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Lights out accounting: Using robotics process automation in your finance department

Nov 15, 2021

When you think about robotic process automation (RPA), you probably don’t think about accounting straight away. But finance departments have many of the manual, repeatable actions that make implementing RPA so valuable. If you’ve ever created macros in Microsoft Excel files, you’ve been one step away from true RPA.

At its core, RPA automates tasks and activities across many applications, such as desktop apps, databases and web programs. And it’s not confined to one single part of a process or department. You can apply it across AP and AR, the work your controller performs, your month-end close, etc.

The value of RPA

Since RPA is carried out by a computer, it can reduce human error, perform activities much faster and operate 24/7.

Plus, by automating repetitive tasks, you enable your employees to focus on high-value activities. This not only increases productivity but also improves employee engagement. People want to do interesting work. When you can transition employees out of manual, repetitive work into doing more varied and interesting activities, you’re taking one important step during the labor shortage we’re experiencing toward retaining current talent and attracting new employees.

How you can use RPA

There are many use cases for RPA within accounting — from invoice processing to closing out the month.

For example, you can drastically reduce the time it takes to process and approve invoices by using RPA to transcribe invoices from PDFs into the format you need them in, flow them into the proper application, route invoices for approval and process them for payment. You can also use RPA to automatically reconcile the current invoice period against the previous period and identify exceptions or rejections requiring controller review.

RPA can pull cost allocation data from email, spreadsheets and other sources, merge the data into one master file and flow it into SAP, which eliminates hours of manual work and reduces the chance of human error.

You can use RPA to automate journal entries. It can prepare and create journal entries, unify data entry across platforms, store the journal entry with comments and supporting documents, and load journal data into other systems, such as your ERP.

For your financial close, you can use RPA to import spreadsheets from multiple sources; run automated checklists to identify issues; track your progress, timelines and approvals; and perform reconciliations.

There are other applications, but this shows a good range of how you can implement RPA across your department.

How to implement RPA

RPA can be installed relatively quickly, but you first have to determine where and how it would be most effective, and then you must properly prepare your organization to implement it.

The return on your RPA investment should be measurable. How much time does one person spend per day, week or month on a specific process? If you automated the process and transitioned the employee into more valued-added work, what dollar amount would that equate to? If your ROI is high enough to justify RPA, then you move forward to the next step: standardizing the process.

In many organizations, different employees execute the same process in different ways. They create their own workarounds to overcome hurdles. Your organization ends up with a lot of undocumented knowledge that is suddenly gone if the employee leaves.

To implement RPA, you must first identify the process as it is performed by employees. This can be achieved by interviewing them. Once the process is documented, trim areas of waste and identify ways to improve the process so you can then standardize it.

Once you have a standardized process, you can build the repeatable tasks within your RPA platform and start executing the process in this new way.

Interested in RPA?

Wipfli can help you get started. From assisting you with streamlining and standardizing processes to finding and implementing the right RPA software, our team can get you started with RPA in your finance department. Contact us to learn more.

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Brad Collard
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