Proper use of robotic process automation (RPA) can save finance departments 25,000 hours of avoidable work per year, a new study from Gartner shows. That's 625 workweeks. The average amount of avoidable rework can take up to 30% of a full-time employee's overall time, Gartner found, equating to $878,000 in savings for a company with a 40-person, full-time finance team.
The 25,000-hour figure Gartner invokes is thought to be caused by human errors, the research firm said. Less than one-third of finance departments with RPA have used their financial reporting capabilities to the fullest, leaving "major efficiency gains on the table," Gartner said.
Despite the clear benefits of full, companywide RPA usage, only 29% of RPA adopters have implemented the technology for financial reporting, the study said.
Gartner found three key speed bumps hindering broader RPA adoption in the financial reporting process, according to interviews with more than 150 corporate controllers, chief accounting officers (CAOs) and chief accounting leaders. They are "a hesitancy to remove human judgment from the process, perception of low [return on investment], and process standardization delays before implementation."
Most CAOs and corporate controllers are forced to prioritize RPA activities "based on a lack of resources and their role in managing a cost center, where they are consistently asked to do more with less," Gartner found. "Using a typical, cost-centric ROI formula focused on full-time employee time savings tends to deprioritize RPA opportunities within financial reporting for other business opportunities."
Most employees would rather avoid rework in favor of the more strategic activities only a human can do, said Dennis Gannon, vice president of research in the Gartner Finance practice. "[CFOs] who fully embrace RPA [see it] as a boost to their employee value proposition," he said.
"The biggest reason [for the resistance to RPA implementation is] belief that successfully using RPA requires a level of process standardization and cleanup within the workflow," Gannon told CFO Dive in an interview Thursday. "But RPA's a lot more modular than traditional technology, and it can lend itself to standardization in the wake of automation, instead of in front of automation.
"We certainly see a lot of success with an incremental approach [to RPA] adoption," Gannon said. "By training the staff on what RPA is, what it can do, and why it can help ... we can start to solicit some of the best ideas for a pilot process and proof of concepts, and [iterate] on those as we go.”
CFOs specifically should consider the ROI of RPA "more broadly than traditional cost-saving efficiency games and cost displacement," Gannon said. "Particularly, look at it through the lens of the engagement you can get with your team by making workflow more rewarding. You, as a CFO, don't want to be last in line for organizational talent, when other areas are using cutting-edge technology."