Sikich's new "intelligent automation services team" seeks to provide robotic process automation (RPA) to its middle-market clients in smaller, more affordable increments than are currently available.
Sikich will deliver custom RPA bots to clients with greater variable cost options. "Implementing intelligent automation can be cost-prohibitive for many middle-market companies," Sikich CFO Ryan Spohn said in a statement. "We aim to fill this void by combining tech expertise with innovative solutions."
RPA can be a cost-saving method of outsourcing repetitive finance tasks — including data entry, accounting and bookkeeping — enabling finance staff to shift their focus to higher-value tasks. But purchasing and adopting these robotic systems can be cost-prohibitive for smaller businesses.
"CFOs need to be very involved in the technology and operations sides of their business," Spohn told CFO Dive. "At the end of the day, CFOs are responsible for [accurate] reporting, [so they need to be] engaged and integrated with those groups, and if they're not, they can be in trouble. You can easily have an accounting problem stemming from something that falls under operations [that you weren't aware of]."
Spohn points to the potential for across-the-board profitability of RPA implementation, but there remains a high hurdle for companies that can't afford to adopt the full slate of automation. "Normally when firms start talking to providers of AI-backed RPA solutions, we're required to license [AI-backed RPA solutions] with five bots, for a minimum of three years," Spohn told CFO Dive. "Trying to prove you can fill five bots without testing can be [cost-]prohibitive."
To bridge the gap, Spohn and his colleagues have been partnering with software providers to allow Sikich to "break that [license requirement] into bite-size chunks at an affordable cost. Another option is creating dedicated bots for clients [without requiring] them to sign up for the full three years." They can also do a minimum number of bots, or one a bot at at time, Spohn said. These techniques would lower barriers of entry for smaller companies and allow for experimentation "in a way that maximizes their chances of being successful," he said.
The success of RPA adoption is not industry-dependent but rather operational-dependent, Spohn said. "When firms first get started, they really have to have their processes defined, so that when you adopt the RPA, they're ripe for automation," he told CFO Dive. "But if your processes are very ad hoc and not documented well, I highly recommend firms take that step first, and move that documentation, so you can get full RPA."
The primary benefit of Sikich's new team is that it has provided a way for their middle-market clients to enter the RPA sphere in a low-risk way. "The ROI is exponential, based on what you chose to automate," Spohn said. "The actual downside cost risk of diving in is very low.
"We think [our offering will allow] more and more people to buy in, and take a look, instead of waiting to see what other bigger companies are doing first,” he said. "So it's kind of an equalizer."
Additionally, the team will be a resource for companies in middle market that may struggle with turnover or maintaining certain headcounts, Spohn said.
"If you can make your roles more exciting, analytical, and take some of the mundane tasks off their plate, RPA can be a great retention tool," he said.