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DRIVING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IN 2020

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by Andrew Foster, VP Consulting EMEA, AppZen

 

As organisations adapt to dramatic changes in working practices, the need for digital transformation has increased dramatically. Many organisations have been forced to move quickly to virtualise and digitise, as 2020 has seen huge changes in how (and which) businesses operate in an increasingly uncertain economic landscape.

The current crisis presents many challenges but it also presents unique opportunities for business transformation. As Nobel prize winning economist Paul Romer once stated, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

 

Desire to adapt to new ways of working

As companies respond to new challenges, the way teams approach problems and the way they work together to provide business value can change for the better. Formerly disparate teams are now coming together to work on collaborative solutions to resolve current problems.

Today’s business climate presents an opportune time for finance teams to use digitisation to reduce the amount of time and effort they expend on manual processes, so that they can increase their focus on managing core business issues and making more strategic decisions.

In a time of such dramatic, forced change, many of the usual constraints to business evolution have been removed. Concerns about breaking out of comfort zones or making changes too quickly are gone as companies look to solve the clear and immediate challenges they are facing. Similarly, structural inhibitors – like teams working in silos, general inertia and inflexible processes – are being replaced with a renewed energy and a common desire to adapt quickly to new ways of working.

This year is proving to be a catalyst for important organisational changes. As savings become more crucial to company survival, the misalignment of resources across the financial function can no longer be ignored. Most businesses can benefit from digital transformation to help finance teams modernise and become more efficient, effective and resilient.

Finance is a business function that can be dramatically improved through automation and the use of intelligent software in decision making. It’s arguable that the finance function of the future is being born out of the current necessity.

 

Focus on fundamental shifts

As they adapt to new ways of working, finance teams should focus their transformation efforts in areas where they can make fundamental, long-term changes. This means accelerating existing digitisation programmes and picking up on existing industry trends that go beyond short-term firefighting efforts merely designed to get through the current challenges.

Within the financial function there is an increased need for agile forecasting and reporting processes that rely on live data, rather than extracts, spreadsheets and manual reports. Finance teams were already making this shift, but this year has seen a more urgent need for real-time metrics that reflect the evolution of a rapidly changing business environment. This shift in approach is likely to be permanent with no reversion after the crisis is over.

Another important trend has seen many offices shift to remote working, and finance teams have been driven away from the standard practice of gathering paper-based documents and receipts. The ability to apply AI to paper trail-based processes has simplified a once tedious operation, making room for lasting change.

 

Why finance processes are ideal for transformation

Many finance processes have three characteristics in common that AI is well suited to transform: they are based on paper trails, require contextual information and operate at high volume.

In finance departments there is traditionally a paper-based, unstructured information flow. Many companies are still dealing with largely manual processes that are very time consuming and error prone. AI can understand unstructured finance documents, like receipts, POs and contracts. Unlike general purpose OCR systems that make basic mistakes, like confusing a ‘$’ and an ‘S’ or a ‘£’ and a ‘6,’ finance focused AI is much more accurate.

There is also the need for contextual information from outside and inside the organisation. AI can enrich the paper trail with a lot more context. It can look at the entire history of expenses for duplicates, for example. It can compare prices, suppliers and individuals against publicly available information, like Google searches and proprietary company information.

Large volumes of paperwork make comprehensive manual work cost-prohibitive and prone to error. Unlike a team of people, AI never rests, and can scale infinitely. It can apply the same level of rigour to every document, meaning a much more thorough and accurate analysis is undertaken in a fraction of the time.

 

Fix the misalignment of resources and value

The misalignment of resources and value across financial functions makes transformation absolutely critical for success. Most of finance’s resources and time are traditionally spent performing transacting, record keeping, reporting, and compliance duties. While these activities are crucial to the business function, they do not drive enormous added value. By allocating so many resources to these activities, finance teams don’t have the bandwidth to spend on financial planning or strategic activities that would increase the value they provide to their organisations and contribute significantly to success.

By implementing AI driven systems, finance teams are rebalanced. They can focus more of their time on strategic finance initiatives rather than on manual and tedious tasks. As digital transformation programmes are accelerated, finance teams can look at making a more permanent change and realigning their focus to areas of the business where they can add the most value.

 

Finance

FOUR STEPS TO INTEGRATING INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION IN THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

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Marieke Saeij, CEO of Visma | Onguard

 

It’s clear that Intelligent Automation (IA) is still very much an emerging technology, with one indication being that is has only been mentioned a handful of times on Twitter since the beginning of 2021. Results from our latest annual FinTech Barometer reveal a mixed picture in terms of awareness, with half of finance professionals having never heard the term before. Whilst this is unsurprising for a technology concept very much in the ‘early adopters’ stage, organisations can stand to gain real benefits from embracing Intelligent Automation now, particular within the finance department. With this in mind, we explore some of these benefits and share a step-by-step best practice to implementing it into business operations.

 

Intelligent Automation ensures a predictable order-to-cash process

Such is the speed of introduction of new technologies that it’s a challenge for businesses to keep pace. As the newest innovation in finance, Intelligent Automation is one that organisations can’t afford to let pass by. It truly takes financial process automation to the next level. In addition to helping maintain a high-quality customer service, it also complements the existing skillset of finance professionals in the industry.

Marieke Saeij

While Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Big Data are key innovations for the sector, IA can be likened to an additional layer that enhances existing technologies. By combining applications, this layer is capable of independently assessing situations and determining the appropriate process sequence. It can, for example, fully determine the risk of a specific customer, and can also predict at an early stage which invoices will be paid late, or even not at all, ensuring that finance professionals can then plan accordingly. The result is a reliable and predictable order-to-cash process.

 

The four steps to an IA-proof organisation

While the benefits of IA are numerous, implementing the technology can prove complex, although some are already treading the IA path without knowing it. In this instance it’s crucial to become aware and begin the purposeful process to full integration. Below are the four key steps to becoming fully IA-proof.

  1. Exploring the potential: Brainstorm where automation can be applied

Step one is to examine the extent to which automation can help your organisation. Blue sky thinking is the key here. What is the ideal relationship with the customer? What does the ideal order-to-cash process look like? In this phase, involving multiple departments from within the organisation is key, from management to operations. The finance professionals who have the most contact with customers are likely to have the strongest knowledge of which processes they would like to see automated. With no limits to ideas, it’s best to explore all the opportunities in the entire order-to-cash process and describe broadly the potential value to the organisation.

 

  1. Decipher which data and technology is needed

The second step is to map out which data and technology is required. Working with a specialist, either external or from the internal IT department, is beneficial at this stage to see where the opportunities lie. In many cases, off-the-shelf solutions are already readily available to help make the difference, so it pays to do the research and gain advice where possible.

 

  1. Firm up the strategy

With the plan mapped out, it’s time to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Which technology and accompanying software is proving most valuable? It’s vital at this stage to analyse the results the organisation is achieving from deploying the right technology and software. It’s also important to outline any limitations and emphasising the potential risk of failure. This is the business case and the basis for the elevator pitch that will be presented to internal stakeholders.

 

  1. Draw up the roadmap and start benefitting from agility

The fourth and final step is prioritisation. The roadmap will describe step-by-step how to move from the undesired current situation to the desired end goal. In the first step, choosing a subproject that is relatively easy to achieve will help gain support from other departments within the business, and provide invaluable experience that can be applied to the more complex components that follow later. This agile approach facilitates a learn-by-doing mindset and allows the following steps to be tackled in a smarter and simpler way.

 

Effective preparation is half the battle

Exploring the potential of automation, mapping the required data and technology, establishing the strategy and laying out the roadmap are the four crucial steps to ensure the foundation for Intelligent Automation. Effective preparation and estimating which technology and accompanying software is needed will help to create a streamlined and error-free order-to-cash process. To ultimately save time and costs, empower finance professionals and maintain customer loyalty, the time for Intelligent Automation is now.

 

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READING BETWEEN THE BUZZWORDS: DISCOVERING THE POWER OF INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION?

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by Yad Jaura, Product Marketing Manager at Netcall 

 

The nature of automation means that new technologies, ideas and solutions are frequently developed and invented. New words and phrases are banded bandied around, with many similarities and discreet distinctions. A relatively recent buzzword in the business process transformation arena is Intelligent Automation.

Here I explain what is meant by intelligent automation. In doing so, I aim to unravel some of the terms that are intrinsically linked to automation and explain why intelligent automation can be so crucial for organisations in transforming business processes, fast.

 

So, what is intelligent automation exactly?

Put simply, it is the combination of multiple process automation technologies together into a single platform or solution. Those process automation technologies include low-code, robotic process automation (RPA), built-in workflow, integration platforms and intelligent business process management suites (IBPMS). Using any combination of these to automate business processes qualifies as intelligent automation.

 

And how is that different from hyper automation?

It’s very similar to be honest; they were created by the technology research analysts. Forrester coined the phrase intelligent automation, while Gartner came up with hyper automation. Essentially, they mean the same thing.

 

Define RPA and how that is a part of intelligent automation?

The simplest definition is that robotic process automation (RPA) focuses on automating repetitive and rules-based on-screen processes. Intelligent automation does the same job but in addition to using RPA techniques, it incorporates other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies (like machine learning, natural language processing, structured data interaction, intelligent document processing).

RPA when combined with Process as a Service technologies such as low-code can automate interactions with existing systems on a screen. In effect, what the robot is able to do is replicate the actions that a person takes when they are operating various different systems, and do those things automatically.

For example, opening a system, accessing some data, copying it, pasting it to another system, generating a report, emailing that report to someone. This is a process flow. And a robot can be instructed to replicate that exact process flow. It’s especially effective for repetitive and tedious tasks, the robot can take that activity and free your people to work on other more meaningful tasks.

 

Why is intelligent automation so important?

Releasing your people from the necessary but repetitive or high-volume tasks can open up endless possibilities. It’s extremely potent in a customer experience orientated environment because staff can use that freed-up time on activities that need more cognitive, imaginative and interpretive work and more complicated interactions with customers. It allows robots to perform the menial tasks freeing up people to concentrate on delivering a great experience for customers.

 

Can you trust a robot?

Yes. You have to select suitable tasks and you have to program it correctly. But you can absolutely trust that the robot will do EXACTLY the same process, with no deviation from what you asked it to do. RPA robots don’t make mistakes or stop for any breaks – for the right type of tasks, they are better suited to the work than humans are.

The analysts also believe that we need to put our trust in automation and software robots. I particularly liked this quote from a webinar we ran with Forrester in 2020:

“Every process within an organisation needs to be automated in software, or else be liable to failure, and the consequences of failure.”

I really like that, because for me, it provides a real-world definition of intelligent automation in practice. Intelligent automation is the automation of business processes at scale. Plus, the quote demonstrates where we are headed – the idea of automating everything in software, so that those processes can be operated from anywhere, at any time. It’s been proven in the last year, with lockdowns and restrictions, because processes are no longer reliant on people being in specific locations, with access to certain paper, machines etc in that location. Intelligent automation is really about process automation at scale, to address these issues.

 

If the potential is endless… will automation and robots take over everything?

People will always be needed in organisations. You need a human to build an RPA process – a robot can’t think of what is needed to build the set of tasks for another robot. Intelligent automation gives you the best of both worlds. Build faster, reliable processes that are virtually infallible. Use your people for the human interaction side of your business and for the planning, creative and intellectual responsibilities that only a human being has the ingenuity and talent to deliver.

Side by side, people and robots can develop highly competent, successful operations and deliver outstanding CX, every single time.

 

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