Finance managers need to automate carefully. Source: Shutterstock

Finance managers need to automate carefully. Source: Shutterstock

How finance managers can avoid failure while automating tasks

FINANCE managers agree that there are several repetitive tasks that their team performs regularly, and believe there are significant benefits to automating those.

The biggest advantage that automation — or more technically speaking, robotic process automation (RPA) — brings to finance is not the cost savings or the efficiency, but in the elimination of human errors.

Consider the invoices that are presented to the company for payment, for example. When being manually entered into the system, it’s quite likely that one of the many data points (tax number, invoice value, date) could be entered incorrectly.

Human error isn’t intentional and happens to the best of the executives, often due to fatigue or distractions. However, it can cause the company a lot of problems during the audit, while producing statutory reports, and even when generating insights for the management.

RPA, therefore, is a great solution. It’s something that every finance manager wants to implement in his department — but they must be cautious.

Automation failure in one process could bring all RPA projects within the department to a grinding halt given the critical nature of the function.

“To deploy RPA successfully finance leaders must embrace a new mindset. Unless finance departments take a more agile approach when implementing RPA, they are likely to experience failures at each phase of implementation and won’t realize the full potential of the technology,” said Managing VP and Head of Finance Research Johanna Robinson.

According to Gartner, here are the top three areas of finance automation failure, and how finance managers can avoid them:

# 1 | The planning stage

RPA experts often see that finance managers, in their zeal to automate the function, tend to plan for entire processes all at once. And that leads to failure.

Instead, it is suggested that companies should plan to automate one activity within a process and then replicate the code and flow for that activity to automate the entire process — one activity at a time.

Take the example of the invoice we discussed previously.

If the company decides to automate how the date is entered and perfect the RPA code for that activity, it could be quickly replicated for other fields like vendor name, address, tax number, and the others to finally automate the entire process.

# 2 | The building stage

RPA projects should be seen as new-age projects that are deployed quickly and efficiently.

It shouldn’t take too long for such a project to be implemented and its results monitored, measured, and perfected — before moving on to the next phase of the project or the next process in the division.

However, finance managers tend to see them as traditional legacy projects where all of the planning and development must be completed before it can be deployed.

Managing the project in such a way only results in time and cost overruns, cautions Gartner.

# 3 | The testing stage

When it comes to an RPA project, Gartner advises the division or the function to take the lead instead of relying on IT and vendors to direct the project to fruition.

Since the finance manager and his team know the process better than anyone else, they should be the ones outlining the needs to IT and vendor teams.

In fact, Gartner suggests that clear responsibilities are set for RPA activities so that the RPA and IT teams deal efficiently with issues such as setting up and monitoring robot performance, with IT providing support for the underlying technology infrastructure.

Well begun is half done

RPA can provide significant benefits to the finance department and the organization as a whole. However, it’s important for business leaders to set them up for success.

“Robots are only as good as the people who design and manage them. CFOs should start any RPA deployment by ensuring they understand the new agile mindset needed to implement the technology, with the right competencies in place to manage it,” said Gartner’s Robinson.

Before RPA projects are taken up, it is recommended that finance leaders focus on identifying the areas of responsibility needed to manage RPA, rather than relying on traditional, fixed roles for this purpose.

In fact, finance managers should account for the new competencies needed for successful RPA management, centered around digital process design.

Being hard-to-train competencies, organizations need to plan ahead so they have the right skills for the job.

Given the many benefits that RPAs offer, they’re bound to be commonplace in the finance division by 2020 — but CFOs and finance managers need to make sure their journey to automation doesn’t disrupt business as usual.