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The secret to less copying and pasting – Robotic Process Automation

GettyImages-459689741Remember the last time you copied information from one system and put it into another? Wasn’t that three hours of Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V fun? It wasn’t? Sounds like you might want to look at robotic process automation (RPA) then.

The name is long and slightly intimidating, but the actual use of RPA isn’t. Despite the name, the technology is accessible and easily integrated into your existing platforms. It increases efficiency and reduces mistakes. This means you can be more productive and can spend more time using your higher-value skills like data analysis.

So how can you get started using RPA?

First, identify areas in your practice where automation makes the most sense. Generally, a process is suitable for RPA if it’s repetitive, rules-based and a swivel chair skill (taking data from one system and putting it into another). Some good starting places include accounts payable, accounts receivable and bank reconciliations.

For example, RPA software can extract sales listings, import that information into an Excel file, calculate total sales and compare it to a trial balance – all in a matter of seconds. You can use the technology to capture information from PDFs – such as mailing addresses, credit card numbers and due dates – and automatically update your databases. RPA can also automatically pay invoices that come in every month from the same vendors. You could even use it in human resources to assist with staff on-boarding.

Once you’ve identified the areas where RPA makes the most sense in your firm, you’ll need to invest in the technology. Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and UI path are some of the more well-known RPA software providers, but there are dozens to choose from. Analyze as many vendors as you can to make sure the one you pick best aligns with your RPA goals. And if you still need to convince decision-makers in your organization to make the investment, run a demonstration where RPA software competes against a group of humans to complete a task. Spoiler alert: the RPA software is going to win every time. Most software providers will happily coordinate such a demonstration for your leadership.

Finally, make sure everyone in your firm understands what’s going on. Just as email wouldn’t be a very effective communications tool if only a few people in your office knew about it, you’re not going to reap the most benefits from RPA if only certain teams are aware of its existence. Get your staff trained on what the technology will do, and how staff can best take advantage of it.

Robotic process automation completes repetitive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans, freeing you up to perform higher-level data analysis so you can help your client make better decisions. And if you aren’t using the software soon, you’ll quickly find yourself playing catch-up. Ready to take a deeper dive? Check out our Facebook Live video “Robotics in your accounting practice” or our RPA learning series.

Lindsay N. Patterson, CAE, Senior Manager – Communications and Public Relations, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants 

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