Misconceptions hold back CFOs from wider RPA adoption
Robotic process automation (RPA) has the potential to save CFOs administrative costs and free up their finance staff's time to handle higher-value tasks, but the adoption rate of the technology has been slow.
Gartner found 19% of controllers and 17% of company tax chiefs are using RPA in some form, and far more plan to use it in the future, according to a recent survey. The survey found 75% of controllers and 76% of tax chiefs want to use RPA at some point. Dennis Gannon, vice president of advisory at Gartner, said he believes more CFOs would adopt the technology sooner if they had a clearer picture of what that adoption entails.
There appears to be two misconceptions in talking with CFOs, Gannon said.
The first is that adoption means turning over a complete process, such as expense reporting, to RPA. But that’s not the way to do it. It’s better to start with sub-processes and build out from there.
"You can use an RPA script to, say, flag a type of overage in your expense reporting that you’re encountering a lot of, or to manage the validation process for your expense reports," he says. "Put the scripts in place, see how they’re working, iterate, and then find the next thing that you might automate. If it’s taking you weeks to go through this process, you picked something too big. It should just take days."
The second — and biggest — misconception, Gannon says, is that your data has to be completely cleaned up and standardized before you can start. But that’s not necessary.
"There’s a lingering perception among finance executives that in advance of bringing in RPA to work in my, say, accounts receivable processes, I need to standardize that globally and have everyone doing it the same way. But, actually, you don't need to," Gannon said. "You can actually use RPA in one site on one function with a specific set of rules and give a different set of rules on a different site if they do it differently. And the great thing is — and this is the thing most finance executives miss — you can then standardize your process by just changing the code on your RPA scripts instead of having to convince 30 regional purchasing managers to do things differently.
"You have people doing work right now that’s very labor intensive and rules driven that can be done by RPA," he adds, "and you can redeploy those folks to higher-value activities pretty quickly without having to do that standardization work first and you can actually make that standardization work a lot easier.”
Gannon says he worked with the finance team at a media organization that put in significant process automation and was able to create efficiencies in about two dozen rules-driven use cases.
"It freed up literally hundreds of hours a week of their finance team," he says. "They've reorganized their organizational structure now, so they have more judgment-driven accountants who now focus on interpreting rules and standards for the organization, finding new use cases, and coding those new use cases. That’s given all their staff more focused and more fulfilling roles, and made them part of a cost-saving process. It’s been transformative in the true sense of the word in just a two-year period."
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