The finance function is under immense pressure right now. Financial executives must keep pace with rapid regulatory change and meet demands for faster, more individualized services from customers and business partners—all while managing the new economic and operational challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this environment, made even more complex by social distancing, innovative technologies can usher in new ways of working, meeting business requirements and satisfying customer needs. In fact, the current scenario may even act as a catalyst for many finance leaders to accelerate their digital transformation journeys, to operate efficiently as virtual workplaces and retain market share.
Analysis paralysis? Here are some pointers.
With all the noise related to digital transformation, it can be challenging to determine the right approach and technology for your needs. Sometimes, uncertainties and perceived risks can lead to hesitation.
However, as finance functions around the globe unlock more opportunities through increased digitization, you definitely don’t want your organization to be left behind.
To help you press ahead with clarity and confidence, here are five key points to consider:
1. Don’t search for a silver bullet
Finance organizations perform a broad range of processes, many of which are complex. Rather than simply looking at which tasks can be automated, it’s important to aim for end-to-end process digitization—and for this, there’s no single technology solution.
To tap into the true potential of process automation and optimization, you need a digital transformation strategy that combines several complementary technologies into one powerful portfolio that can fix process problems from multiple angles.
There’s an entire toolbox of technologies at your disposal, from robotic process automation (RPA) and digital process automation (DPA) to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). The practice of bringing these technologies together is called intelligent automation.
2. Leverage both artificial and human intelligence
A range of AI capabilities are now more accessible, thanks to advances in this broad technology field. Some subsets of AI that can be applied to finance processes include:
- Machine learning:
This gives algorithms the ability to identify patterns and make predictions without being explicitly configured to do so; and can, for example, be used to identify fraudulent transactions more precisely than conventional methods, helping to reduce false positives.
- Optical character recognition and natural language processing:
These abilities can work together to help RPA software robots read and extract meaning from unstructured content and organic language communications.
Because these tools mimic human cognitive abilities, you can create intelligent solutions that automate a much broader range of process components. However, human subject-matter expertise still plays a critical role in day-to-day operations—as does the (purely human) ability to make very agile decisions in the face of uncertainty
Ideally, AI and ML can be used to liberate skilled professionals from low-value, repetitive tasks so they can focus more time on high impact activities. Additionally, an intelligent process automation strategy can use AI-driven process models to streamline the flow of work between humans, RPA bots and line of business systems, to deliver revenue growth, enhance customer experience and lower operating costs.
3. Know what to automate
Many businesses struggle to discover, define and prioritize the most appropriate processes for automation. Historically, you may have relied on lengthy consulting and documentation to produce an understanding of current processes.
Fortunately, it’s now possible to rapidly discover and define processes using process mining or process extraction tools. These tools use AI and automation capabilities to analyze your processes based on event logs (i.e. the digital footprints left behind when work is carried out). This information can then be leveraged to audit, analyze and fine-tune existing approaches, as well as re-imagine more digital ways of working.
4. Map the road ahead
Once you have more lucidity on the technologies you’d like to deploy and the processes you need to improve, it’s essential to establish a clear digital transformation roadmap for your organization. This must be built on a holistic understanding of the outcomes you’re looking to achieve; and should ideally be structured in phases, so that you can take agile, incremental steps towards your goals while ensuring you are always moving in line with your vision.
This phased roadmap also requires a clear understanding of the technologies you will need; and at which phase these will be introduced. This will guide you on how to align resources, people and process changes around those technologies.
5. Aim for end-to-end digitization
You may think that you’ve optimized your processes through the introduction of digital front-ends, such as mobile, modern websites or voice. While these create powerful user experiences, it’s important to also look behind the scenes and optimize any processes behind the digital front-end that are manual and non-integrated.
Studies estimate that 70-80% of business processes are still manual, with documents often being shared via email. It is important to continue to digitize the full business process otherwise the customer front-end experience won’t measure up.
Translating intelligent automation into business value
With the right approaches and technologies in place, you can begin to realize the following business benefits.
Identify and remove bottlenecks
Process automation and process mining give you end-to-end visibility into all your processes, so you can identify more opportunities for transformation. This allows you to plan in multiple process fixes across your business, so you can improve productivity, reduce risk, and deliver a consistent and positive customer experience—even as conditions change.
Ease your regulatory compliance burden
Running processes digitally has many advantages for regulated industries and functions such as finance. When every process step is logged in your technology framework, you can effortlessly audit processes for inconsistencies and demonstrate compliance. Automating more processes also protects your firm against the risk of human error, which further supports your risk and compliance controls.
Power virtual and remote working
The current health crisis has accelerated the need for financial executives to ensure their organizations have the tools and policies in place to support both employees and customers remotely. Digital transformation through intelligent automation can drive this change, enabling businesses to swiftly replace manual tasks or paper forms with newer digital processes; and allow employees to focus on more strategic work.
The path ahead
Investing in technology to power new ways of working can take time and money. However, with a carefully planned approach and a smart combination of technologies, you can put your company in a position to respond more rapidly to change—and stay productive through uncertain times.
It’s important to note that large corporations aren’t the only entities that can benefit from the technologies that work together to power intelligent automation. Recent innovations have made many of these solutions suitable for mid-size companies, too.