RPA stands to benefit accountants and firms, says UiPath EMEA SVP

RPA stands to benefit accountants and firms, says UiPath EMEA SVP

Robots might be coming to take the 'grunt work' out of accountancy jobs and make them better, according to RPA platform UiPath's SVP and managing director for EMEA, Gavin Jackson.

RPA stands to benefit accountants and firms, says UiPath EMEA SVP

Robots might be taking accountancy jobs, but that could be a change for the better, according to UiPath’s senior vice president and managing director for EMEA, Gavin Jackson.

He believes that robotic process automation (RPA) is going to become the new normal—in financial services and beyond–and offer a renewed sense of what jobs accountants should actually be doing.

Deloitte’s 2018 global RPA survey showed that 81% of surveyed business leaders support using robotics in the workplace, with 67% of organisations having started on their RPA strategy—up from 49% in 2017.

RPA itself has been progressing rapidly, evolving from offline automation to a series of intelligent, web-savvy ‘robots’—which Jackson likens to a central nervous system connecting technology and logic across a business.

Depending on company size, different numbers of robots are required—only 4% of organisations surveyed are piloting more than 50 robots, with most (27%) using between one to 50 robots.

According to the survey results, one of the biggest barriers to RPA implementation was the total scale of process fragmentation (32%).

To counter this, Jackson recommends that firms ease into the world of RPA and discover where their company can save money with automation before launching a widespread initiative.

“With automation, it’s just an unknown for many people,” Jackson said. “But actually, for those that use it, what we find is that there’s two things that happen.

“One, they realised that empirically, there’s a real value to it. So, the processes that were running before–when they look at the after effect, once they’ve run the processes with RPA, they can see an empirical value to it and understand the numbers.

“But the other side of it is they actually get giddy from it as well— meaning that they have an induction of joy that comes from it, because a lot of the stuff that we’re automating is stuff that they just don’t want to do.”

A cohesive operating platform

The ‘new normal’ of automation has been in the public eye for most of the 21st century, and Jackson believes that RPA is simply another step forward in how businesses will be run moving forward.

“It’s another layer of abstraction effectively, where the robot becomes a system of engagement,” Jackson said.

The technological advancements of the 2000’s and 2010’s have changed at a rapid pace. Where web-based spreadsheets once reigned over paper-based accountancy, cloud-based online platforms have now taken over for both.

“The fear factor of technology itself has probably been lowered because of the consumerization of stuff, and it is so easy to access and to use everything else,” Jackson explained.

From an accountancy perspective, RPA might be the next step in creating an upskilled workforce with a higher level of work-life balance. For example, rather than having an accountant stay late to finish filing invoices, a robot could pre-approve them, 24/7.

Jackson explained: “In the business world, there are so many applications that a user has to go through to get their job done on a daily basis, and we don’t think the humans actually need to do that.

“They just need to have one system of engagement, one kind of robot that actually goes and checks into all those applications for you. But if you can crisply command that robot, then it will go into all those systems and pull up the data that you need and put it into the form factor that you need.”

Tasks like payroll can easily be automated with a few hours of programming, working cohesively with existing software like SAP. Rather than taking the financial department back to square one, RPA offers a way to move forward.

Existing cloud-based platforms like Sage and Xero have been widely adopted in financial departments, and Jackson noted that cloud platforming changed how many departments operated.

However, instead of making a total change, Jackson explained, RPA simply builds off preexisting software and programmes to push automation further.

“The robot is a platform, and lots of other companies will innovate on top of it,” Jackson said. “Cloud is powerful, because it provides instant tools and capacity to build applications or to run machine learning models and so on, so your productivity increases on the back of it.”

Will robots take your job?

Some trepidation around implementing RPA is the fear that it will eliminate jobs. However, Jackson believes that jobs will change for the better, and that RPA—much like Amazon’s Alexa or the iPhone—will become an everyday part of the future workforce.

“The people that are graduating into accountancy and into professional roles like this, they’re joining with RPA skills, so that the skills are relevant,” Jackson said.

“The sort of ‘grunt work’ might be replaced with actually being able to automate processes on behalf of the more senior team to free them up. So they’re still learning on the job, but they’re doing it with modern tools.

“Longer term, it would be very normal, very natural. When my children go to work, they’ll go to work with the skills of RPA development. They’ll know that the robots do some jobs for them, and that they have higher-cognitive jobs to do, and more creative jobs to do, and it would be a very normal operating model.”

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