The term “Automation” was first coined in the automobile industry during 1946 to describe the increased use of automatic devices and controls in mechanized production lines. The word came from D.S. Harder, an engineering manager working at the Ford Motor Company then. Automation or control (automatic), is the using various systems of controls for equipment operating such as on machines, with various processes, network switching, and other applications reduced human intervention.
A report of McKinsey Global Institute mentions, “We estimate that between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by automation and need to find new jobs by 2030 globally, based on our most rapid report of automation adoption scenarios.” The report also says that the demand for professionals (accounting & finance) in India will drastically come down to about 46% of the demand now.
Is Automating the Processes Really Important?
No, but we will surely end up paying the cost for not automating it, which maybe by losing our jobs, maybe losing certain work assignments. It is not like if we don’t automate, others too won’t. But it is like everyone will be bound to automate processes and tasks after a certain period of time. And let us all not forget that the pandemic of COVID-19 has taught us a lot in these terms that we all are now dependent on technology in all spheres of our life be it personal or professional meetings, work, collaboration, be it any task, activity or process, everything has now become online, on the cloud for us and gradually with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), our tasks and processes will be automated soon, too.
There are various AI frameworks and tools already in the market viz. AWS, AI-ONE, Deeplearning4j, Azure, PyTorch, UiPath, etc. These tools not only do help us with to automate our tasks, activities, and processes but also help us interact with our clients, business partners, customers, team members, and literally everyone using the chatbots and related tools.
Earlier the world was focused on humans to learn and to plan and then to execute the tasks given and now it is for the machines to go through the same. Machine learning is an AI application that supports the systems to automatically learn and improve from experience without being specifically programmed for it. Machine learning focuses on the access of data and using it to learn for themselves through the development of computer programs.
The concept of robots is not new as the first autonomous robots were created by William Grey Walter in the history of automation in 1948. These two ‘tortoises’ were: Elmer and Elsie. These robots found find their way around obstacles without human intervention by following the light and making use of a bump sensor. The success in the interaction of these light and touch inputs enabled robots to work, also helped us to understand our own nervous system better. Alan Turing in 1950 formulated and designed a way to measure the ‘intelligence’ of a machine, which tested the thinking ability of a machine. The above test is famously known as The Turing Test and is in use still today.
Business Process Automation or BPA
Business Process Automation or BPA (recently becoming known as robotic process automation or RPA) is becoming more refined, efficient, and turning out to be productive. Today, automation software has become a necessity rather than a luxury. Its widespread use is optimising employee time and work, and leading to enormous resource and time-saving. We experience AI & automation in our daily routine activities too, be it on Twitter, in emails, in our video games, and so on. We have AI assistants in our phones, in our cars, and in our homes. Siri doesn’t always give us the answer, Alexa occasionally makes mistakes in hearing us. Recently in 2016, we saw the failure that was of Microsoft’s Tay. But despite these shortfalls and failures, AI and automation are more versatile now than ever before. And they’re developing and improving by the day.
What is BPA?
BPA automates business processes – either simple tasks or multi-layered workflows and domains. You might have heard it called robotic process automation, which refers to the notion of “software bots” or implies AI input which in short catalyses the activities and processes. Either way, the automation of business processes typically involves an automation platform, design and flow, formulae and syntax, multiple system integrations, and a series of conditional processing rules (If this happens, then do that).
How Will BPA be of Use to Us at Business?
BPA is useful for activities and process, big and small. First, it can take monotonous, mundane, or repetitive tasks on hand and help us save our time there. But it’s also capable of handling complex tasks and orchestrating larger workflows (i.e., ones that involve a series of steps and actions across multiple applications) and don’t be surprised if it does it wonderfully. In fact, one of the best things about automation software is that it is so flexible and customisable and also can be programmed accordingly. BPA is not an out of the box solution at all. It’s more of a personalized platform that you control. You develop a structure and set rules for the software to follow, and you design workflows to cover the tasks you want to automate. Then, BPA does its work. This means that BPA can help you with any particular area or all areas of your business, from customer management to sales processes to IT workflows to accounting and bookkeeping and various other tasks and processes. It’s really up to us. So, automation will do whatever you need it to do so that you can save time and resources and use them to focus on the more challenging and higher value tasks.
RPA in Use
RPA is also said to as a system to manage data of transactions flowing from a myriad of systems and applications related to IT. At several large multinational companies, automation is fully in process, in the accounting and finance departments assisting accountants finance executives in the analysis of their company. Most of the automation in finance is deployed in cash applications and invoice creation for international orders to cash and in various other tasks too. Director of Finance, Bob Kurpershoek, at NBC Universal says: “The volume of our transactions is high, and the processes are quite standardized. Therefore the combination of these two makes the return on investment of putting a robot in place very positive.
When Will Accounting be Automated?
Accounting is being automated right now. Software like Accounting Seed, Automation Anywhere, Auto Entry, etc are leading the way in delivering accurate, streamlined financial management and access to real-time data to make better decisions faster. Does this eliminate the human factor? Will accountants be replaced by robots? Not at all. Automated accounting software simply helps businesses and financial professionals to get automated yet customized reports and being more productive in lesser time and then to save the time of the executives and human resources to do their job more efficiently.
We’ve come a long way and have had a lot of changes in the accounting and bookkeeping domain. The creation of the double-entry bookkeeping was probably the last innovation in accounting. That was over 500 years ago! Now is the age of automation, and, accounting is at the forefront. Accounting automation focuses on the lifecycle of entire accounting, not just one part of financial management but everything related to which means that the entire process of accounting, the capturing, manipulating, and interpreting of data (transactions), is done by software, with less dependence on manual transactional entries by people
How should we determine what type of automation is best for us?
There’s no right answer to this! Firstly, the companies range in size, in terms of both revenue and budget matters. This means that even a company with significant revenue might not have the budget or need for accounting automation. Secondly, companies span many different industries usually which means that accounting processes can be specialized based on the core operations of a business, and therefore require different capabilities.
The Way Forward & What Next?
The automation history, despite a few obstacles along its way, has seen a lot of success in a short period. It continues to grow and evolve even today, providing us with more creative and innovation-based solutions, interactive AI, and assists in unraveling the secrets of the universe. It’s impossible to know if the science fiction writers wrote right about a robot rebellion in the future and we will only come to know this in the near future and the years to come. What’s clear is that the future looks to be automated, gradually but fully. The current and future tech is really exciting, we should not forget the history of automation or the work that it has taken to get us where we are today which has really proved to be of very much use and productiveness to us.
Automation is on a rise in across all the industries and in all the parts of the world. We can see them in customer experience, product development, manufacturing and operations, and other processes and departments too. They’re on the job in legal and HR and now gradually into finance and accounts as well. In our motive of improving efficiency, being more productive without, and of course sacrificing quality, automation is a new suite of technology tools you can put to work. As organizations look to continue with their automation journey in the digital world (referring to the human-driven process vs RPA image above taken from a report of ACCA Global), here are some steps to consider as prescribed by ACCA Global in their report: Learn more; Build a list of opportunities; Identify pilot possibilities; Pilot projects; Scale that works. So, let us all Start now; Explore; Learn; Invest, have an automated environment in place, and Focus on our core tasks!
Chartered Accountant, Trainer and Mentor
Owner and Proprietor at Karan Chandwani & Co.