Three quarters of C-suite executives believe that intelligent automation helped to augment their finance employees’ capabilities, according to results of a survey jointly done by the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA), AI Singapore and the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School recently.
The institutions said they surveyed 277 respondents comprising mainly C-suite executives and some finance professionals, adding that they also had in-depth interviews with CFOs, consultants and technology experts.
The institutions define intelligent automation as an enhanced form of automation that uses technologies such as robotic process automation and artificial intelligence to streamline information and provide insights to support decision-making, which results in more efficient output for organisations with greater accuracy and reduced cost.
Implementing intelligent automation does not mean removing the human component of the work processes in the finance function, said Dr Hanny Kusnadi, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Accounting at NUS Business School, who was involved in data analysis for the report.
“On the contrary, human connection is key to the success of the digitalisation journey,” she pointed out . “Our study indicates that companies which focus on cultivating the human side—such as establishing open communication and strong feedback loop across all levels, and offering opportunities for employees to engage in continuous improvements of the solutions—are the ones in the best position to harness the greatest benefits of intelligent automation.”
Companies adopting intelligent automation
According to the survey results, below are some of the highlights about companies that have adopted intelligent automation.
Upskilling and training of Finance employees
- 75% of respondents in the C-suite said intelligent automation has helped to augment their employees’ capabilities.
- 47% retrained their employees to work within the same department but in jobs higher up the value chain.
- 63% retrained affected staff to work in a different department at the same level of seniority.
- Of the respondents whose companies have adopted intelligent automation, 49% implemented it in the finance/accounts department.
- Within the finance/accounts department, the top three functions where intelligent automation is implemented are accounts payable (61%), accounts receivable (57%) and budgeting/FP&A (51%). Intelligent automation is least used in risk management (24%), tax (20%), and treasury (14%).
- The study found that accounts payable and accounts receivable, with their established routines, are the ideal candidates for automation, said ISCA.
- It’s relatively simple to set up the process and companies can either adopt domain-specific accounting automation solutions or adopt robotic process automation to build automation for their work, ISCA noted.
- Those looking to adopt intelligent automation for the first time can begin by automating the accounting cycle (accounts payable and receivable, journal entry, account reconciliations, and financial close), the organisation advised.
- The experience will build familiarity and confidence in intelligent automation, paving the way for more complex solutions to be adopted in other functions such as risk management, tax and treasury, ISCA added.
- Among respondents whose companies have implemented intelligent automation, 57% said that intelligent automation relieves them of 26% to 50%of their work, while 21% said intelligent automation alleviates 51% to 75% of their work.
- There appears to be a difference in perception between the C-suite executives and finance staff at the working level. While 61% of C-suite executives believed intelligent automation alleviates 26% to 50% of the work, 69% of staff at the working level said that intelligent automation relieves them of up to 25% of their work.
- To address the perception gap, the technology experts, consultants and CFOs interviewed as part of this study suggested that the C-suite can cultivate an environment which encourages honest, constructive feedback from all levels, especially from the users of the solutions, about their effectiveness, ISCA said.
Highlights from responses of companies that have not adopted intelligent automation
- 55% of the C-suite respondents whose companies have not adopted intelligent automation revealed that they have no intention of adopting an intelligent automation solution in the Finance function, while 45% indicated “yes” or “maybe”.
- Among respondents whose companies intended to implement an intelligent automation solution, 78% said they would do so within the next one to three years.
- Of the C-suite respondents whose companies have not adopted intelligent automation, 67% indicated that they had not done so as they were not certain if intelligent automation would lead to increased efficiency and standards of compliance.
- 51% indicated they had not adopted intelligent automation as they were not sure if intelligent automation would increase the company’s competitiveness. The responses suggest that those whose companies have not adopted intelligent automation may be unclear about the benefits of adopting automated solutions.
Upskilling and training of finance staffers
- 51% of C-suite executives indicated that the most significant impact on the employees if they were to adopt intelligent automation was the need to augment the employees’ capabilities in the Finance function.
- 45% indicated the need to retrain their employees for horizontal movement, and 36% indicated the need to retrain their employees for vertical movement. 35% indicated that natural attrition could result from the adoption of intelligent automation.