Why accountants need to embrace robotics and intelligent automation

Why accountants need to embrace robotics and intelligent automation

Accountancy is a traditional profession meaning that, while technologies like automation are helping it leaps and bounds, it can be difficult to get people on board

While digital innovation and new technology is developing at a faster pace than ever before, every industry is having to adapt to new process and ways of working all the time. Some businesses are embracing this, and many have even thrived or been created because of it, but the accounting industry generally has found it a challenge.

Accountancy is an age old profession, traditionally very process-driven; thus bringing technologies like robotics and automation into the mix has not only changed what clients expect from the service they pay for, but also the way accountants work and what their core responsibilities are.

Automation is no longer breaking news, yet many accountancy firms still have a way to go before they are making use of all efficiencies available to them. According to the ICAEW, 25 percent of all businesses are still using paper-based records showing that, even if accounting firms are aware of technological developments, they have not yet taken action to make use of them.

So the next step for many accountancy firms is to shift their mindset, to welcome digital innovation with open arms, and taking action to make it happen.

A shift in focus and expectations

Before jumping into the ‘how’ it’s crucial to address the ‘why’. Yes, everyone is talking about robots, AI, and automation, but why should accountants turn their interest to this?

Efficiency and productivity of the business is the overarching reason. According to The Guardian, while business productivity is growing, the UK’s output per hour is still approximately a quarter behind its competitors, such as France and Germany. This essentially means it takes British workers five days, where it would take competitors just four. By using new technology to take on manual tasks and do them in a much quicker time, businesses are far more productive, and employees can focus on more meaningful work.

Automation will also help businesses seem more appealing to younger generations. While the older generations need to accept change, learn new skills, and adapt the way they work, millennial and Gen Z workers are more likely to come into new jobs expecting to see innovation, technological development, and modern working methods like flexible and remote working. In a world where typing questions into Google is becoming too long-winded, the generation who grew up with the internet more or less demand quick and efficient ways of working. And if millennials are starting to make up more of the general workforce, they will certainly soon make up a large part of your client base, meaning the accountancy sector must adapt in line with their preferences.

Finally, new technologies are a large part of why flexible working has become so easy for many companies to adopt. If staff can do all or most of their work remotely, and choose when, how, and where they work, they are automatically likely to be more efficient and satisfied with their job, according to research from the CIPD. Subsequently they will produce more output for the company and stay there for longer, removing the costs and time associated with hiring.

Why invest in robotics?

As well as being an overall benefit for businesses, accounting firms should consider investing in robotics because of the increasing need for data. The practice of modern accounting screams the need for the collection, transformation, and visualisation of data and the scale of this demand cannot be handled by even the most skilled data scientists. This is where robotics comes in.

Phrases like robotics, AI, and automation are thrown around and it can be difficult to pinpoint the difference between them. The key thing to remember is robotics is one form of automation but there are other types of automation that can be useful too.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which some accounting firms have been using for a while now, is a form of business process automation based loosely on the idea of having software robots or AI workers. Even more advanced than this is Intelligent Automation (IA). As defined by Deloitte, IA is a combination of artificial intelligence and automation. It is already helping companies become more efficient and produce a higher quality of output than ever before. Some accounting firms are already enjoying the benefits it brings, replacing manual tasks that traditionally took time, leaving accountants to focus on more strategic, advisory work.

IA delivers a whole new layer to RPA; it learns and adapts from automation as it has more advanced artificial intelligence (AI), finding better ways to help enhance human potential.

Robotics is one piece of the puzzle; the key to unlocking real potential is what can be built upon RPA. Once a practice has seen the value of automating one process, other processes will follow with ease and the potential will continue to grow and evolve. This is why it is important to consider a future-proof provider to embark on this journey.

The benefits of automation

While many accounting firms, and the workers within them, may feel nervous about changing their processes after so long and believe that adopting automation brings risks around security, the true value of this new technology needs to be recognised.

The key difference between RPA and IA is that the former performs simple automation tasks, such as answering a set of questions in a live chat. Whereas IA can go a step further. A virtual worker can mimic a human interaction, understand inferred meaning as well develop heuristic learning (using historical data and trends to adapt an action or activity). Activities such as creating a contact in your CRM and updating its information across various data sources can be in seconds. A virtual worker can even log into a portal like HRMC and update the data there! This enables humans to focus on the real work, giving them more time to concentrate on key decision-making.

The best thing about adopting IA is that a business can start with RPA, and then decide at a later stage to turn on IA. Practices can begin by introducing RPA to their business, but invest for the long term with IA. This will enable practices to evolve with next phase of digital transformation, which in turn will contribute to business growth in the future.

This is why investing in IA now is a smart business decision. It can be turned on at any point in an accounting firm’s digital journey. Practices can save themselves time and money by investing in RPA and IA together now, rather than going through another process of onboarding a new technology in a couple of years’ time. Why not be ahead in the digital era and gain a truly competitive edge?

According to Accenture Consulting, RPA can bring up to 80 percent cost reduction and an 80 to 90 percent reduction in the time taken to perform tasks.

There is also a significant improvement in the quality of output, since the risk of human error is removed. Often RPA is even simple to bring into your business, since it can usually bolt on to existing ERP systems.  Intelligent automation can be simple to bring into a business as processes do not have to be reengineered to work with the new tool. IA behaves like a human, if you can teach a new starter to follow a process then you can teach a virtual worker.

Getting people on board

The major challenge for accounting firms now is getting their people on board with IA. We mentioned at the start that accountancy is not a sector traditionally known for its love of innovation, and so getting people’s buy-in has been one of the biggest challenges firms have faced.

Yet tech is changing the sector in many ways. Look at new regulation like Making Tax Digital, which is making businesses with a taxable turnover above the VAT threshold comply with HMRC’s demands to use certain software to submit their tax returns. This is a big shift for certain businesses, but one which must be embraced and made the most of.

The same goes for automation and the way to get employees on board is to really show them what benefits they can personally reap if the business adopts this new technology.

People’s jobs will become less filled with individual manual tasks and far more focused on meaningful work. For some, this might mean a smaller workload and therefore less stress all while they are taking on more responsibility. This should translate into more job satisfaction and a better work-life balance.

If each individual gains more satisfaction from their job, this should translate into a better overall company culture. By improving processes, firms can adopt a more agile and modern company culture.

Ultimately it is about showing staff the benefits to them and the benefits to the business of embracing automation while also assuring them they will receive any support and training necessary to continue doing their job well. It’s also about giving your clients a higher quality, more efficient service, therefore maintaining business growth across your practice.

The next steps for firms

Once you recognise the benefits of automation, it will be far easier to put a plan together to make it happen.

Imagine for one moment that it’s personal tax season again. You feel like you have a never-ending barrage of tasks to do. Then think again about what it would be like if 80 percent of that work was automated. With IA, this could be possible.

There’s no need to go it alone. Seek help and advice from your technology provider, who should be more than willing to share advice, training, and support whenever you need it.

On that note, consider which provider you go with carefully. Assess what solution will be the best answer to your automation wants, and one that will bring you quick ROI as well as long term cost and time savings.

Of course, the cost of this new technology is a consideration but remember that it will pay for itself very soon after you make the investment. It is without doubt possible for SMEs to benefit from it as well as bigger businesses.

Remember it’s not unusual to feel uncertain about the future of accountancy and the way technology is changing it. It’s completely natural. What’s key is working hard to realise its benefits, understanding what automation can do for your business, and then seeking support to help you achieve it. By reaping the benefits of IA, practices will be maximising business efficiency, facilitating growth and future proofing to address the needs of the next wave of clients and employees.

 

Are you keen to find out more about how intelligent automation can transform your practice? Contact lauren@ttech.uk.com from T-Tech for a free workshop to explore practice automation opportunities.

T-Tech is one of the fastest growing IT Consultancy, Support and Cloud Service providers in the UK, serving small and medium-sized accountancy practices. T-Tech strive to support firms with the latest advances in technology, whether that be implementing business processes through intelligent automation, or driving solutions such as making tax digital. T-Tech ensures that technology supports practices, not only in day-to-day operations, but also in strategies for growth and innovation.

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