What is RPA and what does it mean for the OTC process?


Having more information at our disposal means that we’re able to make better business decisions. But there’s another outcome we’re discovering as well: As data grows, business processes multiply and expand. That’s because more data enables organizations to track, measure, report and audit more business facets than ever. And often, that added work includes mind-numbingly simple steps that have to be repeated over and over.

This is exactly the kind of work that can be handled by a rapidly maturing branch of artificial intelligence known as robotic process automation (RPA). RPA isn’t an army of machines poised to toss office workers from their cubes, although it sounds kind of like that. Instead, RPA is a software-based solution that’s like a smart fast-forward button. It eliminates repetitive tasks in a process so employees can focus on the parts that are more interesting and value-added.

There are many generic activities that can be managed across the enterprise and automated thru RPA. For example, RPA can receive, interpret and process email communications that include transaction information. It can take over the task of consolidating information used the generate a growing number of regulatory reports. It can enter data in multiple systems simultaneously or manage simple review and approval processes.

Opportunities in finance and insurance are especially well suited to RPA. A McKinsey study found that even though finance requires a high degree of human judgement, about half of the time spent by employees in these sectors is devoted to collecting and processing data that has a high potential for automation.

A good example in finance where RPA makes sense is in order-to-cash (OTC), especially the many manual, clerical – yet critical – tasks that occur every day in activities such as document processing, managing pricing details, applying promotional offers and more. These clerical tasks can create bottlenecks across the entire range of OTC processes, and automation can help ease them. Also, RPA can automate and execute credit checks throughout the process, promote standardization across market segments and geographies, and even improve operational metrics to better meet service level agreements.

In other areas, RPA can also be employed to post invoices that score a three-way match between the purchase order, invoice and goods receipt. Combining RPA with intelligent workflows makes the procure-to-pay process faster and more efficient and reduces the need for direct employee intervention. RPA-driven processes also improve the consistency, quality and availability of information. Consider the task of today’s treasurer who must make fast decisions to ensure optimal liquidity levels—the kind of reliable, real-time data available from RPA-enabled processes is a valuable resource.

While a lot of media attention focuses on the potential downside of automation, workers are welcoming the arrival of RPA to help them stem the rising tide of tasks a human would regard as busywork. Investments in back office staffing haven’t kept up with the growing levels of work both inside and out the company. Growing companies generate a higher volume of invoices to process, remittance advices and reports. Meanwhile, regulators are asking for a growing number of reports on capital, liquidity and other measures. Much of the work associated with these new requirements can be automated. RPA helps lessen the burden on the existing staff while allowing them to focus their time on more interesting and strategic tasks or providing more personalized responses to customers.

Dale-Coyner-headshotDale Coyner is a freelance technology writer based in Fort Myers, Florida. He writes about emerging technologies, digital transformation trends and best practices that can help companies improve their business outcomes.

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