When the Going Gets Tough Top CFOs Turn to RPA

Robotic Process Automation can free finance officers to focus decades of experience on more productive pursuits

CFO’s (Chief Financial Officers) aren’t born. They’re made! And it takes years of experience to build up the skills needed to deal with the reporting and financial planning, as well as managing financial risks.

For a mid-sized firm, the minimum is probably 10-15 years. But, for larger organisations, 20 years is common. That’s how long it takes to gain the life experience needed to understand how a business (and its people) actually works, and learn how to meet the needs of different but demanding stakeholders.

Joe’s story

That’s how long it took Joe Chan to take all the different steps that have made him the CFO of ABC International Ltd.

His journey wasn’t unique or even unusual. Like many of today’s CFOs, he started out as a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), spending a few years learning the fundamentals of how business financials should function. During this time he worked hard to earn his MBA and gain a competitive advantage over others aiming to work their way to the top.

It made him a good candidate for a job with one of the “Big Four” accounting firms, where he gained exposure to the highest levels of business and finance. Eventually he parlayed this experience into a corporate treasury position with a big-regional player. There he learned the ins and outs of cash management, managing interest and commodity risks as well as financial investments.

That led to a role as a controller at an established organisation. In charge of the accounting department, he reported directly to the CFO. And, when the incumbent CFO moved on, Joe moved up!

It’s tough at the top

Interestingly, as technology has transformed the way businesses operate, Joe has found that his job of CFO is getting tougher. Instead of going completely digital, many tasks – such as managing payment advice, financial closing task lists, managing bank statements and claims processing – have actually become more and more manual.

That is at odds with how technology has changed his personal life.

He used to spend hours curating his MP3 collection – almost as much as he did actually listening. These days he hardly ever thinks about it. Online services stream everything he needs directly to whatever device he happens to be using. And associative algorithms ensure that suggestions on what to listen to next are spot on more often than not.

The same is true for online shopping, where friendly conversational AIs address most enquiries, and have virtually eliminated the need for slow and potentially fallible human interactions.

Lately, Joe has been wondering why, in these increasingly digital days, the same kind of technology that makes his home life a breeze can’t do the same when it comes to professional finance and accounting tasks.

Imagine his delight when after a little online research he discovered it can! It’s called intelligent robotic process automation, or Intelligent RPA.

Record, script, and forget

In a typical day, most users complete routine, time-consuming tasks that require minimal judgment. If these system tasks were removed from their daily or weekly routines, they would have more time to focus on more important matters.

Robotic process automation (RPA) provides an opportunity to automate such mundane activities. In an SAP system an RPA tool completes tasks as if a human is doing them.

There is no limitation. It can work anywhere – on SAP applications or any third party offering. In short, whatever is currently seen on any screen can be automated. So any redundant task that follows particular steps can be scripted and automated. It’s as simple as recording what you want to do once, and then letting RPA handle it.

Plenty of scope for RPA

As Joe discovered, there is no shortage of candidates for RPA within most organisations. Points to consider when exploring what tasks could be accomplished by RPA include:

  • Is the task routine? Can the task be performed automatically at regular intervals or after specific system events occur?
  • Is the task time-consuming? Does the user have to stay in the front of the system for several hours just to watch the task being completed?
  • Does the task require minimal inputs? Are there very limited variations of the task that can be defined and run automatically?
  • Is the task executed in the same manner as documented?
  • Is the volume of transactions high enough to justify the cost of an RPA implementation?

Of course, there can be other points to consider. But, generally speaking, if you can answer yes to the above questions, then the task in question is a candidate for RPA. It’s also an effective way to free up CFO’s like Joe and let them apply decades of hard-won experience to more productive pursuits.

Learn more about SAP iRPA


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