • Removes one-person dependency. Standard processes also mean less risk when your accountants leave their role: A new accountant can more easily continue where the old one left off.

The benefits of standardization even beyond RPA are clear. It should be one of the key enablers for freeing up time in a finance function that’s generally too busy with internal stuff to serve the business’s needs. RPA can provide the boost to finally get this done.

Where are you with RPA at this moment?

Many companies have already tried to install their first few robots, but these have often been in subprocesses rather than e2e processes, so they’re hesitant to do more RPA. These companies probably didn’t look at their process landscape before implementing RPA, and they likely have used the excuse of non-standard processes for not covering the e2e process.

Is similar to what you’re experiencing in your company, or have you already had some early successes with RPA covering an e2e process? Please reach out to us and share your example so others can learn from it.

Next week, we’ll tackle the topic of the human element in RPA and how the robots and humans should work together to deliver optimal results.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn and is republished by permission.

Anders Liu-Lindberg

About Anders Liu-Lindberg

Anders Liu-Lindberg is the head of the Global Finance Program Management Office at Maersk and has more than 10 years of experience working with finance at Maersk, both in Denmark and abroad. Anders is also the co-founder of the Business Partnering Institute and owner of the largest group dedicated to finance business partnering on LinkedIn, with close to 5,000 members. His main goal at Maersk is to create a world-class finance function not least when it comes to business partnering. He is the co-author of the book “Skab Værdi Som Finansiel Forretningspartner” and a long-time finance blogger with 20,000+ followers.

Mark Smith

About Mark Smith

Mark Smith is chief accountant at Atlas Copco based in Prague, responsible for a team of senior accountants and lead of accounting and reporting processes for the UK companies. He holds a diploma from The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.