Strategy

From Spreadsheet Jockey to Strategist, Bean Counter to Analyst: How RPA Is Transforming the Role of the Modern Accountant

RPA is transforming the role of the modern accountant by automating the tedious manual work, so they can focus on the real work of accounting — such as strategy and analysis.

For the already overworked finance function, after completing the repetitive tasks of data entry and aggregation, there’s little to no time for the real work of accounting — such as strategy and analysis.

Yet the solution isn’t hiring more accountants or increasing the budget for temporary workers during the close. Vanguard organizations know there’s a smarter, more scalable way to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of business.

Instead of expecting skilled, highly trained accountants to do the tedious manual work, these organizations are turning to robotic process automation (RPA).

The Benefits of RPA for the Finance Function

At its core, RPA is the use of software to execute routine, rules-based workflows. When considered specific to the finance function, RPA is a crucial tool designed to free accountants from repetitive, low-skill tasks by outsourcing the boring work of finance to smart automation.

With RPA, accountants can use technology to eliminate repetitive data entry, increase efficiency and accuracy, and fulfill a more strategy-driven, not spreadsheet-driven, role in the modern organization.

RPA also ensures organizations can:

Practice lean management. RPA aligns with lean management practices by eliminating four recognized key areas of waste: waiting, transportation, over-processing, and errors.

Evolve toward a Continuous Accounting practice. Through automation, RPA enables the finance workload to be distributed continuously over the month. This not only eliminates bottlenecks and reduces departmental stress but also enables organizations to create a real-time, more accurate picture of the data—day to day, instead of month to month.

According to CFO.com, 40% of transactional accounting work will be automated by 2020. Organizations leading this evolution—those incorporating RPA into key processes—will have 75% more time to focus on meaningful accounting work, such as predictive analytics and strategy, which will enable them to keep their competitive advantage.

Access better business intelligence. The demand for business intelligence has increased, and the amount of data available has grown exponentially. RPA can aggregate and analyze Big Data from multiple sources far faster than a human being.

As a result, organizations have access to not just real-time data but more complete, accurate business insight and intelligence. However, RPA can’t do everything.

The Truth About RPA

While Robotic Process Automation may seem like the most sensible, finance-function transforming invention since the abacus, it’s not yet as popular as it could be—and should be. But with 43% of executives planning on investing in RPA technology over the next two years, its popularity is gaining.

However, it’s important to fully understand this new technology before investing in it.

Misunderstood Aspects of RPA:

RPA is not a cure-all. It was not meant to be a panacea but a localized solution, like a bandage, to rules-based problems facing today’s finance departments. RPA should be considered as one of the tools in F&A’s large toolkit, and humans are needed to decide which tools are appropriate to leverage, and when.

Robots need people. Finance departments need robots if they’re going to stay current, and they need exceptional accountants if they’re going to be competitive. The truth is, a purely digital workplace (which has now been feared for over 60 years) is simply not possible.

In the 1957 movie “Desk Set”, Katherine Hepburn’s character fears for her job when Spencer Tracy shows up to bring automation to her department. And the same reassurances that Tracy gave Hepburn are true today: technology is here to help accountants, not replace them.

What is sometimes forgotten is that RPA needs people, and not just for the initial process mapping. All software requires upgrades, and despite the amazing progress we’ve made, technology still has glitches.

RPA is part of a larger picture. RPA can increase efficiency, reduce errors, and improve access to real-time intelligence. However, to be successful, it’s essential to have an end-to-end view of desired outcomes when looking to implement this technology.

What RPA Means for Accountants

RPA is an investment in accountants and the workforce because it allows staff to focus on added-value knowledge work. Instead of wasting staff resources by entering data and comparing cells from discrete databases, RPA takes over those tasks, allowing the finance function to increase its people ROI by having accountants do the work that interests them.

Robotic Process Automation enables the finance function to add more value to the entire organization, beyond entering, aggregating, and reporting on data. It is the also the key to the evolution of the exceptional accountant, from bean counter to analyst, spreadsheet jockey to strategist.

By increasing efficiency, RPA not only ensures a better use of existing resources but enables the finance function to access real-time business intelligence. Because accountants aren’t spending most of the week entering, aggregating, and checking data, they finally have time to deploy their skills in service of the big picture.

RPA platforms also improve accuracy, thus enabling accountants to have more confidence in the numbers, as well as provide the kind of continuous analysis and insight that affect the big picture—and the bottom line.

BlackLine helps companies modernize accounting operations with intelligent automation, ensuring more accurate and insightful financial statements and a more efficient financial close. More than 1,800 companies around the world trust BlackLine to ensure balance sheet integrity and confidence in their financial statements.