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As businesses and other organizations struggle with rising costs, resource constraints, and employee recruiting and retention challenges, finance departments and other administrative functions are under increasing pressure to hold down costs, reduce errors, and improve overall efficiency. Although using advanced robotics to automate routine or repetitive tasks is a proven, effective tool for addressing such challenges, many organizations have been slow to introduce robotic process automation (RPA) into their finance and administrative processes.
It is in some ways understandable that IT budgets typically give priority to revenue-generating or customer-facing operations that make up core business functions. Unfortunately, this tendency means that critical administrative departments such as finance, human resources (HR), and other data-intensive operations often must wait before they can begin to realizeRPA’s benefits.
Implementing RPA as a service (RPAaaS) can offer a viable alternative, delivering automation’s benefits faster and more cost-effectively than the traditional method of acquiring, installing, launching, and maintaining RPA software and its supporting hardware. Moreover, RPAaaS ultimately can produce a more flexible, secure, and sustainable system.
RPA benefits and challenges
The advantages of RPA have become more significant in recent months as businesses and other organizations have adapted to today’s increasingly competitive labor market and the rapid shift toward remote workforces. In this environment, RPA offers much-needed relief.
By using programmable software bots rather than human workers to perform routine activities, RPA can relieve the frustration and tedium of repetitive and time-consuming manual tasks such as inputting or converting data from disparate sources, compiling information, preparing reports, validating data,and verifying regulatory or reporting compliance.
In addition to allowing finance teams to focus their energies on more interesting (and value-enhancing) activities, RPA also can help lower costs, reduce errors, and provide a clearer, more transparent audit trail for tasks that require verification. Put simply, bots can work 24/7 without getting sick, tired, bored, or inattentive to details.
Unfortunately, acquiring and installing RPA software and hardware is often a lengthy and costly project. In addition to the usual vendor selection and procurement procedures, an RPA implementation project also requires significant coordination and consultation among management, process owners, and software developers, along with extensive IT department support and considerable training and adjustment time for staff members who must learn to operate new software with unfamiliar interfaces and functions.
"One of the most attractive features of RPAaaS is the ability to start on a small scale to evaluate a specific solution or program feature without making permanent or high-cost commitments."
Often, the result is large budgets and lengthy project schedules that can greatly delay and reduce RPA’s financial payback. Furthermore, as the environment continues to evolve, ongoing changes to other system capabilities and requirements often mean the solution is already at risk of becoming outdated by the time it is launched. The RPAaaS model solves for these issues.
The cloud-based alternative
Like other cloud-based software solutions, RPAaaS enables organizations to access sophisticated technological capabilities without having to purchase software licenses, install servers or other dedicated hardware, or heavily engage outside professional services to get the system up and running. RPAaaS benefits include:
Speed and simplicity. With no permanent licenses or specialized software installations, RPAaaS can be up and running quickly (typically in a matter of weeks), which means benefits can begin accruing almost immediately.
Cost and efficiency. In addition to offering dramatically lower initial costs, most RPAaaS subscriptions allow users to add or remove bots as needed, so they pay for only the services they actually areusing.
• Ease of use. An RPAaaS platform typically runs on a virtual machine, with user interfaces that are already familiar and intuitive to most users. The IT department generally does not need to commit significant resources to launch the effort.
• Flexibility and scalability. Because components can be added or removed as needed, RPAaaS subscribers typically can modify features or add new capabilities with minimal difficulty. Moreover, if the organization eventually chooses to install a licensed, on-siteRPA solution, the transition generally is simple.
• Security. Typically, RPAaaS providers do not store user data on their own servers; rather, the data itself remains secure behind the subscriber’s own firewalls.
One of the most attractive features of RPAaaS is the ability to start on a small scale to evaluate a specific solution or program feature without making permanent or high-cost commitments. In a sense, RPAaaS lets users “de-risk” their approach to RPA.
The first decision to be made when launching RPAaaS is choosing which processes to automate – and which to automate first. The most promising candidates are business processes that involve searching, updating, or manipulating information manually. Processes that involve entering data or moving data from one system to another often offer excellent opportunities for automation.
Among the most commonly usedRPAaaS finance applications are bots that automate sales tax and other tax calculations, invoice processing, accounts receivable management, accounts payable management, cash reconciliation, financial reporting, and financial planning and analysis. Other administrative functions such as HR onboarding, call center operations, and sales and contract management also are good targets for RPAaaS. In general, the best opportunities are found in business processes that are:Stable, not undergoing major changes or redesigns
• Standardized, relatively consistent, repeatable
• High volume Prone to human error
• Engaged with structured data, such as spreadsheets, comma-separated values (CSV) formatted files, or PDF documents
Once a business process has been identified as a candidate for automation, the RPAaaS project team works closely with process owners and users to document the process steps in detail and spell out how each step can be automated. Another critical early step is to establish appropriate oversight and ownership for the effort. Ideally, the project will be overseen by representatives from the affected business unit andIT. In larger companies this oversight often is accomplished through a steering committee.
In addition to immediate cost- and time-saving benefits, a carefully designed, well-managed, and effectively governed RPAaaS initiative can deliver an accelerated return on the organization’s technology investment. More important, it can result in work processes and systems that are more cost-effective, adaptable, scalable, and user-friendly than those that could be achieved through a conventional on-siteRPA installation.