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AI, cloud software and RPA: Building a ‘future perfect’ accountant

Preface: The Dawn of AI

Change is inevitable; it ushers in growth but at the same time creates uncertainty and anxiety too!

Not very long ago, robots and artificial intelligence were part of fiction and sci-fi movies. But today, modern science has made these technologies a reality. They have not only arrived, but they have also penetrated our lives and assist us in numerous ways.

An apprehension and negativity are surrounding these technovations. The major hurdle in accepting these innovative technologies in a positive and friendly manner is the image portrayed by movies, novels, TV, and media.

The technovations have been presented in a villainous role in the past. The perception, which is deep-rooted in the mind of the common people, is that AI and robots will usurp everything, disrupting normal life.

So is it a threat to the human race?

Let’s be logical. First of all, we are witnessing and adopting the initial phase of AI. It simply means that they are programmed by us to perform specific functions, like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. These technologies are helping us make our lives better and smoother and are no threat to humans.

Research, undoubtedly, is taking place to improve AI in a way that it imitates humans in every manner, even in reasoning and thinking. But to be wrought over a human-robot, anticipating an adverse impact is ridiculous, as these disruptions may take many more years to happen (if they ever happen).

Understanding the power that these exponential innovations can unleash in our lives, we can take the utmost benefit from them, exploiting them for our progress.

Automation and Businesses

When innovative technologies enter our lives, their use is not restricted to any one aspect. Humans are naturally eager to adopt and experiment with new inventions and technologies in every field where it can bring transformation and benefit us.

The advent of automation and artificial intelligence in business has transformed the entire landscape. While these disruptive technologies are being welcomed as thrilling and exciting forces that will propel businesses to greater heights, they are also seen as a threat to the workforce.

A survey conducted by Deloitte in 2015 to gain an insight into the scope of automation in the coming 10 years showed that more and more entities intended to adopt it soon.

The same survey threw more light on how these businesses intended to automate in the future.

More and more entities are embracing these disruptive technologies to modernize, improve and progress.

“Global investments in AI and Robotics are on the rise, thanks to their promise of cost-efficiency, agility, sustainability, and quick ROI.”

Future of Business: Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

In a survey of Management Events on Future of Business: Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, 1,021 decision-makers from top organizations in Europe were asked about their current and future AI strategic development initiatives and investments.

This was to know which AI technologies they were investing in and also what was the reason behind it.

The insights shared were not very surprising as it showed that Europe was investing greatly in:

  1. Robotic process automation
  2. Virtual assistant bots
  3. Machine learning

The expectations in doing this were:

  1. Cost efficiency
  2. Higher productivity
  3. Innovation.

Finance Accounting and Automation

When all businesses are undergoing a sea change, riding high on automation, then finance can’t remain immune or distanced.

Being a field which is traditional to the core, finance and accounting woke up to the call of AI or automated accounting software albeit, a little late.

The reluctance in embracing these disruptive technologies was mainly due to the apprehension that the robots were coming to replace them.

This, combined with their lack of understanding of how these automation techs will assist them instead of sidetracking them, also made them wary of these technologies.

But finally, finance is now shaking hands with these tools of change and introducing it in its day-to-day processes.

For an accounting team, remaining valuable means embracing the tools of the future including automation, the cloud, and artificial intelligence.

“Will Your Next Accountant Be A Robot?” Technology Innovation

Automation Partnership Benefits

Let us examine the major movers and shakers of automation in relation to the accounting industry.

Automation felicitates software in streamlining key accounting processes that are rule-based, repetitive and manual.

It ensures lots of benefits by taking the burden of mundane work off the shoulders of accounting personnel and leaving them with more time to analyze and redefine their roles.

Thus, automation is deployed to reap these benefits:

Benefit #1: Human interaction is mitigated

Benefit #2: Increases data integrity

Benefit #3: Minimizes the workload

Benefit #4: Saves time

Benefit #5: Empowers professional

Benefit #6: Adds more value

Benefit #7: Enhanced efficiency

Due to these benefits, automation is being welcomed by more and more firms and individuals. A very interesting study by Accenture “Finance 2020: Death by digital” has stated that by the year 2020, 40% of the accounting transactions will be automated.

Cloud Computing: Propelling Financial Businesses Higher

We’re at the base of a mountain of the revolution caused by cloud services and virtualization.

Daniel Burrus, Technology Futurist, Disruptive Innovation Expert

The automated cloud accounting software is an innovation that has already taken the industry by storm. Many accounting firms and individuals have deployed cloud-based applications and services.

The results are so encouraging that more and more CFOs are lured towards its implementation. According to a report by Accenture, 85% of companies wishing to invest in the cloud.

The cloud-based software helps in overcoming all the shortfalls of traditional accounting processes which are:

  1. Time-consuming
  2. Error-prone
  3. Monotonous
  4. Expensive
  5. Rigid
  6. Low accessibility
  7. Slow customer support

The popularity of business accounting software will keep growing with time. Eventually, it will overtake the conventional accounting system due to the myriad benefits that it provides – speed, accessibility, flexibility, cost-effectiveness, etc.

Automated cloud accounting software provides the convenience of storing all the financial data from various other cloud-based software. The entire data is stored at a single location and can be accessed by anyone authorized to do so from anywhere.

Furthermore, it gives the privilege of updating and managing everything in real-time. Along with these, it saves the botheration of backing up data too.

Even the small businesses are now thriving due to their smart move of deployment of high quality, low-cost cloud accounting software.

The statistics conclusively establishes that those who adopted cloud computing have benefitted the most.

  • 58 percent of large companies use cloud accounting ( Accounting Today)
  • Cloud computing reduces labor costs by 50 percent (Forbes)
  • By 2020, 78 percent of small businesses will rely solely on cloud technology (Accountancy Age)

Putting all things together, it is clear that by application of cloud-based software accountants will be empowered to accomplish their work more accurately.

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI): A True Partner of Accountants

“RPA is an effective cost and time enabler, complementing any digital transformation journey to streamline business processes, achieve profitability and maintain a competitive advantage,”- Ernst & Young.

AI is touted as the next generation business software, which is catching up with the fancy of CFOs in a big way.

It has already penetrated the accounting world through Robotic Process Automation (RPA)- software that combines machine learning capabilities and AI to automate rule-based processes.

Extensive research by Gartner on RPA provides valuable insights into this remarkable software. It indicates that RPA is being embraced by many finance leaders to reduce costs, improve compliance and structure more efficient teams.

In the coming year, it is supposed to take a big leap as projected by the findings of the research.

Looking into its cost-effectiveness, it demonstrates that:

All tasks are not a good fit for finance robotics. Therefore, it’s essential to identify the best use cases for it as there are currently about 50 such tasks that can benefit from it.

The Gartner research points out that accounting can come out as a big winner by joining hands with automation software tools.

There are no two views about the benefits that can be drawn in accounting services with the help of these automated tools. Ernst & Young, a global leader in financial advisory, commends the automation tools, like RPA, in their ability to enhance accounting services.

Implementation Is The Key

People and their relationship with technology, or more specifically, how they work with and apply technology in new and imaginative ways, will help define the new world of work.

Paul McDonald, Senior Executive Director, Robert Half

By now it has already been established that automation tools and software, like cloud accounting software, are capable of providing more efficiency, accuracy, value and save on costs.

But, to draw out the maximum of these tools one needs to know how to effectively leverage them, and this naturally means how well it is implemented.

Stressing on this, Capgemini’s advice to the businesses that are planning to adopt automation is, “As an organization that is constantly looking for opportunities to improve its processes, Capgemini understands the speed at which robotic automation can transform a business. However, it also understands that a lack of proper preparation before introducing robotics can lead to a start-and-stop implementation.”

Allaying The Fears Of Accountants

The biggest hurdle that lies in the successful implementation of these technologies is the apprehensions that professionals have developed due to the negative perception created without understanding its implications.

“Robots are coming!”. This phrase has been haunting professionals for a few years as they fear job loss due to these innovations. But they have failed to assess the real and practical side of these disruptive technovations.

So, is there a real threat to Accountants? Will Robo-accountants greet us in the future?

Certainly not! At least not for many years to come.

The reason for this is that automation software tools in accounting are taking over the menial and physical work, thus, in a way taking away the burden of repetitive jobs.

Software robots can be put to use effectively and efficiently in:

  • Tasks that face a high error rate.
  • Tasks that are data intensive.
  • Work that involves manual calculation.
  • Actions that have electric start and end-points.
  • Tasks that are repetitive.
  • Actions that require an electronic trigger.

The automation of such tasks frees the time of the accountants so that they can concentrate on higher thinking order tasks. This helps in adding value to their role as well as to their firm.

Professor Michael Davern, Professor of Accounting & Business Information Systems, at the University of Melbourne in Australia said, “Fears of RPA replacing workers are as unfounded as earlier concerns that computerized spreadsheets would replace accountants. RPA is about automating a task, not entire processes.”

Thus, the CFOs and leaders need to allay the apprehensions by educating and counselling their workforce in decoding the power that will be added to their role with the help of automation.

Accountants should embrace automation tools like AI, cloud accounting software or robotics and exploit them to their advantage.

There is little to fear the disruption!

Accenture in ‘Finance 2020’ observes the advantages drawn from automation, “Digital is killing your finance organization as you know it. But there is no reason to mourn the loss. Accenture analysis shows that by 2020, cross-functional integrated teams will deliver 80 percent of traditional finance services. Staff productivity will increase by two to three times. As a bonus, costs will decline by 40 percent.”

Accountants: Be Future Ready!

The change should never be seen as an intimidating factor; the necessity rather is to embrace it wholeheartedly. This is possible when accountants not only adopt the innovative automation tools and software but also adapt to it.

To be immune to change will result in shunning progression and that will be the death of any business. To be future-ready, the accountants have to comprehend that automation is a partner which will help them walk down the path of advancement.

Accountants need to redefine their role and upgrade their skills to add value to their role. Armed with these transformative tools, they will be able to welcome the next wave of automation in accounting.

Feon Ang, Vice President – Talent and Learning Solutions, expressed his views on how workers can remain relevant in the future. She said, “It’s important for companies to continue to invest in their people so that they are upskilling and reskilling their people to keep up with the roles that are in demand.”

Daniel Burrus, a technology futurist, disruptive innovation expert, and best-selling author sums up this relationship very beautifully, “That means humans will increasingly use AI to augment their thinking, as AI increasingly learns from humans.”

In a recent report, IBM pointed out that in the next 3 years, an estimated 120 million workers worldwide will need to be retrained to stay relevant in the face of automation.

Thus, it is clear that instead of fearing these changes, all workers related to accounting must seize this opportunity to upskill themselves and take full advantage of automation to create a niche for themselves.

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