Robotic Process Automation can save time, money

Many of the processes related to accounting are time-consuming and repetitive, tying people to tasks that could be automated and freeing them to focus elsewhere. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in accounting can take over such tasks, saving a business time and money and improving efficiencies.

“RPA starts with the basics, the tasks you do on a daily basis that aren’t too complex and don’t take a human to judge,” says Cody Kiser, supervisor at Rea & Associates Inc. “Automating those processes can result in improved morale, better productivity and cost savings.”

Smart Business spoke with Kiser about how RPA can have a positive impact on accounting firms — and its potential across other industries.

What is RPA, and how can it improve accounting processes?

RPA technology allows companies to program and manage software that can complete tasks previously been done by humans. The software can understand what appears on the screen, navigate systems, extract data and perform other time-consuming, redundant tasks, doing so faster and often more accurately, without distractions or taking breaks.

Even with today’s technology, many tasks are still completed manually, either because of a lack of knowledge about potential solutions, or out of concern about handing over essential tasks to a robot. But humans still have control over RPA and systems can be configured to ensure someone checks exceptions that may arise.

There are many tasks that employees spend a lot of time on that could be automated, such as pulling bank statements. The system can be automated to log into a banking site to access statements and download them, move them to a folder and rename them, giving team members easy access. It can also be used for tax filings, handling back-end processes.

The biggest plus is that it cuts down on the time spent on mundane tasks, whether that is by executives or administrators within a business. The goal of RPA isn’t to eliminate jobs but to reduce the amount of time spent on tasks that don’t take a lot of brain power, allowing people to spend time on higher-value tasks, spend more time doing analysis for clients and work on things that actually need a human touch.

Is implementation expensive?

It can be expensive to get started, and it isn’t an overnight process. Employees will require training, but even those without a computer background will be able to understand the process.

It’s a long-run option, requiring a return on investment analysis, identifying the processes to automate, judging how much time it takes to complete those tasks at the hourly rate you are charging. You need to determine what is worth automating to make the most of the money you are investing.

It is also a time-consuming, ongoing process to do the programming as you analyze where you want to automate. Pick one area to work on and get it built and working before moving on. And understand that even once it’s in production and functioning on schedule, there may be some hiccups, such as if a bank changes its website and you need to reprogram.

It’s a long-term investment, but one more companies are making, and we are seeing a lot of automation not just in accounting, but across other industries.

How can other industries use RPA?

Many companies, for example, spend a lot of time processing purchase orders. That time could be eliminated and better used elsewhere by configuring the program to scan for critical data, input it and send out a request for approval. In addition, RPA can be programmed to easily handle invoice processing, flagging potential issues for human review and dramatically reducing the number of touches each invoice requires.

RPA is going to be a big piece of the future of accounting functions. It is time-consuming to implement but well worth the investment in the long term, saving time and money, redirecting resources and improving morale.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Rea & Associates Inc.