Finance professionals tell Indaba: It’s man with machine, not man against machine

The audience learnt why the relationship between man and machine is exemplified in the Dakar Challenge.

TreasuryONE CEO Hennie De Klerk is an avid racing driver who competed in the 2018 Dakar Challenge, and used his experience behind the wheel to explain the relationship between human and machine.

“Technology is quite crucial in Dakar from the car to the road. Google Maps is technology we rely on quite heavily: it draws routes to allow us to navigate. As a Dakar driver I can confidently say I would be 30 percent slower without a navigator and that’s where the human element comes in,” he said.

Hennie was speaking at the Finance Indaba 2021, in an Impact Session called ‘Man vs Machine – When to call in the robots, and when to keep them out’ and pointed out that navigation technology can anticipate obstacles, allowing drivers to go faster and to concentrate on the road.

“Although technology enhances everything, it is not about man versus machine, but rather man working with machines,” said Hennie.

Hennie believes that although there is initial resistance when technology is introduced, it will continue to play an even bigger role as time goes by – and that certain things would be impossible without it.

Also speaking in the session was director of finance for Exxaro Resources, Riaan Koppeschaar, who explained how technology has led to efficiency and time saving in the mining sector.

“If you look at the operations, I think mining these days is very competitive, and to reduce costs, you need to look at your productivity to get the maximum volumes out of the mines,” he said.

He added that at Exxaro, he and his team have visualised the whole value chain from blasting and drilling, to hauling and processing. Visualising the value chain allows them to know the exact level plants should be producing at and if they’re not, indicators alert them to the fact that there is problem they can proactively solve.

“So far, we are getting between five and 10 percent improvement in productivity, and internationally companies are getting up to a 25 percent improvement in productivity. This is largely because the machines can talk to each other through IoT,” he said.

Exxaro has also introduced wearables to their employees so that if a miner goes underground and something happens, he can be traced to his exact location – the wearables are connected to the foreman’s mobile phone.

Both finance professionals agreed that they had not fully automated their finance departments, but said that automation has assisted to some extent, and certain tasks would be impossible without it.

“At TreasuryONE, automation has been particularly helpful in terms of invoicing,” said Hennie. “When a client sends us an invoice, our IQ Robot strips the data from the PDF invoice and sees if our estimates and the clients’ estimate as well as agreed amounts match.” He added that the best quality of the bots is that they don’t make any mistakes, thus eliminating human error.

While many organisations are willing to embrace digital transformation, they just don’t know where to start. “The place to start from a finance perceptive is by mapping your processes and targeting the repetitive tasks and time-consuming tasks. Those are the low hanging fruit,” said Hennie.

And on whether robots can make a mistake, he said, “If you teach them correctly, they won’t, but if you don’t, they will.”