At AcctTwo, we strive to deliver the future of finance and accounting to our customers, but what is that future? In this series I’ll share my perspective on some of the rapidly changing technology solutions that marketing departments and the media are hyping as up-and-coming technologies in this space, and how I see them impacting finance and accounting departments.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
This one sounds like the future – it has the word "robot" in it, after all! But what is it? At its core, RPA is a tool that can “record” or mimic the mouse movements and keystrokes that would otherwise be performed by a human user of an application so that it can replicate tasks without the need for human intervention. This could include scraping data from websites, rekeying information from one system into another, payroll processing tasks - anything that requires mouse clicks, key strokes, copying and pasting, etc., but doesn't require analysis, complex decision making, or learning. These "bots" work by operating a computer as though a person is the one clicking, typing, copying and pasting. More sophisticated RPA can operate from a remote server and could run alongside other bots simultaneously. They can work when people can't, for longer hours, without breaks or distractions, acting as more than one worker and accomplishing a great deal more than one or two people could. Workers are then free to accomplish higher value tasks that require analysis and intellectual skills worth a great deal more.
On its own, this RPA functionality is interesting, and I have no doubt can be revolutionary for productivity and cost savings given the right circumstances. Still, I’m not convinced this is the future. In our world – the world of implementing accounting and business systems – RPA on its own sounds more like a wind-up toy than a technological breakthrough. We advocate for breaking down siloed systems – but doing so through direct web integrations. The future is integration and data translation via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) rather than training a bot to click here, copy text, add numbers, paste them, hit save, etc. Why have a bot use the slow user interface, wasting time moving a mouse around a screen, just to transfer or transform information, when the data can be pushed automatically between systems? A direct integration also avoids browser time-outs, slow processing speeds, and other common RPA pitfalls. Connecting systems via API looks more like the future to me.
RPA cannot think or make decisions for itself, so it’s best suited for repetitive and manually intensive tasks in legacy systems that do not have an API and cannot directly interface with other applications. It can reduce costs, but I don’t believe it’s likely to take an organization to the next level. If you add Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the mix, which we'll take a look at in our next post, then RPA starts to look more like part of that future promise of technology. For example, one website defines RPA as "...the use of software with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required humans to perform. These tasks can include queries, calculations and maintenance of records and transactions." Combined with AI, RPA becomes less of a mimic and more of an assistant. But I see AI as the key value driver of that technology, not the RPA itself.
That said, RPA can be seen as a stop-gap or a bridge to the future. Sometimes it's not possible to connect systems via API. Perhaps one or more of them are legacy systems with no real technical way to integrate them. In these cases, organizations that are using a human “swivel-chair” integration to transform and migrate data could instead take great advantage of the ultimate “swivel-chair” integrator – RPA. I do believe there are incredible opportunities for RPA while systems make their way to the cloud and open their APIs. Sometimes brute force is the best, most affordable solution to a problem, and RPA can handle those tasks until better integration technology can be implemented.
In my next post, I'll talk a bit about Artificial Intelligence, how it can complement RPA and how its ability to analyze large data sets, find exceptions, and learn what's important and what isn't could be so transformative, especially for accounting departments. Stay tuned or subscribe by submitting your email address in the field below.
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AcctTwo is focused on delivering the future of finance and accounting to our customers. AcctTwo has three main solutions – Cloud-based Accounting Software, Managed Accounting Services, and Software Development, all built around Sage Intacct’s best-in-class financial applications. Our dedicated team of over 100 people has helped more than 800 organizations optimize finance and accounting through software implementations, accounting outsourcing, and consulting. AcctTwo has been recognized by Sage Intacct as its Partner of the Year from 2014 – 2018 and by our customers as a leader in overall satisfaction and popularity through their reviews on G2 Crowd.
AcctTwo is headquartered in Houston, Texas and has been named Sage Intacct’s overall Partner of the Year from 2014 through 2018. For more information, please visit www.accttwo.com or call 713-744-8400.