RPA: hype, or holy grail?

Feb 19, 2020


With robotic process automation (RPA) set to be nearly universal within the next five years, accountants – and the accountancy profession – must be prepared for a change that will revolutionise the sector.

Firms often push more administration onto their staff to stay competitive. And this is where new technologies, such as RPA, can help: by automating repetitive and rules-based tasks, employees can spend more time on value-add activities that differentiate accountants from other roles and create a pipeline of much more dynamic business leaders.

Accountants are natural leaders in finance functions and tend to migrate towards leadership positions. With the right automation tools, they will be placed higher in the value chain in terms of their skills mix and ability to bring insights back to the business. The ultimate cost of not automating the drudgery is often attrition. At a minimum, the staff covering the day-to-day operations will be unable to get their head above water to analyse the data and contribute to meaningful, insight-driven decisions.

After all, accountants do a great deal of work that isn’t accountancy; it’s picking data from different sources, pasting it into spreadsheets, creating sets of tables and gathering data from other sources. There’s a big future for automation in accounting – enabling improved accuracy and customer experience, as well as creating more billable hours.

The next generation of technologies is exciting, but it can be daunting – particularly for smaller companies – to consider embracing artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) or RPA. Companies need an outcome-focused solution; one that is compatible with existing IT infrastructure and can deliver immediate return on investment.

In an accountancy context, RPA can improve productivity, drive down costs and streamline compliance, thus ensuring that Irish operations are lean and add value. 59% of accounting and finance leaders believe that RPA will make their business more competitive over the next two years, highlighting the scope of the technology in the accountancy profession.

The need for automation will be particularly prevalent in the coming years given the widening sector skill gap, according to a recent survey of accounting and finance professionals. 62% of respondents report a ‘significant’ skills gap within the industry, up from 51% in 2016. While skills like accuracy remain important for accountants, technology like RPA will enable accountants to outsource accuracy and effectively create time to become more consultative and add value for clients.

After all, accountants’ time and skill shouldn’t be tied up in cutting and pasting and pivoting data in a spreadsheet; it should be spent on meaningful analysis and making better decisions. In this way, RPA will help open up a field of accountancy that doesn’t exist now.

Siobhan Ryan is Sales Director, Ireland at UiPath.