When it comes to automation in the workplace, not a week goes by without the release of a new study on how machines will impact jobs.
Some suggest that the transfer of repetitive tasks from the hands of workers to machines will elevate the type of work people do. On the other hand, there are those who believe automation will eliminate certain jobs.
Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google, has an interesting take on the raging debate. He believes that automating routine, predictable tasks will help ease the effects of a tight labor market over the next decade. He points to Japan as an extreme example of automation where many consumer goods are sold in vending machines because of the aging population and lack of workers. Here in the U.S., more restaurants are using tablets and self-ordering kiosks because they are having a hard time finding help.
Look around your company, and it’s likely process automation has gained a foothold in various operations. For example:
- Your human resources department is spending more time finding the best employees and coming up with retention strategies and less time shuffling paper. It uses workflow management software to help onboard new employees, which ensures that the proper online forms are filled out and routed to the right people.
- The procurement department used to have hunt down four different general managers and ask for signatures when ordering new equipment. With approval management software, all one has to do is click “start the approval process.”
- Your website uses customer support software to automatically notify customers when orders are confirmed and shipments are on their way.
- All of the examples involve repetitive tasks and a series of predictable steps. Sound familiar?
When you were a smaller business, and maybe even still today, completing your month-end financial close probably meant using a highlighter to match transactions. Account reconciliations were managed in spreadsheets. Preparers manually retrieved balances from the general ledger and carried forward information from prior periods. Then, they manually compared data from the bank statement and invoices.
The account reconciliation would then be printed and signed by the preparer. Once approved, the reconciliation would be placed in a binder.
As your business has grown, the financial close has become more cumbersome. The amount of work you’re doing in Excel is overwhelming. Tracking changes is always difficult. To understand the status of reconciliations, you spend a lot of time, probably too much time, poring over Excel files. What’s more, the biggest challenge still looms like a dark cloud above — ensuring accurate financial statements at period end.
What you Stand to Gain from Automation
As the complexity of your business grows, the goal must be to automate as many manual tasks as possible. Here are six good reasons why:
- Quality and Consistency: Automation ensures that every action is performed identically, reducing the potential for errors.
- Time savings: Automation reduces the number of tasks you and your employees have to perform manually, freeing up time to perform more high-order thinking tasks.
- Improved efficiency: Automation reduces the time it takes to perform a task, cuts down on errors and standardizes best practices.
- Improved governance: Automation minimizes compliance risk because every action executed by the software is logged and thus auditable.
- Reduced costs: Automation allows you to accomplish more using fewer resources.
- Scalability: Automation eliminates manual processes that won’t reliably scale as your business grows.
Technology is not just for tech companies. The cloud has been a godsend for small- to mid-sized business. Software solutions that were previously cost-prohibitive are now cost-effective with the use of the cloud.
The financial close is the ultimate collaboration project. It requires the management of a variety of resources, tasks, data sources and files across multiple roles. The process has to be highly disciplined and well-coordinated from start to finish. Roles and responsibilities need to be clearly communicated. Performance has to be closely monitored for the successful creation of accurate and timely financial statements for internal and external stakeholders.