RPA (Robotic Process Automation) emerged as early as 2012 when BluePrism coined the term “Robotic Automation”. Today, financial departments are implementing RPA in all areas of finance as there is plenty of manual work that can and should be automated.
I have discussed this topic a lot lately. Two quite interesting opinions keep emerging in these discussions:
- There is a limit to what you can easily automate with RPA.
- Having a robot perform a task in your process makes it even more difficult to follow and monitor the overall process.
Both of these findings are symptoms of the same issue. RPA does not provide a user interface to automate complex tasks requiring decision-making from humans. However, it can do the same routine as humans, but faster and with fewer errors. Technology does enable creating more complex solutions, but it will require in-house expertise and a lot of development work.
My conversations lead to the same conclusion: RPA is a step in a journey towards the next generation of automation. Some call it smart process automation, others call it intelligent automation. This next generation of automation provides automation and control over end-to-end processes in a single tool, enabling the following:
- standardising and harmonising processes across countries and companies
- monitoring progress in real-time
- ensuring the correct execution order of tasks and bringing visibility for both management and people participating in the processes through sophisticated dashboards.
Tasks within the processes can be performed by humans as manual tasks, by RPA, by ERP automation, or they are automated by the tool. With this multi-resource approach, the tool can still provide visibility and control.
Last but not least – this approach provides what RPA lacks, an interface for humans and machines to interact.
Aico <3 RPA
With Aico we both automate and digitalise processes. When I talk about automation, I mean bringing automation and humans together to cover complex tasks and maintaining the total control and visibility over the process while doing it.
For example, with our SAP automation we can run any SAP program and dynamically change the variant based on the company and period we are running it for. We then bring the output that SAP has generated to Aico. At this point, we ask a human user to review the output and make a final decision as to whether to post the resulting automated journal to SAP from Aico with a single click. So, instead of someone running manually the same program in SAP 50 times for 50 companies, we have a single task in Aico scheduled to run the program automatically for all 50 companies. Automation is controlled also by the tool itself. Each task can have predecessors or successors than can only get started after the related task is completed. So, we do not just provide visibility but also control the progress based on the setup the customer has created.
We see RPA as one of the resources working for you to get your financial tasks executed faster and without errors. Aico can integrate with RPA and bring control to RPA work as well. We can notify RPA to execute a process or set of processes and then track its progress.
An example of such cooperation could be creating a request to open a new vendor. The request could be created using the Aico Requests module which then automatically calls a robot to do a credit check for the vendor and assign the result to the request as an attachment or enter a Pass/Fail into the request form. The accounting department would then process the request and make the final decision to create the vendor.
This means that Aico can provide more together with RPA than without it. RPA investments are already underway and we want to use that investment but add control and visibility on top of this existing automation. I believe this is a winning combination which aligns with the top financial management targets (according to Gartner and SSON) that top investment areas are improving quality and control of processes, scaling up the operations and getting rid of spreadsheets and other manual routines.
Do you agree or disagree? It would be great to discuss this in more detail!