By Adrian van der Merwe, CEO of North Wind Digital
The Finance Factory and the Augmented Worker are the future of finance functions within every business. The Finance Factory is going to see processes across the finance function of a business productionalised and either fully or majority-automated, with the automation either run internally or outsourced. The more specialised functions that aren’t part of the Finance Factory will be covered by automation tools that make accountants’ day jobs easier – making them ‘Augmented Workers’. Accountants will employ Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to eliminate the manual, repetitive parts of their job to allow them to be more productive and add value to the function that they’re actually performing.
Either way, the reality is that business finance functions are not going to exist without automation. And if those finance functions are outsourced to a Finance Factory or based on simple RPA, the business doesn’t need to worry about developing, maintaining or operating the processes, which results in lower costs and the opportunity to focus on other vital business functions, instead.
The immediate reaction from most businesses is ‘we couldn’t possibly outsource something as vital as our finance function’ – but they’re already outsourcing vital functions to operators around the world by adopting cloud tech. Where the real leap of faith comes in is that right now, there’s a massive lack of education around what robots are and aren’t capable of. The problem is that clients don’t know how to discern between what is automatable and what isn’t – and where a robot can save them time and money. The internet itself is a great analogy – 99% of people who use it, can’t explain how it works. That’s RPA – there’s a use case in everyone’s life, but they don’t necessarily know how to apply it.
One of the major reasons that businesses aren’t sure how to implement RPA is because they think their processes are unique. In our experience, everyone thinks they’re unique until they discover that all the software vendors out there have modelled best practice into a solution and that they either have to fit in or rather not adopt cloud tech. A lot of organisations have realised that, in the face of the high cost of developing and maintaining a customised solution, it’s actually better to adapt their processes to what’s becoming a universal SOP and enjoy the flexibility and savings, instead. We’re currently automating the same process for different clients, having discovered that they all actually have the same general ledger system. This means that everything we automate for one, we can automate for the other two. These reusable processes utilise the same underlying tech, which has cost-saving implications for all our clients.
We believe that 83% of finance functions within a business can currently be automated. The 17% that can’t are the elements that rely on human interaction, like business development, interpretation of analytics and decision-making. In the B2B space, the decision maker on each side is still a human being and so a lot of decisions are made – with the support of tech and loads of data – on the basis of ‘feeling’. In 5 years, we may see AI selling to AI, in which case they’ll be making decisions based on hard variables like quality, price, track record, potential for success and the like. In the face of such overwhelming benefits, can any business not afford to be adopting outsourced RPA?