RPA for CPAs Series: Bringing on Bots to Enhance a CPA’s Work

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a form of business process automation that com­bines traditional software user interfaces with optical character recognition, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) to help automate the mundane and routine tasks in your busi­ness processes.

Most of the technology used in RPA is not new. Rather, RPA technology is the combination of existing technologies into easy-to-use automation platforms. Bringing together the suite of tools has created a new class of automation that can be adopted across industries.

At the most basic level, an RPA task can be likened to a next-generation macro. Like macros, RPA allows you to assemble a col­lection of actions into a sequence that automates a business process task. Often the tasks transform a set of data into a standard output through calculations and other data manipulations.

Applications of RPA can also be much more complex. One ex­ample might be automating an accounts payable solution, where RPA handles a number of associated tasks:

  • Setting up new supplier accounts
  • Receiving and recording invoices
  • Tracking payment due dates
  • Generating recurring reports and data analytics

RPA differentiates itself from software macros, however, through its broad scope of interactivity. Interactions can occur across disparate applications with nearly any computer software system. RPA software is capable of interfacing with applications just as a person would. Traditionally, interacting with applications required an application programming interface (API), but RPA can use multiple methods to interface with applications, includ­ing a graphical user interface. Websites, legacy applications, main­frames, scanned documents, emails, and more can be used in the business process making up an RPA task.

Leading RPA platforms are advancing the core functionality of RPA software by integrating AI and machine learning. Use of these technologies can create solutions for understanding and manipulating your business data. Some estimates put upward of 80% of business data as either unstructured or semi-unstructured. Without structure, data becomes practically unusable. A transfor­mation to structured data is necessary to extract useful insights, which you then can apply to business decisions.

The ability to transform unstructured or semi structured data is the key differentiator among RPA software alternatives. The AI algorithms built into innovative RPA engines allow the software to understand the language used on different document types, such as invoices, purchase orders, bank statements, and other com­mon business documents. RPA with built-in AI capability uses this understanding to transform data from source documents into business actionable data. AI-augmented RPA bots can classify documents into groups, and then extract meaning from the semi structured data present in documents. The data is then processed into standardized data sets for use in your business process.

Should an AI-enabled RPA bot fail to process a document, the document is sent to a human operator for further processing. Dur­ing the employee’s review, the bot watches the human interaction with the user interface. Observing how a person corrects an item trains the bot to handle similar exceptions in the future. Over time, the bot increases its “confidence” in how to process documents. The increased confidence decreases the number of help requests that are sent for human review. Machine learning allows bots to become better workers as experience accumulates.

RPA technology creates efficiencies in rules-driven, repeating processes. The automations are designed to handle the work using defined action sequences. But, as the saying goes, all rules have exceptions. Business process rules are not different. Because pre­dicting and handling 100% of the possible scenarios is hard and an inefficient use of development resources, RPA bots should be de­signed to allow for exceptions. Bots handle the routine and expect­ed cases, and deliver exceptions to human operators for resolution. In this way, bots transform the work that people are performing. Employees are removed from handling boring, repetitious tasks. Instead, they focus on resolving issues of unusual circumstance that require thinking and judgment.

This article is the first in a series exploring how CPAs can benefit from RPA technology, new entries will be posted weekly at www.schneiderdowns.com/our-thoughts-on.

How Can Schneider Downs Help?

The Schneider Downs Business Process Automation team is committed to assisting clients with the evaluation, adoption and implementation of robotic process automation technology. We work with our clients to evaluate use cases, develop cost-benefit analyses, implement process automation, and provide continuous support to the operation of your business automation processes. 

Learn more at www.schneiderdowns.com/rpa

This article is reprinted with permission from Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Ten Penn Center, 1801 Market Street, Suite 2400, Philadelphia, PA 19103. (215) 496-9272 ©2019. View the full article here.

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