John Verver, CPA CA, CISA, CMC

Advisor to ACL


In part one of this two-part series, we looked at how robotic process automation (RPA) can benefit finance teams and identified common processes ripe for automation. Now we’ll dig into some practical considerations when beginning your RPA journey.

Introducing RPA begins with change management

The first thing you need is a solid change management strategy. People are, by nature, resistant to change, and many will be suspicious of RPA and how it will impact their roles. Clearly communicating a plan to your team and showing executive and grassroots buy-in will help reduce those challenges and resistance. Make sure you:

  • define clear goals and ensure people, processes, strategy, and technology are aligned
  • identify training and any necessary role changes and work with HR to manage the transition and mitigate personnel impacts
  • develop a proactive communication plan that anticipates and addresses concerns, and facilitate open, ongoing communication throughout all stages.

Securing senior management buy-in

It’s critical to get management onboard with your RPA vision and make sure they’re aware of the long-term benefits. Especially if there’s any short-term disruption to the finance team. Depending on your team and organization size, it might be a quick discussion or a formal presentation, but you’ll need to clearly communicate the intended outcomes, budget or staffing impacts, and projected ROI on new technologies. And don’t forget to include a well-thought-out argument on any process changes needed to implement RPA. Involving IT and any other business area sponsors is essential in the success of this phase.

Accessing quality data

RPA is only as good as the quality of your data. And your data needs to be clean, reconcilable, with an appropriate data management strategy, otherwise implanting RPA isn’t going to be successful.

Getting quality data might not seem like a significant challenge at first, because finance teams are no strangers to accessing and using data in accounting and other systems. But in practice, the data requirements for some forms of RPA are totally different than those used in typical accounting processes.

For example, if you want to automatically analyze and monitor all payment transactions for control breakdowns, you’ll need to compare data from many different data sources. This could include scheduling automated downloads of data from finance systems like vendor purchase orders and payments, corporate credit cards, and travel and entertainment expenses. You might also connect to other sources of business data like human resources and network and physical access logs.

The bottom line is that you need to create the procedures to regularly produce the right datasets at the right time, with minimal manual activities. And, just like every other step, consider any other business area (information technology, information security, legal) that might need to be involved or provide approvals for this data access.

Having the right skillsets

When you implement RPA, the finance team will experience an inevitable shift in required skillsets. Manual data entry and testing is now in the hands of the robots, and the humans get to refocus on value-adding activities. This could mean new training for certain employees (be sure to budget for this) or shifts in role priorities.

Identifying (or hiring) team members who understand the basics of data analysis apps and automation should be on your to-do list. You’ll need someone who can assess existing manual procedures, like account reconciliation, and shift these to optimized automated processes. Experienced consultants can also help you with your roll-out and any necessary upskilling.

Knowing where to start

So, what do you automate first? The choices are endless and can be overwhelming when you’re just starting out—especially considering it can impact the wider roll-out of RPA across your organization. We suggest finding tasks where large numbers of repetitive steps are performed and little or no special skill is required—a natural target for RPA.

Going into more depth from our previous post, here are four steps to help your journey toward RPA:

  1. Determine your automation goals. Do you want automation with minimal effort and investment? Or are you looking to implement a more comprehensive team-wide automation program? The outcome of this decision will determine your solution options and implementation planning.
  2. Plan the RPA roadmap. Start slowly with simple processes to build momentum and demonstrate value. Then scale to support more complex business areas. Successful RPA implementations should result in long-term strategic gains. The automation roadmap must look beyond the initial deployment and set out how automation will grow across the organization.
  3. Identify automation providers. Consider your current and future needs, your automation goals, and your RPA roadmap. Ensure that the solution you evaluate/choose is able to grow with your automation vision and business case. Select the partner that best fits your needs and don’t forget to ensure that their pricing models are aligned to your automation objectives.
  4. Assess, plan, and share the results of your automation. Identify repetitive, manual, and simple processes. Start small—automate and assess the results. Once you’ve automated these smaller processes, share the results with management. Explain how, by rolling out more RPA, you can become even more efficient and maximize savings. Explain which processes you plan on automating next, and what you expect to gain. Once that next set of processes is automated, come back to management and share those results.

The greatest benefit of RPA may not be measurable in direct financial terms—at least not immediately—but more by the extent to which people are given opportunities for increased judgment and critical thinking. However, freed resources will result in improved processes and productivity gains that are measurable and will clearly show the success of your RPA program.

Now you’re on the way toward robotic process automation. Read more about how ACL Robotics can help you with your journey.

eBook: The Finance Leader’s Guide to Balancing Risk and Performance

eBook: The Finance Leader’s Guide to Balancing Risk and Performance

In this eBook, we’ll share with you the finance leader’s guide to understanding the natural gaps in your ERP system—and the specific actions you can take to grab risk by the scruff of the neck so you can focus on maximizing performance.

This eBook will cover:

  • How to illuminate risks in finance and accounting systems
  • 7 Performance Hacks to improve risk management and performance
  • A Technology Buying Guide for risk and control management and analytic monitoring
  • How to understand the gaps in your ERP Systems

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