Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is rapidly changing the accounting and finance operations, possibly faster than any other piece of modern technology. Many accounting professionals have realized the need for automation, but few know where to start. Many professionals even ask, what is RPA? Robotic Process Automation describes the use of software for automating specific types of human activities.

RPA software is geared towards automating mundane, repetitive, rule-based processes, enabling accounting staff to devote more time to serving clients and other higher-value work. RPA in accounting and finance is similar to Excel macros. The difference between previous legacy Excel automation and newer comprehensive automation solutions is that while macros are limited to Excel, RPA solutions can run across many accounting and financial systems.

RPA can be an effective solution in many areas of your business. It reduces processing times, minimizes entry errors, and lowers costs. When implementing in an accounting department, it is crucial that a detailed plan is developed, a complete team is assembled, and attention to detail is the focus of the project. By following the above steps, you can implement a process that will not only bring efficiency to the company but also employee satisfaction.

Why is RPA crucial for future success?

First, it can be used to decrease many of the tasks previously required by humans to perform in tax accounting, accounts payable, financial close, and numerous other functions. Many other industries have been able to say, “There’s an app for that!” The good news is Accounting and Finance staff can now say that about their areas of expertise, as there is a growing number of applications that can eliminate many of the copy/paste and transcribing tasks of data between different applications.

RPA in accounting is an increasingly popular solution for removing limitations of legacy and disparate systems found in many accounting departments, which has opened the door for increased operational efficiency and lower operational cost in areas that have been relatively untouched for many years. Here are five steps you should consider when incorporating RPA in your accounting department.

1. Identify manual processes

The first step requires the organization to identify the processes they want to automate. Almost all processes identified as potential RPA projects usually have a history of issues and can have a huge impact on both company efficiency and employee satisfaction. Prioritize the least complex process to convert first.

2. Document requirements and standards

Start with the end in mind. RPA solutions require that standards be established. When compiling your list, include your SMEs in all functional areas and make sure that all processes are identified. It is imperative that you identify all functionality and capabilities needed to be successful in the future. Also, this step provides an opportunity to critically scrutinize your process for anything that should be eliminated or consolidated.

3. Prepare the data

Since RPA is dependent on stable data, it is imperative that identification of any hurdles should be identified. Many times, data exists in different locations and/or formats which brings complexity to the process. It is recommended that you consolidate your data into a centralized data store, such as an enterprise data warehouse, that allows for creation of a consistent structure and format.

4. Design and implement a process

Start with designing a complete process map and highlight the critical areas you want to automate. The design should include specific instructions on what is expected from the RPA software and how the software will fit into the overall solution. During the development phase, establish project tollgates and team reviews. This will ensure that all departments and individuals are in sync and invested in the project. Finally, avoid hard-coding any external settings and provide methods of changing settings without requiring code changes.

5. Test the output

Before relying on your solution, compressive testing of the output should be completed. The reality is that most RPA scenarios are complicated and require attention to detail. As considered previously, the completeness of your data can play an enormous determination of success. Also, RPA development should not be an individual pursuit. In an ideal scenario, all members of the team should be part of the testing process. This means that the developer, the peer reviewer, and the business testers should all be different individuals.