Where a finance and accounting (F&A) department sits in terms of digital maturity often reflects where an organization sits as a whole. As Sutherland’s SVP of Business Process Automation, Timothy Leger, previously explained, that’s because the modern-day Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is less often a bookkeeper and instead a strategic changemaker driving innovation and automation initiatives.
As part of this broad mandate, CFOs are increasingly exploring intelligent automation in order to boost productivity and improve executive decision-making. Intelligent automation fuses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities with process automation software, and as such, represents the natural successor to robotic process automation (RPA), which is limited to rule-based functions.
F&A processes are the perfect use case for intelligent automation because they are often complex, labor-intensive, and detail-oriented. While RPA struggled to make an impact given this high variability in F&A functions, intelligent automation handles such complexity with ease. And because F&A interacts with all parts of an organization, the successful deployment of intelligent automation within its processes encourages awareness and implementation throughout an organization, improving overall operations as a result. Let’s take a look at the three key benefits of intelligent automation that together drive better business outcomes.
Intelligent automation software interfaces with existing systems and navigates user application interfaces just like a human would, but without the need for downtime. Unlike humans, these platforms operate 24/7 and can therefore complete tasks that would otherwise take human employees weeks to finish, or would remain out of reach entirely. For example, F&A departments in healthcare use intelligent automation to consolidate patient payment data from a wide variety of sources. The platform then provides a comprehensive risk analysis of patients and payers to reduce delinquent debt and total days outstanding. Similar risk analysis is common throughout F&A departments but requires access to usable data. With intelligent automation, that access is granted, enabling data-driven decision-making at scale and on-demand.
2. The Importance of Accuracy
Today, large organizations often use sophisticated risk modeling to guide decisions, but these models are only as accurate as the data that guides them. And with humans making an estimated 10 errors per 100 steps, regardless of the task’s complexity, the data driving these models often contains mistakes that stem from human error. Even a single data entry error can skew output dramatically, and as the amount of data analyzed by F&A departments increases, the probability of a data entry error rises as well. Mistakes in data entry also extend beyond decision-making models to simple accounting errors with multi-billion dollar effects. In 2014, for example, Bank of America suspended its $4 billion stock buyback program due to an incorrect adjustment related to the bank’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch. As the saying goes, “To err is human,” but with intelligent automation, to err is simply a failure to deploy the right technology. By implementing the right intelligent automation software, F&A departments can automate basic processes and build effective models, resulting in accurate analysis and informed decisions.
3. The Impact on Employee Morale
Though its impact on speed and accuracy is significant, intelligent automation’s most important influence lies in improving the employee experience. F&A employees confront a variety of tasks each day that are low-skill but also high-stress. Pulling invoices to respond to audits, for example, is a simple process that supports a critically important process for businesses. But no tax professional eagerly anticipates such a task; instead, they want to serve as strategic consultants who proactively and creatively provide their organization with insights that drive business. Ultimately, that is the most valuable use of F&A professionals’ time and where they themselves wish to focus. By automating data pulls and responses to basic inquiries from internal stakeholders, intelligent automation enables employees to spend their time and mental energy on more difficult, higher-value tasks.
Though it expresses itself through faster work, more accurate analysis, and happier employees, the real benefit of intelligent automation is its ability to create a digital finance organization that anticipates the future and drives innovation forward, instead of solely accounting for the past. To borrow once more from Timothy Leger, this digitally transformed F&A professional is a “new visionary to their organizations.”