Accountants need to embrace new technologies if they are to improve efficiencies in the finance department – and they need to recognise that so-called robots won’t steal their jobs.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are billed as the next industrial revolution for the sector. In fact, these cognitive technologies are tipped to transform every corner of the business world, with Forrester expecting at least a 300% increase in investment in 2017 alone, compared with 2016. But although more and more disruptive products and services are emerging as organisations make their digital transformation plans, accountants have been late in adoption – often through a fear of losing their jobs or a lack of understanding of how to unlock its potential for themselves.
The problem is that accountants are drip-fed media reports of robots taking their jobs, which is scaremongering. It’s time AI, ML and RPA are seen as positive disruption. Technology can change the accountants’ roles for the better. It can automate less skilled and repetitive tasks such as AP, credit control and accounts receivable, enabling finance teams to look to recruit members with a higher skill set and elevate finance to a more strategic role within the business by providing meaningful analysis to help make tricky decisions. Those working in admin roles have a great opportunity to skill up for the future to ensure their skillsets are relevant to the evolving finance function.
What’s needed now is better awareness on how new technologies can make a constructive impact to people and business. The enthusiasm is there – 86% accountants are ready to embrace emerging technology to eliminate admin – but we are seeing a reluctance from organisations to implement sophisticated technologies in their finance departments. Just 15% of business leaders plan to invest in AI for accounting tasks. As an industry, we therefore have a duty to show how accountants can survive in the next industrial revolution – and how automating the finance function can benefit business as a whole.
Cognitive technologies can improve efficiencies for accountants in a number of ways. AI, ML and RPA can be used to automate clerical tasks, ultimately enabling accountants to improve their services to internal and external clients, reduce costs, and create new opportunities.
There are four major technologies:
- Accounting chatbots – using similar technology to that found in Siri and Alexa, accounting information is provided through voice recognition and AI.
- AI software – AI technology is being employed by accounting firms to quiz clients automatically on their tax liabilities.
- Cognitive capture – RPA technology that automates the data capture and processing of supplier invoices, sales orders and other accounting documents.
- Intelligent workflow – RPA and ML techniques are being used to improve finance workflows by making decisions about who should approve and cost coding based on clever algorithms.
As with any investment though, businesses should not buy technology just for the sake of it or because of the media hype. The hundreds and thousands of articles advocating the latest products and solutions are all well and good, but one size does not fit all.
Organisations should carefully assess their greatest process challenges across their finance teams and establish whether technology can take that pain away, and if by doing so, whether it will deliver payback on the investment in a sensible time period. They should also be aware that the introduction of technology can require process changes and therefore change management to ensure adoption by internal and external customers, suppliers and indeed the finance team themselves. Not doing this properly can result in deploying a solution that does not deliver the anticipated payback.
For more details on process robotics, and the impact on accountants in practice and business, download the V1 Infographic here: http://www.wearev1.com/v1-resources.php
About Dean McGlone
Dean is Sales Director at V1, provider of business automation solutions. He has worked in business process automation industries for over 13 years and is passionate about helping companies drive efficiencies through the use of automation technologies. With a strong channel background, Dean is focussed on driving the company's V1 Select Partner Programme to ensure that it works even closer with its existing partners whilst creating a strong platform to recruit new partners.