OPINION: 83% of finance functions can be automated. Here's what a finance factory will look like

The finance factory and the augmented worker are the future of finance functions within every business.

How will this work? you may ask.

Firstly, it will see processes across the finance function of a business productionalised and either fully or majority-automated, with the automation either run internally or outsourced.

The more specialised functions that aren’t part of the finance factory will be covered by automation tools that make accountants’ day jobs easier – making them 'augmented workers'. Accountants will employ Robotic Process Automation (RPA), an IT process that uses robotic tools to automate easily-repeated processes, to eliminate the manual, repetitive parts of their job and allow them to be more productive, adding value to the function that they’re actually performing.

Either way, the reality is that business finance functions are not going to exist without automation. And here's the good news: if those finance functions are outsourced to a finance factory or based on simple RPA, the business doesn’t need to worry about developing, maintaining or operating the processes, which results in lower costs and the opportunity to focus on other vital business functions, instead.

The immediate reaction from most businesses is, "We couldn’t possibly outsource something as vital as our finance function." But they’re already outsourcing vital functions to operators around the world by adopting cloud technology.

Leap of faith

Where the real leap of faith comes in is that right now, there’s a massive lack of education around what is, and isn't possible. The problem is that clients don’t know how to discern between what is automatable and what isn’t – and where a robot can save them time and money.

The internet itself is a great analogy: 99% of people who use it, can’t explain how it works. That’s RPA – there’s a use case in everyone’s life, but they don’t necessarily know how to apply it.

Unique - just like everyone else

One of the major reasons that businesses aren’t sure how to implement RPA is that they think their processes are unique. In our experience, everyone thinks they’re unique until they discover that all the software vendors out there have modelled best practice into a solution.

A lot of organisations have realised that, in the face of the high cost of developing and maintaining a customised solution, it’s actually better to adapt their processes to what’s becoming a universal standard operating procedure, and enjoy the flexibility and savings, instead. We’re currently automating the same process for different clients, having discovered that they all actually have the same general ledger system. This means that everything we automate for one, we can automate for the other two.

These reusable processes utilise the same underlying technology, which has cost-saving implications. 

We believe that 83% of finance functions within a business can currently be automated. The 17% that can’t are the elements that rely on human interaction, like business development, interpretation of analytics and decision-making.

In the B2B space, the decision maker on each side is still a human being, and so a lot of decisions are made - with the support of tech and loads of data - on the basis of ‘feeling’.

In five years, though, this may look different: We may see AI selling to AI, in which case they’ll be making decisions based on hard variables like quality, price, track record, potential for success and the like. In the face of such overwhelming benefits, we may find ourselves asking if any business can afford not to adopt oursourced RPA. 

Adrian van der Merwe is CEO of North Wind Digital

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