Q1. What are some of the potential applications of RPA to automate accounting processes?
Accounting and finance have many RPA applications due to the huge-volume and very structured business processes, for compliance and consistency reasons. This makes room for potential RPA assistance which can bring more value than the cost of automation implementation. Here are some examples -
KYC - instead of visiting various websites to perform background checks on a huge number of new customers, RPA can help compile the information needed and put it nicely as a spreadsheet for an accountant to make decisions.
Client Engagement - instead of printing PDF reports and sending email updates to 100 clients, RPA can be used to create 100 email drafts with the PDF reports, so that the accountant only needs to verify the email drafts and click send.
Tax Portal Processes - instead of going through tax web portal to perform certain checks on behalf of many clients, RPA can be used to automate the logging in and filtering through official tax letters using OCR, to determine the type of actions to be perform for each client.
Q2. How does RPA software work?
RPA software works by interacting natively with the UI (user interfaces) of software applications running on users' computers. That means RPA software 'talks' natively to other applications such as web browsers, desktop applications, command terminals and so on.
By mapping the sequence of actions (and decision-making logic) to be taken by a user for a particular business workflow, work processes can potentially be automated by RPA software to be done repetitively base on different inputs, conditions and event triggers.
Q3. What resources do businesses need to get started with RPA software?
Most RPA implementations involve working with consulting firms to assess, map, design, deploy and maintain RPA robots, before finally handing over to the businesses to manage. This path is costly but it may be the only way if there is little or no internal IT team with RPA capability. Note that successful RPA implementations are usually driven from top management, owned by business side and supported by IT.
Alternatively, there are basic versions of commercial RPA software such as RPA Express by WorkFusion, or open-source RPA software such as TagUI by AI Singapore. Since these software are free and there are documentations plus videos online, IT teams can invest time to pick them up, before trying to implement these tools internally for their business process owners.
Q4. What are the potential benefits for SMEs and accounting firms of using RPA?
Ultimately bringing better value to customers. Specifically - improve accuracy by reducing manual data entry errors, increase pace of executing business processes, relieving staff from mundane repetitive work to focus on higher-value decision-making or analytical work, increase business productivity when human limits are the bottlenecks (RPA robots can work 24/7 and are scalable by running multiple instances in parallel). The potential benefits can be great for the appropriate business workflows (provided sufficient resources are dedicated and the appropriate RPA software or mix of software is chosen).
The potential downsides would be results failing to meet unrealistic expectations, high costs of implementations with little return in ROI, which can happen when service providers oversell RPA as a solution for making profits instead of providing apt solutions which may be simpler and cheaper to implement.
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