The pandemic has had a profound and lasting impact on how work gets done, where work gets done, and the size of the workforce to get the work done. This is pervasive across all areas of an organization, from sales to manufacturing to R&D, and, in particular, finance. At the same time, some companies have invested significantly in intelligent automation in recent months, and the pace of change and adoption is accelerating rapidly. And that’s not likely a coincidence.

Scott Szalony

The demand for robotic process automation (RPA) is extremely high and for many finance teams already far beyond the stage of pioneers, early adopters, and first movers. According to a Deloitte 2020 survey, demand for RPA is growing: the number of organizations that have implemented more than 50 automations is at double figures. Moreover, just 13% of survey respondents revealed they are now operating automation at scale, while 78% have implemented RPA automations — a clear signal RPA has become the norm for business.

As seen through survey findings, companies that are not focused on investment in automation are in the minority. If you’re a laggard, you now have the opportunity to catch up; if you’re already well on your way, you have an opportunity to deepen capabilities. Consider the following: two‑thirds of survey respondents relied on automation to deal with the impact of COVID‑19, and one‑third accelerated their investment in cloud‑hosted automation as part of their pandemic response. Knowing that RPA is a working technology that many companies are embracing, it’s time to confidently act.

Valeriy Dokshukin

Here’s a breakdown of automation hierarchies and what business leaders should know about them.

Task-oriented RPA

To start, RPA is a software-based form of business process automation that mimics tasks. Task-oriented RPA is a foundational element of building out intelligent automation capabilities.

To enhance automation’s effectiveness, a human employee should have at least one digital worker to support them. This synergy can improve the overall value delivered from the foundational RPA stage up through the most advanced applications. The coexistence of humans, tasks, intelligence, and advanced automation is what the future of finance looks like.

Automation leaders should consider that digital transformation is more than technology adoption; it’s also about engaging, educating, and bringing the workforce through the entire process. Have your colleagues experienced first-hand the impact of automation on their roles?

The adoption of intelligent automation is human‑centered. Involving the workforce from the beginning in identifying, designing, or even developing automations helps onboard new, digital co‑workers.

Intelligent Automation

Organizations that have a well-implemented, task-oriented RPA base can build out their intelligent automation capabilities. To deliver end‑to‑end intelligent automation, organizations need to break down functional and process silos. They  also need to augment business processes through an effective combination of complementary tools and technologies. Our survey respondents reported that 49% of their automations require eliminating, simplifying, or standardizing processes.

To deliver the best outcome for an intelligent automation strategy, it is essential to understand the potential value that can be achieved through a range of process optimization techniques. More than one-half (58%) of organizations we surveyed said that they are using lean automation to change processes, a methodology that increases process efficiency by eliminating non‑value‑adding activities.

When combined with task‑based automation, this methodology offers quick benefits, such as redeploying people away from low‑value activities or creating additional capacity in end-to-end processes.

Cognitive Automation

Finally, organizations ahead of the curve looking to support an advanced finance function can focus on combining human work with artificial intelligence to form “super teams.” These incorporate the use of additional technologies such as cloud automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and purpose-built tools, which in turn create an ecosystem that takes automation to the next level.

Super jobs combine the elements of work and responsibilities of multiple traditional jobs, using advanced technology to (1) augment and broaden the scope of value being delivered and (2) engage a more complex set of domains, and technical and human skills.

Over the next three years, survey respondents expected that they will have to retrain 34% of their workforce because their roles have sufficiently changed from automation. The retraining will be worth it: Intelligent and cognitive automation will create competitive advantages for organizations looking to adapt digitally to the post-COVID world.

Scott Szalony is an audit and assurance partner and a leader of Deloitte’s digital controllership and finance transformation support service offering. Valeriy Dokshukin is a Deloitte risk and financial advisory principal and the Deloitte risk and financial advisory leader in digital controllership, reporting platforms, and intelligent automation.

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