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Rieta de Villiers, Deloitte South Africa Associate Director of Technology Enablement

Automation has already transformed manufacturing in a profound way. Now it’s poised to shake up the finance sector.

Finance roles are under significant pressure, with major challenges to shrink costs and support decreasing margins, improve speed, volumes and quality of information provided. Adding an efficient model, in this case Robotic Process Automation (RPA), has never been more paramount.

“RPA technology is an inexpensive model that helps in the application of specific technologies that can automate routine, standardised tasks, creating higher productivity and value with lesser investment – this system is rapidly gaining popularity, predominantly in the banking and finance sectors due to triggering responses and communication with other digital systems within the domain in a shorter time frame”, says Rieta de Villiers, Deloitte South Africa Associate Director of Technology Enablement.

Making RPA happen

De Villiers says that when it comes to leveraging RPA, South African companies generally fall into one of two categories: those that have launched pilots and are now trying to scale the technology, and those that are at the early stages of exploring its possibilities.

She points to a recent Deloitte survey, CFO Insights, which shares the views of companies employing automation to economically tackle a variety of finance needs, an increasing number of which can be handled by RPA.

These include tasks that may have been outsourced, such as reconciliations, claims processing, returns management, inventory processing, as well as those that generally require process automation tasks in the front office (sales order management, competitor price monitoring, customer engagement). Then, middle office (trend tracking, report generation) and back office (data reconciliation, applications integration) to complete a chain system.

The other category is affiliated to shared services tasks that typically entail multiple interactions with different systems, such as payroll, onboarding and benefits management in HR, folder and file management.

De Villiers advises those considering implementing RPA solutions to invest time and effort in understanding the value and limitations of whatever tools they decide to deploy, in order to ensure they are right for today’s needs and, if applicable, have the ability to scale.

Revealing RPA

As the ability of RPA helps improve profit and loss by reducing errors, avoiding costly off-shoring and providing rapid results increase, it will become an increasingly attractive option.

In some instances, CFOs have found that RPA is 15 times more efficient than humans and offers a 15% to 90% cost reduction opportunity. RPA can also leverage other emerging technologies. Artificial intelligence technology, for instance, can be combined with RPA processes to produce conversational user interfaces, which can take predictive decisions and exercise judgment.

Seen through that lens, RPA becomes a foundational technology for a digitally transformed enterprise that can evolve in lockstep with these quickly advancing technologies.

“The success of RPA, however, is dependent on numerous factors including; the implementation of the automation process, operational management of robots, and an upskilled workforce to provide further proactive insights of human analysis. RPA frees up finance talent to address activities that are less routine and more value add, but might require the upskilling of resources to operate at a higher level,” De Villiers concludes.

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