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The Management Accountant, a Top Digital Transformation Pro

The Management Accountant, a Top Digital Transformation Pro

At a time when so many different factors can impact a company's finances, management accountants must be integral to the senior decision-making process.

As business organizations face complex challenges, the skills and competencies of their finance professionals need to be up to the task. The traditional role of the accountant — someone who reports short-term financials — is no longer sufficient for a business world challenged by disruptive technology, the need for good storytelling, geopolitical risks, and emerging regulatory frameworks. But within the finance function, a role already exists which addresses, holistically, how numerous issues impact an organization’s sustainable business performance: the management accountant. It’s a role that is certain to expand in scope and importance in years to come.

With virtually every business decision being one that impacts the financial statements, management accountants influence the entire value of the organization. In addition to budgeting, forecasting, performance management, and internal control, management accountants exert influence on decisions involving strategy, operations, and technology.

Broadly, that is what a management accountant does. Organizations that don’t recognize the value of management accountants or don’t recruit the right talent for the role are facing a skills gap. They need professionals who can not only report the numbers but also offer new insights and “tell a story” about the data to move the organization forward.

So, what are the more specific capabilities that management accountants bring to their organizations, and what particular competencies, responsibilities, and functions do they entail?

Analysis – Finding the Reasons Why

Management accountants are analysts who can successfully determine what the numbers “mean” for the company and are always seeking discoveries in the data. They’re “data explorers” if you will, answering the standard questions of management but also delivering new insights through analytics and visualization. Those insights should be about the organization’s supply chain, including the cost of service, innovation, insights into consumer behavior. Management accountants today are increasingly expected to deliver insight and foresight. There is a distinct difference between a management accountant and the traditional “bean counter,” who is vulnerable to having his or her competencies performed by robotic process automation (RPA) systems. 

Planning – Building Informed Strategies

Management accountants use the competencies of budgeting and forecasting to help senior leaders make the best financial and business decisions. By working closely with CEOs and other executives, management accountants play an instrumental role in crafting and executing long-term strategy. The in-depth knowledge they bring to the table (and the boardroom) can mean the difference between success or failure for new initiatives, product and service launches, or expansion into new markets. In the 21st century, when so many different factors can impact an organization’s finances, management accountants must be integral to the senior decision-making process. In effect, they offer technical accounting depth with business operations breadth.

Leadership – From Planning to Execution

As leaders of an organization’s finance function, management accountants must be able to manage and lead teams successfully. Many management accountants are skilled at leading teams, monitoring their progress, and identifying which people are best for which jobs. These are all core skills that management accountants can be expected to perform. In addition, they can develop strategies and execute detailed plans, often across multiple departments and divisions of an organization. 

The management accountant sits at the intersection of finance, technology, analysis, strategy, and leadership, helping to determine what drives profits and losses rather than just reporting on them. He or she takes a step further than reporting, helping the C-Suite devise strategies for long-term growth and adaptation to changing markets.

A management accountant is an asset to an organization struggling to understand the best path to stability and growth or straining to translate lofty “big picture” goals into concrete financial and operational actions. For finance professionals who want to make a real impact on organizations, this is an ideal role. And for organizations in need of informed financial decision-making that directly influences sustainable business value and growth, the management accountant is essential.

If you aren’t willing to go all-in, then don’t put on your RPA swimsuit

RPA Reebot blog series in collaboration with Kieran Gilmurray

RPA can be complex and expensive. It is not the perfect tool for all occasions but then again no technology is. Automation isn’t a quick fix. It’s a journey. For real results, you need to do more than deploy software robots. Before any organisation jumps headfirst into #RPA there are many questions that need to be asked and answered.

What is your organisation’s digital transformation strategy?

RPA needs to be part of a clearly articulated business transformation strategy. Don’t blame your vendor for your lack of transformation planning, strategy or foresight. Organisations need to articulate clear business outcomes from the very beginning of any RPA infused digital transformation program. It’s ok not to have your strategy planned to the nth degree but do understand the transformation direction you are going upfront. Begin simply, but have a plan to rapidly move up the intelligent automation value chain (RPA, AI, Analytics, process mining, OCR, Chatbots etc) to digitally transform your organisation (i.e. adopt a crawl, walk, run approach).

“RPA requires buy-in from all levels of the business, but for it to be successful firmwide, it needs to start at the top. I’ve seen many examples of where the wrong stakeholder have been engaged from the start and this has led to a failure in getting traction on the automation journey“
Amyn Jaffer – Head of Intelligent Automation at Ultima

Is automation a strategic priority for your business with strong executive support?

If the answer is no; then stop here. Programs that don’t have a strong executive sponsor are far more likely to fail. Executive teams need to lead from the front and present this picture of a brighter augmented future to their employees from the start.

“Implementing RPA can be far and reaching in any business, from Execs to the colleagues on the ground completing the work the BOTs may be brought in to automate, everyone can be impacted. It’s very important to have Exec level sponsorship but it is equally as important to make sure the people on the ground are communicated to from the outset….very often it’s the people on the ground who play a huge part in teaching the BOTs“
Andrew Hartley – RPA Consultant

Do you want a fast, cheap and easy RPA digital program?

Well, you can’t have one. Don’t blame the vendor for you wanting fast, cheap and easy. Nothing that Kieran (in his 25 years) or myself (with my time in the space) have seen delivers results that are worthwhile and sustainable in the medium to long term that is cheap and fast. An automation program of reasonable scale will cost £250k in the first 6 months alone. Whatever your vendor tells you, implementing RPA correctly takes considerable time and money.

“A straightforward way to improve your probability of automation success is to have a selection of vendors automate the same process as part of a competitive PoC process. Each vendor should fully involve you in their POC. That way you can see exactly how things are done using their software. You or they can produce a video showing live software with customer sample data demonstrating exactly how the proposed automation will work to show others. This approach reduces your all round risk with the added bonus of a head start with the software you end up going with“
JD Wilson Jr – RPA Hyper Innovator

Has someone else in the company already looked at RPA?

Kieran explained that he has come across large UK retailers and banks who have simultaneous RPA pilots running with separate vendors due to the fact that the business functions had a history of not communicating with each other. Do complete a comprehensive RPA product review. Don’t just rely on the recommendations in analyst reports. Look beyond the top 3 vendors. Select an RPA toolset that best suits your organisation’s digital strategy otherwise your RPA program may struggle to deliver anything at all.

Do you fully understand what RPA can do and can’t do?

RPA won’t work in lots of situations. In fact, an API may be a better solution. RPA works when processes are pre-defined; structured; repetitive; easy to understand; digital; high volume; where data quality is excellent and there is a logical set of predefined steps to follow. RPA does not work well when innate human judgement is required.

“RPA works well for structured, well ordered processes. It does not work well when human cognition is required; nor should you use RPA when there is a ready made API available“.
Matthew Coffey – RPA Delivery Lead at Pearson

Have you done your due diligence and determined what RPA will deliver in terms of tangible benefits to your organisation?

Have you completed a business process review, costed RPA, completed a POC (a well-defined and delivered RPA program costs a lot of money e.g. a mid-sized firm would burn through a quarter of a million in 6 months) and found that real business returns will accrue? See this article on measures you might consider when building your RPA business case.

Are your IT team aligned, their resources allocated and are they openly willing to support you?

Have you got a plan for how you’ll build and support (a key facet of RPA programs) your RPA program for the next 3 years? If you don’t have your IT teams buy-in then you are going to struggle to create momentum for your RPA program. IT help is needed to create a stable, agile cloud environment (recommended if you want to grow in an agile fashion), roll out software, help with network access, support bot pcs and lots more besides. Rolling out and successfully supporting more than 25 robots is a tough challenge. Without the support of a fully bought in IT team, your program will struggle to survive.

Have you got a well-defined ‘hearts and minds’ communications program in place to clearly articulate how, what and who will benefit from intelligent automation?

Newspapers and online news sites are choc a bloc with stories of major job losses caused by robotics. Consequently, the people you need to both offer up, and work with you to automate processes, may not be as excited about an RPA program as you are. Your HR team should have a strategy in place that clearly articulates how your organisation will grow in an era of increasing automation.

RPA is not about talent replacement, it’s about talent augmentation. – not just about cost optimisation, it’s also about organisational transformation. – not about taking the robot out of the human, but bringing the human back inside the human”.
Shail Khiyara – RPA & Intelligent Automation Executive

Is your organisation in the middle of a transformation initiative already? Will you have enough time rich subject matter experts (SMEs) to help your intelligent automation program?

Considerable SME time is required in design thinking, development, documentation and agile ceremonies. Never underestimate or under-communicate the effort needed from your SME (and their team members who run the process day-to-day) to help you automate and support processes.

Is your organisation’s RPA program easy to set up, code and use?

Superior product usability can lead to quicker scalability, greater ease of deployment, higher levels of adoption, cheaper run, and build costs and lots more. If the RPA product and its configuration, build, run and administration of processes are not efficient or easy to understand then this will likely lead to higher run costs.

Is your organisation’s culture aligned?

A workforce culture that truly embraces change will provide a platform for you to succeed at anything. A siloed, broken culture, riven by personal interest will stop any program, technology or otherwise, in its tracks. Which is yours?

RPA can play a transformative role in automating processes within your organisation. However, if you don’t prepare properly, then RPA can become a sinkhole which swallows your resources and time.

What questions would you recommend organisations ask before they implement an RPA program?

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We’re moving from the Technology Era to the Human Era | RPA Tools

We’re moving from the Technology Era to the Human Era...

Most of us believe we’re living in an era of technology. Artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchains, and IoT are all here. They’re a given in our lives. But machines and technology are just tools whizzing through automated, repetitive, and standardized tasks. Though these amazing technological capabilities have become the norm, they are ushering in a new era where it is humans that make the key difference in enterprises, society, and the economy.

The old paradigm of technology

We’re all captivated by technological capability. Most of today’s executives believe technology is yet another must-have tool to acquire, and they’re closely watching what the competition is doing to keep up. However, the idea that implementing technology, adding software, or purchasing better data should simply follow a “plug-and-play” approach is misguided. That’s the old paradigm.

Technology isn’t enough

Merely adopting more technology isn’t enough to survive as a competitive enterprise. What most companies miss is that becoming a forward-thinking company requires us to become more human, not less. The success of becoming a leader in this new era doesn’t come from focusing on tech—but rather on people. Consider a recent statement by Nick Drake, senior vice president of Digital T-Mobile: “If you make [positive human experience] your primary metric, everything falls into place.”

Uniquely human strengths are needed to leverage technological computational powers. Today’s leaders need to understand how to hire the best talent and develop onboarding protocols that seamlessly absorb that talent into an innovative and inclusive culture. Successful leaders create a culture of innovation that brings the best from its people. They build trust in an organization’s AI systems by verifying and “looking under the hood” of algorithms. They create a symbiosis between people and technology that allows everyone to thrive.

Why leading tech companies are human-centric

This human-centric approach is exemplified by leading technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and LinkedIn. These companies understand they must transform the way they do business in a way that has nothing to do with technology. The issue isn’t whether machines will replace humans. It’s about how to create a business model in which machines and humans complement each other.

Machines expertly handle repetitive and automated tasks and will always be faster and more precise. However, uniquely human skills—creativity, innovation, adaptability, empathy, integrity, and imagination—are becoming increasingly imperative to an organization’s success.

These skills cannot be “outsourced” or “botsourced” to machines. These human skills are needed to bridge the gap between technology and people, and to utilize machines in the best way to serve customers, coworkers, suppliers, and stakeholders. Without a new business model, one that’s focused on cultivating human talent and authentic culture, the human element of the organization becomes an appendage to technology and quickly atrophies.

There are five broad maneuvers to undertake in making this transition:

  1. Broaden your organization’s focus. The first step is broadening the single-minded focus on financial performance to include intentionality and purpose. Yes, financial performance and shareholder value will always be important. The difference here is that creating human-centered, technology-powered organizations will drive financial performance.
    Having a purpose in society, one that’s beyond mere profit, is a critical element of success. Millennial talent tends to seek out work environments that are dedicated to a higher purpose. It’s hard to inspire a workforce to innovation, creativity, and engagement by dangling financial payoffs. The pursuit of profit does not inspire human flourishing, creativity, or authentic care. It will not suffice in this new era where greater human capabilities are needed.
  1. Articulate your purpose. Business leaders should be able to clearly articulate their company’s purpose in the world and act with integrity. This means conforming to principle and having fidelity to the truth. In the age of information, the truth feels ever harder to come by. We are swimming in data, and yet we don’t always know which way is up. Companies that tell the truth when there is a temptation to lie will be rewarded by the cultivation of public trust. Companies that lie will be prone to scandals and failed cover-ups. How leaders react, and whether they demonstrate integrity, will determine whether they get to keep their jobs.
  1. Move from contractual to meaningful relationships. The quality of engagement with stakeholders—your customers, employees, and suppliers—depends upon the commitment to form meaningful human connections.
    As machines and humans work to adapt in real-time to customer and environmental demands, agility and flexibility will be in high demand. This will require a shift from rigid, functional procedures to systems thinking, from silos to flexible organizational structures, from strict hierarchies to flatter organizations and cross-functional integrated teams. We cannot get caught up in official job titles. We simply need to perform as needed, playing to our individual strengths, responding to and communicating our real needs to each other in real-time.
  1. Create a virtual presence. Organizations also need to shift away from requiring a physical presence in a brick-and-mortar office environment to flexible, virtual options. If your goal is to enhance creativity and productivity in service of your company’s mission, then it’s antithetical to the business mission to require employees to routinely subject themselves to unpleasant work conditions. At least be willing to shift from traditional offices to work environments that promote comfort. What matters is performance, not being in a cubicle.
    If you only trust your staff to work when they are literally under direct supervision and surveillance in an office setting away from home, you have trust issues. Find other performance metrics so they can work wherever it suits them. Unless you are dealing in sensitive materials that require a controlled environment (anything from protected health information to hazardous substances), let your teams work from wherever. Or make your office better than anywhere else they might rather be.
    Eight-hour workdays in a physical office should be replaced with far more pleasant arrangements that support human collaborative relationships and flourishing. Let’s replace the dreaded Monday morning commute with something more humane, efficient, and productive. That means virtual presence, collaboration in both physical and virtual teams, and a work structure that promotes the best in people.
    Consider Google, which lets employees take naps and work at their own pace in a highly comfortable, aesthetically pleasing environment. Treat people like humans instead of commodities. You’ll be surprised at the results.
  1. Shift to aspirational metrics. The last step is a shift from traditional productivity measures to aspirational metrics that incentivize innovation and creativity. In order to encourage human workers to exercise those uniquely human skills (as more and more cognitive work is “botsourced”), we need to change our performance metrics. The old management adage “You cannot manage what you do not measure” needs to go. Managing human creativity, caring, emotional intelligence, ethical convictions, and innovation will require us to use different measures of performance, not just work hours performed or cost reductions achieved.

The idea that “technology will fix things” is misguided. Technology cannot fix bad processes, poor management practices, or failing employee morale. Without people, there is no innovation, no strategy, no connections with customers. The uniquely human skills of creativity, innovation, adaptability, empathy, integrity, and imagination are becoming increasingly critical to success, and these skills cannot be taken over by machines.

This new era is about empowering human flourishing, emotional connections, and authenticity.

It is the Human Era.

We just have to be ready.

The Psychological Impact of Robotic Process Automation

Humans Need To Play A Bigger Role

Psychological research proves that people are happiest at work when they’re most productive, and further, when they’re happy, employees are more willing to try harder to win, serve, and retain customers. In order for leaders to maximize the positive psychological impact of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), implementation, communication, and collaboration between the business and its employees is an absolute requirement. While the fear of losing their jobs could become a reality for some workersautomation will also spur on the growth of many new jobs including some entirely new job categories.

The largest transformation will be for those human workers that will be working side-by-side with "robots". This is exactly why organizations must prioritize: Re-training employees. This includes encouraging continued innovation and research, and at the same time, developing workers’ skill-sets to adapt to automation.

Operating computer-powered machines enables intellectual stimulation to spill over to more creative aspects of a business and that results in employees feeling good about their work. In turn, our customers are being better served. Happier employees always leads to better serviced customers. If employees are focused on routine and menial tasks, they’re going to give you maybe 50% effort. Empowering employee leads them to want to do more — that’s the biggest indicator of great leadership — they want to improve their relationship with the customer because psychologically, the machine has already taken their boring tasks away. Human workers will always be able to give consumers something machines cannot — empathy and compassion — we need both now more than ever.

The Importance of Communicating to Employees

It’s extremely critical to communicate to your employees exactly why the move to RPA is being made. It gives them a sense of belonging, instead of feeling isolated, to know how exactly it will interact with our strategy and also their career. If employees understand how RPA fits into your business strategy, the benefits that RPA brings, and what organizations plan to do with the jobs being transformed, organizations can manifest significant support. Failing to effectively engage with your employees at both a developmental level and at a communications level will result in a disjointed RPA initiative that is unable to meet the wider demands of digital transformation. Only by coordinating the RPA program effectively can organizations transform their workforce by enabling a better workforce experience.

Humans react emotionally to major changes, especially if it impacts their well-being. Failing to answer the question of: “What will happen to me?” will spark emotional resistance. Preparing for this psychological impact requires structured change management programs to be put in place. If this is done well, RPA will absolutely lead to more engaged employees. The motivation of employees, the constructive ambition needed to operate new system and be part of a new ecosystem, requires communication from both business and IT leaders. Frankly, if this is not how you are communicating to your employees now, I think you're in trouble.

The benefits of RPA include reducing manual errors, increasing efficiency, being able to augment human hours by operating 24/7, better employee engagement, and reduction of fraud, to name a few. Just like how the nail gun was a great automation tool for builders, it still requires humans to know where to place the nails. And just like a nail gun is one of the many tools in the builder’s toolbox, RPA is similarly one of the many tools that organizations should enlist and implement in order to meet their digital transformation efforts.

Organizations that have achieved scale in automation are those with a clear vision, strategy, and approach that includes both business and IT leaders. With the highly repetitive and rules-based tasks being automated, RPA enables firms to create digital workforces that execute repeatable process steps faster, accurately, and more cost-effectively than traditional human workers. With RPA taking over menial tasks, workers can focus on what matters to the business most. This is due to workers focusing on more face-to-face, customer-intensive tasks instead of inefficiently focusing on other menial tasks.

The convergence with Artificial Intelligence (AI) means that RPA is starting to evolve even further. Being powered by AI means it will be able to conduct intelligent searches even faster. In the grand scheme of things, RPA is still in its infancy, I think there’s a lot more convergence, especially with AI, that will happen in the future. Companies should be looking towards increasing budgets, which will increase costs and decrease profit in the short-term. That's called an investment. Over the course of just six months, most companies are seeing a positive return on their original investment, and that will continue to compound as time goes on. Ignoring this will mean you will lose. It will just be a matter of time.

As RPA matures, data quality will also improve. In other words, RPA enables organizations, with the help of other tools, to create a deeper profile of not only the customer, but also the employee. Most employees were expecting to be more engaged in their current role than they actually are, but studies show that businesses undertaking RPA to optimize their processes and increase efficiency, are already experiencing higher levels of engagement from their workers compared to those who are hanging on to the status quo.

It's an exciting time to be alive for a multitude of reasons and if you're particularly interested in business than this will be the most disruptive technology you have ever seen. Robotic Process Automation will create jobs that you never knew would exist and will eliminate the ones that include menial tasks that most don't enjoy now. The need for high emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, and being kind to others has never been more important. I know this might sound odd and may be contrarian, but I wholeheartedly believe that as RPA becomes adopted by more businesses, the more people will enjoy their careers and the more time they will spend interacting with humans rather than computer screens like today. Our jobs are going to become more humanistic than ever and that will all be due to the Automation Revolution.

-Jonathan Kogan