It may seem that only large enterprises are employing automation at scale. However, small and medium-sized practices are beginning to leverage automation to achieve business process goals and accelerate digital transformation plans.
In 2022, Gartner predicted that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software end-user spending would increase by 19.5%, following 31% growth in 2021. They also stated that increased visibility of automation tools has made them seem more accessible to small and medium-sized practices.
At Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting UK, we’re certainly seeing this trend amongst our users, as customers look to us to help them with that journey beyond their existing technology. In this article, we’ll examine how small and medium-sized practices can use automation to fundamentally change the way they work – with a view to boosting efficiency and productivity. We’ll also specifically look at how automation can help to fuel practice growth.
First of all: what exactly is RPA?
RPA is often referred to as simply ‘automation’. This technology can be woven into a number of existing software applications, many of which are often used within accountancy practices. Businesses in all sectors are using RPA to automate repetitive, menial tasks. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to automation, but the first tasks that practices automate are usually administrative.
When tasks are automated effectively, they can be removed from a human’s daily task list. This frees up time to focus on more lucrative tasks, ones that rely on human intellect and imagination. As an additional bonus, automation should ultimately reduce errors. Anyone that has been tasked with a large amount of manual data entry knows just how easy it is for small errors to mount up. Automation can help to prevent these causing significant issues.
What can SME practices automate with RPA?
We’ve already mentioned data entry as a top candidate for automation. However, any number of processes – including invoicing, reporting, and order fulfilment – can be easily automated. Tasks that strictly rely on rule-based actions, which require minimal human decision-making, are also prime candidates.
Here are some great examples of where RPA is being successfully implemented in the tax and accountancy sector:
Client Onboarding: automation streamlines the onboarding process by efficiently collecting your clients’ information, verifying identities, and creating necessary documents. Chatbots and digital forms enhance the client experience, while ensuring compliance with regulations.
Payroll Processing: automation can save working time in finalising payroll calculations, tax deductions, and generating pay stubs. It also ensures accurate and timely payments to employees. Direct deposit automation also eliminates manual entry and reduces the risk of human error.
Tax Compliance: automation helps to maintain accuracy and timeliness in tax-related processes. It ensures that tax forms are prepared correctly, submitted on time, and aligned with the latest tax regulations. This reduces the risk of penalties.
Billing, Invoice Processing, and Reconciliations: automating invoicing and payment tracking accelerates cash flow and reduces the chances of billing errors. It can also reconcile accounts and flag discrepancies, leading to more accurate financial records.
Financial Reporting: automated systems can gather and analyse financial data from multiple sources. This enables faster and more accurate reporting, which in turn supports better decision-making and enhances transparency.
Employee Onboarding and Offboarding: automation may simplify the administrative tasks associated with employee transitions. This includes account setup, access granting, and documentation processing. In turn, this leads to smoother onboarding and offboarding experiences.
It is also important to take best practice principles into account when implementing RPA.
Accurate and clean data is the foundation of effective automation. Before integrating automation, it’s essential to ensure that the data you’re working with is accurate, consistent, and properly organised. This might involve data cleansing and validation processes to minimise errors and discrepancies.
In addition, you should consider taking a gradual and staged approach to automation implementation. Starting with a few select processes can allow practices to identify challenges, and refine their long-term approach and strategy based on real-world experiences. Successfully automating a few processes early on can also demonstrate the value of automation to stakeholders within a practice. This can help to secure financial support for further automation initiatives.
Wait: Are RPA and AI the Same Thing?
It may be useful to address this common question. Many practices may feel they are not at the right stage of their digital evolution to implement Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In a nutshell, RPA and AI are different beasts. RPA refers to the use of software robots to automate repetitive, rule-based tasks within existing business processes. AI refers to the simulation of human intelligence through learning from experience – and can therefore include tasks such as problem-solving, making business predictions, and adapting to new commercial circumstances.
Practices may find the steps taken to implement successful automation helpful for an AI-driven future. RPA may handle standardised tasks. In the future, AI could provide extra levels of efficiency for more complex workflows. Accountants could be wise to keep their finger on the technological pulse.
How Can Automation Fuel Practice Growth?
Once manual or repetitive tasks are completed, practices can begin to focus on more human-focused, value-add opportunities. This could include recruitment for growth, building stronger engagement with clients, or creating new branding and marketing strategies.
Implementing automation may also help to accelerate new business development. Research from McKinsey has shown that offloading non-selling tasks to automation can open up 20% more capacity in your sales team. This can, in turn, help you to improve sales productivity by as much as 30%.
The possibilities are endless. With automation introducing time savings, increased capacity, and better operational processes, practices can gain a competitive edge and thus demonstrably grow their revenues and client base. At Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting UK, we believe in, and invest in technology that makes a difference – technology for the real world. To find out more about how we can advise on automation and other forms of accounting software, get in touch.