If you Google “RPA” or robotic process automation, the subsequent search results offer a myriad of theoretical cases and a lot of technical jargon, which can be a bit overwhelming. So let’s move beyond the technical explanations of how RPA works and instead examine some best practices based on real-life applications of this technology.
The company in this example is a global organization with extensive operations across Latin America with multiple entities including manufacturing and distribution businesses. Initially, the majority of their finance and accounting processes, such as bank reconciliations for hundreds of bank accounts, were being run manually using MS Excel and then posted into the ERP. There were also a lot of team members located in the countries running the processes for a number of legal entities, many of which involved a diverse range of currencies. All of these high-value and high-volume transactions were processed using PDF-based statements, sent via email, and left to the human eye for final data validation. In short, copy and paste was the norm for day-to-day operations.
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too familiar in many global enterprises. However, addressing the problem doesn’t need to be complicated, particularly if you focus your goals on three key areas:
The approach should focus on an end-to-end, automated process that follows these steps:
Step #1 – Documentation
Ensure that every step in the process is properly documented and updated in writing. Generally speaking, it is a bad idea to implement automation of any kind until the activities involved are written out in black-and-white so that anyone involved in both setting up and programing the robots can understand them. This includes the IT team that designs and tests each robot. Among the many positive side effects of well-prepared documentation are dramatic reductions in human error, increased standardization, higher quality results, and less human dependency.
Step #2 – Interfaces
Confirm that all online, external interfaces are available for each country and bank involved. One of the most demanding and complex steps we encounter is setting up online-direct access for each bank branch, some of which can be small banks in very remote locations with low connectivity services. In some instances, you may need to set up specific service contracts or special agreements to allow local bank operations to meet new connectivity requirements.
Step #3 – Automation
During this phase, IT savvies come into play to help select the most suitable technology for automation, choosing from multiple options in the market right now. Finance professionals are not expected to be familiar with all the robot options and providers available, or all the technical pros and cons of each alternative. These decisions are left to the technical team, who will develop and program the robots based on each step of the procedure as outlined in the above first step. Sometimes, you may need a robot for each one of your accounts. I once had the experience of a case where I was challenged by an outdated thought process: “The same bank = the same template = the same data structure…so why do we need more robots?” Well, we found some regional and global banks in the area that did not have the same template and structure for all accounts. This is caused by non-standardized templates for system integration issues, a problem often attributed to local regulations, acquisitions, and mergers in progress.
Step #4 – Lab Testing
Testing is critical and must be done in a way that considers all possible scenarios and operational environments. This includes conditions such as missing data from statements or errors in figures. We know that data transfer is not exempt from failure, so it’s important to be prepared to face potential mistakes. Also, volume peaks during certain seasons need to be considered when testing in the lab phase. Lab testing should be expected to last several weeks rather than a few days or batches: it is the only way to both verify quality and test for a solid performance. Until a robot is tested in the lab, the technicians maintain control and responsibility for quality and performance. Consequently, the Operations/Processing team will not be involved until this phase is complete.
Step #5 -Parallel Testing
Once a robot passes the IT lab tests, it is time to bring it to life. This is when the operational/delivery people get involved if you are partnering with a BPO provider. They will test the new robots to ensure they work properly in real life. Running a parallel process for two weeks or more is highly recommended at this stage and it may require some re-programming and re-testing until quality is assured with no errors. This step is where you should expect to face some resistance to change from your team.
Step #6 – Maintenance
At this point, a team of technical people should be dedicated to keeping an eye on the process and running periodic performance checks to determine when the robot needs maintenance. As with any other software component, this is a necessary task to obtain the highest quality results. Given the rapidly evolving advances in RPA technology, the maintenance phase is a good time to consider software upgrades or patching as necessary to safeguard quality. Maintenance will also be needed when your bank goes through technological changes or improvements since the templates are based on your bank information structure, as well as any system change /upgrade in your own ERP or satellite systems. These six steps have the potential to simplify the application of robotics to various finance and accounting processes, such as bank reconciliations. They are not intended to act as a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather as a possible roadmap for the experience as a whole. This is a complex initiative that can bring negative consequences if not executed properly, so choosing the right partner is very important. I would be happy to provide responses to any questions you may have about this example, so please feel free to leave a comment below.
This article was written by Guillermo Quiteño from Capgemini: BPO Thought Process and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.