The world of accounting and finance continues to be transformed by new technologies. Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Robotic process automation, Business intelligence, and advanced analytics are automating repetitive, manual tasks and allowing finance professionals to focus on more strategic initiatives that drive business value.
However, simply implementing automation tools is not enough to realize the comprehensive business benefits. To truly enhance process automation, accounting and finance organizations need to take a holistic approach – one that combines the best technologies with restructured processes, effective change management, and constant enhancements.
Conduct a Critical Assessment of Current Processes
The first step to enhancing automation is to objectively assess current processes in accounting and finance. Identify areas that are suitable for automation by looking for patterns of repetitive, high-volume manual work.
Conduct process mining and value stream mapping to analyze processes end-to-end. Get input directly from accountants and analysts performing the work day-to-day to understand pain points and bottlenecks.
As you assess current processes, consider:
- Is this process high-volume and repetitive? High transaction volumes make a precise process a good automation candidate. Repetitive, rules-based tasks are well suited for direct automation.
- Does the process have high error rates? Processes prone to human error can often be improved through automation and systematization.
- How much manual intervention is involved? Processes that involve high amounts of manual work like data entry, cutting and pasting, checking reports, or moving data between systems provide automation opportunities.
- Does the process create productivity bottlenecks? Look for points where workflow slows down because information or approvals are waiting. These bottlenecks signal automation potentials.
- What is the impact of automating this process? Prioritize processes for automation based on the estimated increase in productivity, efficiency, accuracy, and relevant business metrics.
Select the Right Automation Technologies and Tools for Accounting
Once you have identified priority processes, it is time to determine the right automation technologies. Robotic process automation uses software bots to automate repetitive, rules-based digital tasks. RPA is well suited for high-volume, routine processes like payment processing, invoice creation, data entry, and report generation.
Machine learning algorithms uncover patterns in data to make predictions or categorize information. This can be used for tasks like detecting fraudulent transactions, predicting future revenues, or analyzing sentiment in customer surveys.
Natural language processing (NLP) enables computers to understand, interpret, and analyze human language. NLP powers capabilities like extracting key data points from contracts and documents.
OCR and ICR technology convert scanned documents and handwritten text into machine-readable formats. This eliminates the need to manually enter data from forms and papers.
Evaluate your use cases and select the technologies that align with them. Look for automation tools that integrate well with your existing systems and can scale as your needs grow.
Why Optimize Processes Before Automation of Accounting Tasks?
The biggest productivity gains come not from automation alone but from optimizing processes before automation. Use techniques like value stream mapping and business process reengineering to eliminate waste and streamline processes.
- Standardize processes across business units and regions. Variations make automation more difficult.
- Simplify processes by removing unnecessary approvals, systems, and steps. Complexity hinders automation.
- Go paperless by converting forms and documents to digital formats. This saves time spent managing paper and enables automation.
- Eliminate the keying of the same data into multiple systems. Integrate systems to pass data seamlessly.
These process redesigns ensure you have an efficient framework for automation. They also increase the chances of user adoption by removing frustrations before new technologies are introduced.
Take an Incremental Accounting and Financial Approach with Quick Wins
Do not try to automate your entire accounting and finance function overnight. This increases project risk and change resistance. Instead, develop a roadmap focused on quick wins and iterative progress.
- Start with 1-2 high-volume, simple processes like accounts payable invoice processing. These allow you to demonstrate automation value quickly.
- Once early successes are achieved, expand the scope to include more complex processes like revenue recognition, financial close, and consolidated reporting.
- Over time, build an Automation Center of Excellence to industrialize efforts across accounting and finance.
Avoid “bottleneck processes” where automation simply moves the bottleneck downstream. Reengineer these processes first before automating.
Manage Organizational Change
New technologies often bring unease and scepticism from those who are being asked to change. To drive adoption of automation initiatives:
- Communicate early and often. Share the vision, rationale, and updates across the organization. Be transparent about anticipated changes.
- Involve stakeholders in planning automation projects. Get their input on issues and opportunities.
- Provide training for new processes and tools. Hands-on learning eases anxiety and smoothens the transition.
- Actively listen to concerns. Understand root causes of resistance so they can be addressed.
- Highlight automation benefits. Share positive metrics and user feedback to reinforce value. Celebrate wins!
With strong change management, you gain buy-in across all levels of the organization.
Continuously Monitor Financial Results and Further Optimize
Automating a process once is just the beginning. To sustain benefits over time, you need mechanisms to continuously monitor results and identify areas for improvement.
- Track productivity metrics before and after automation to quantify gains. Share impact with stakeholders.
- Monitor automated processes and review root causes of any failures. Identify where enhancements may be needed.
- Use techniques like Lean Six Sigma to further optimize automated processes.
- Encourage user feedback on their automation experience. Incorporate suggestions into future designs.
This culture of continuous improvement ensures your finance automation initiatives continue to deliver maximum value.
Check-list for Accounting and Finance Process Automation Excellence
We have prepared a quick check-list to sustain quality of automation.
- Prioritize automation openings by valuation of current and futuristic processes
- Choose technologies like RPA, BI tools, ML, AI, and NLP that align your use cases
- Redesign processes for efficiency before layering on automation
- Take an incremental approach focused on quick wins and iterative progress
- Manage organizational change through involvement, training, and communication.
- Continuously monitor results and user feedback to drive further optimization.
By combining the right technologies with redesigned processes, strong change management and continuous improvement, enhanced process automation can be attained.
So, in the same way, accounting and finance firms can enhance process automation to increase productivity, speed, quality, and strategic business impact. This holistic approach sets the stage for technology and automation excellence, which yields profitable outcomes.