Without financial process automation, manual, error-prone tasks and disjointed systems slow down finance teams, rack up unnecessary costs, and create blind spots in the organisation’s financial health and well-being. These issues occur across all areas of finance – from accounts payable to procure-to-pay, order-to-cash and record-to-report.
The good news is 50 to 90 percent of financial processes can be automated by implementing cognitive capture and workflow automation software. And many enterprises are moving in this direction as part of a larger digital transformation. But oftentimes, organisations find themselves adopting multiple automation technologies from various providers, resulting in a piecemeal solution that decreases the ROI and delays the benefits automation affords.
Analyst firm HFS recently called out the shortcomings of a ‘single technology’ approach to digital transformation, expressing support for an integrated approach. An integrated platform reduces cost, time to value and complexity, while maximising customer and employee satisfaction.
Organisations that want to maximise the benefits of financial process automation can follow this three-step framework to begin working like the digitally enabled company of tomorrow.
Step 1: Understand where you are today
Conduct a maturity model assessment to evaluate organisational automation readiness from a technology and process perspective. IT should be involved in the discussion early on because they understand how automation technologies will fit within the larger IT framework. They’re also responsible for managing the environments that these technologies operate in and for ensuring proper security protocols are followed.
Assess how well-documented and current your financial processes are during this stage. If there’s room to improve prior to automation, this presents an opportunity to make upfront investments. Automation is most powerful when deployed against processes that are already running properly; it isn’t intended to ‘fix’ or alleviate the pain points around broken processes. In other words, optimise first and then automate for the best results.
Step 2: Establish a business case for automation and adopt a ‘platform approach’ from day one
Establishing a business case for automation that allows the financial IT team to clearly make connections between automation and financial key performance indicators. It also includes ranking of use case candidates based on their potential to yield the greatest return. Through this exercise, the team arrives at a clearer understanding of which technologies are required to develop its unique platform-powered solution. Examples of such technologies include:
· Cognitive capture: Ingest/understand any document and extract relevant information via any channel.
· Process orchestration: Integrate people, automation technologies, systems, applications, etc. along a broader workflow in a business-user intuitive manner.
· Mobility & engagement: Engage customers efficiently and effectively via web or mobile devices.
· Advanced analytics: Provide data-driven insights with respect to outcomes as driven by automation.
· Artificial Intelligence: Automate complex decision making and personalise service to end users.
The actual design of the automation solution entails a number of steps, but the following systematic approach ensures the solution is designed and deployed to a certain standard:
· Initial documentation: Capture what the automation solution is intended to do.
· Solution design: Build components of the platform solution across the various technologies.
· User testing: Confirm that the solution designed above follows protocol and operates in alignment with what was specified in initial documentation.
· Deploy automation: Run automation in a live/production environment.
Step 3: Create a Centre of Excellence
It’s important to create an operating model around automation that fits your organisation and financial operations. Further, this Centre of Excellence for Intelligent Automation can form the basis of scaling beyond financial operations. The CoE represents a group of core resources and people that guide all things related to automation, including maintaining and overseeing standards across the business; training; management of vendors; establishing best practices and so much more. Organisations also have flexibility in terms of how such a program can be structured. There are three main models, each differing in how responsibilities are shared across the enterprise.
Centralised operating model: A single team is responsible for running and controlling all aspects of the program.
Decentralised operating model: The responsibilities for running the automation program are replicated across separate business units within the organisation.
Hybrid operating model: Some aspects of the automation program are run by a single, centralised team, while others are replicated across business units.
Of course, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. Organisations and financial teams should start with the model that makes the most sense given where they are today, and adjust as needed.
Successful organisations continually look for new technologies that can benefit the automation program, and in fact, the Intelligent Automation Center of Excellence can be empowered to keep track of such innovative developments as they arise.
With an integrated platform, using best-in-class integrated intelligent automation capabilities will help you realise the benefits of digital transformation. Finance teams will consistently realise outcomes from financial process automation, such as improved productivity, faster decision-making, improved supplier relationships, better regulatory compliance, and greater visibility into financial well-being and cash flow. Look ahead, plan for the future and work like tomorrow, today – with an Intelligent Automation platform.