”What are those code robots about, huh? They can’t walk or anything?” Asked my 85 year-old male relative, when over a Christmas dinner I had told I develop those for a living. Afterwards, I got to thinking how the meaning and impact of software robotics could be crystallized into one clear sentence. I didn’t come up with anything – got any ideas?
Artificial intelligence takes up routines and brings ease into working
At the moment, we can see digitalisation invading every inch of working life. Finance management is also beginning to find benefits of that through automatisation and software robotics. A part of the elements have long existed: validation and substitution rules, timed item and background processing, integrations, warning and failure messages, reporting templates etc. When you combine these with Big Data, predictive analysis, machine learning, mobile and cloud software, you have excellent basis for streamlining and making use of finance management operations.
Some of finance management’s automation components are relatively easy to copy from the existing solutions in other industries. For example, IBM’s Watson is already making more probable diagnosis from cancer test data than a doctor could. A similar case from finance management’s perspective would be accounts payable analysis, teaching a robot to recognise a fake invoice and what the checkpoints are. When the invoice arrives, the robot makes sure that the invoice has come from an actual supplier (by checking the bank account and business ID). Then, the robot checks that the content of the invoice matches the purchase order. Finally, in addition to a ledger update, general ledger and fixed asset entries are made, for which the robot recognises the relevant account and depreciation class, depending on the item purchased.
Process and operating environment know-how are premises for intelligent automation
Man has gone to the moon decades ago and these days, several companies are planning tourist trips to Mars. Compared to this, finance management robotisation is technically child’s play. However, problems occur, when one doesn’t understand what it is that’s being automated. Fancy gadgets don’t help, if process and operating environment know-how is missing. Do you agree that finance automation should always be started with the tasks that take up most routine type of time? After the easiest, most viable automation, it’s time to take a moment to review processes as a whole and think about which are the next ripe fruits for easy picking.
Clearing open items is often one of the most laborious tasks. A wonderful booking factor has been invented to help clearing: a reference number. An invoice completed with a reference number and the received payment match, and both can be marked as cleared.
Unfortunately, reference numbers are often non-existent in real life, and the ledger manager wonders where on earth to direct the unclear invoices. A software robot can look at this from many sides. It can search for all of the customer’s open payables and receivables, compared them with each other and suggest clearing for example when the sums of the two match. A robot can also look into any currency rate differences and recognise the cases where we have made export sales and, in the absence of functioning blockchain technology, offered to pay banking expenses on behalf of the customer. In consumer sales, a robot can identify the payer’s last name and address and offer the ledger holder a clearing suggestion based on the fact that the payer and the customer live in the same household.
Robotics will revolutionise the world, as electricity did in its day
Almost every Christmas, the male relative remembers to tell us how one day an electrician walked into their farm to connect the farm to the national network, and how everything became easier with electricity. We’re seeing similar times now in financial management. Software robots are “walking” into our workplaces, to offer us a chance to do more, faster and more flawlessly. In addition to the more traditional finance management tasks, a robot can support the company in reporting and analytics. A robot can be made to analyse social media data flows: for example, if an interesting theme is repeatedly tweeted, the robot sends sales a lead of the kind of things their customers are now talking about and for which we have a solution to offer.
What I can’t stop wondering about the electricity implementation story is why electricity wasn’t harnessed for ease and efficiency until the 30’s. Our neighbours had, after all, been enjoying the added efficiency since the 20’s.
Senior Consultant & Team Lead