Prepare for the future, it's already here (Part 2): Embracing robotic process automation

Finance leaders have no choice but to prepare themselves and their workplaces for the digitisation revolution. Workplaces are already reaping the benefits of automation and AI, and to remain current, CFOs need to embrace self-education along with any formal training that they can lay their hands on.

Many South African companies have begun investigating the uses and costs of finance technologies like RPA.

Elisa Mkhize, Clinix Health group CFO says her department has already carried out a few experiments with robotic process automation (RPA) when it embarked on a journey of process improvement across the business key areas. Elisa says that experiment brought about several learning outcomes, key among them is the stability of the existing the working environment.

“Your traditional systems like your ERP must be stable, and you have to be able to clearly define your processes and business requirements before deploying RPA, that’s the one key learning outcome I got from that experiment,” she says. 

If the problems and outcomes are not clearly defined, RPA can become very frustrating very quickly. 

Clinix Health group is currently implementing phase one of its cloud technology and automation processes. “We are exploring different tools that can aid us, especially in the reporting functions. It currently takes about 10 to 15 working days to report, but the company has been encouraging staff to reduce that time to less than five days by using robotic technology. Clinix finance staff also had their roles revisited in preparation for the first phase.

Elisa speaks of one of her team members originally employed in a traditional reporting role being moved to a value-adding role that talks to business partnering. “So he is now in project management, which is now a strategic role in the company, compared to his traditional accounting role. He is now focusing on due diligence, like which projects will yield the highest return.” 

She says CFOs today must challenge themselves by taking their teams out of traditional roles and placing them in different roles that will inspire new skills development, such as business and analytics. In the past, Elisa’s team spent the bulk their time preparing reports, but since automation, that same team has had to adapt to newer value-based roles.

“What I know for sure is that the skills set of a finance person will be completely different in five years’ time,” she says. “Accountants are not always the most tech-savvy people. Most senior staff have accounting degrees, but with the way in which the world is advancing and the impact of technology in finance, industry professionals cannot afford to be indifferent to technology.”

She believes these will be the most important skills in the finance industry in five years’ time:
1)      Basic Accounting
2)      Data Analytics
3)      Understanding Business

Elisa also loves incorporating the comforts and conveniences of mobile technology in her personal life. She favours Apple Technology and is the proud owner of the latest iPhone, although admits she’s barely scratching the surface in terms making full use of the phone’s capabilities. One of her favourite apps is Audible, Amazon’s audiobook application, which she finds Audible particularly useful when commuting between work and home.

“I don’t like radio anymore,” she admits. “Between the negative news and never-ending adverts, I prefer to focus on something more positive and something I can learn from.”

Elisa’s preference for Audible content over commercial radio is a prime example of how digital media content is being consumed based entirely on personal preference. “Technology is allowing people to choose their own content, where previously the whole household gathered around the television at 7pm for the evening news. We didn’t have a choice about what we watched and when we watched it. Now, social media is breaking news faster than television networks and people can choose their content based entirely on their own preferences.” 

She says that her other favourite app is Uber. “Uber has made travelling so much easier and it helped many low-skilled and unemployed people enter the job market under a depressed economy.”

Technology is giving people a way to adapt and change their fortunes, but only for those with a strong personal desire to survive and thrive in the 4IR. The education system is still far behind when it comes to preparing its graduates for a digitally demanding future, and as it stands all learning and upskilling will be undertaken on the professional’s own initiative while they are already in reporting roles.

“Companies are looking at people who are making the effort to get digital qualifications, which are plentiful and significantly cheaper online, if you have a digital skill in demand, you will survive.”