The automation revolution from a finance perspective

CFOs at the Finance Indaba Conversations discussed the role of robotic process automation in finance.

“Embedding AI, machine learning and smart bots into any financial solution doesn’t change the fundamental science of finance. But what it actually does change, is the fundamental art of finance,” said Akesh Lalla, director of cloud solutions at Oracle South Africa, at a Finance Indaba Conversation themed ‘Taming your Robots’.

Akesh added that business gets done better, faster, risk is removed, and more decisions are made with confidence. He also noted that in the past year, tremendous stress and change has been thrust on all of us, and the speed of change is only going to increase.

Akesh shared the changes that they have gone through at Oracle: “We have moved from a traditional product company to a customer service organisation.

“We’ve actually gone through this journey of embedding all of this technology within our organisation and we are utilising that experience to assist our customers on their journeys using our Oracle Software as a Service (SaaS) applications.”

Akesh said that something they are really proud of at Oracle is that, “Over the last several quarters, with the help of our AI, machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA), we’ve managed to close our books, submit our numbers, and have our conference call on day 10. Not 10 working days, but 10 days after the close of our quarter.”

Aarti Mohan, director of business development (ERP) at Oracle explained that AI is already here. “It’s not far away, it’s right here right now,” she said. She said at Oracle they did a survey called Money and Machines last year, to see if CFOs trust machines for managing the money that they have in the organisation. “And we realise that 87 percent of the CFOs said that if they don’t shift their thinking towards adopting these technologies, they will fall behind.”

iOCO CFO Jo-Ann Pohl said what’s been important for their company is that technology has played such a critical role in how they strengthen and monitor their controlled environment.

“The future of finance is two things: how we deliver value, and what enables us to do so. And so some of the pieces around the control framework are really critical – to get the basics right, and to then do the other components around the business partnering.

“Tech has given us an opportunity for enhancement, and people need to be really honest. It’s not a means to an end. And from a system perspective, we have to be more deliberate to be able to execute one system.”

Sean Doherty, CFO at Transaction Capital, said some things are reconciliation heavy, and some are volume heavy and some are system heavy. “You can fail but you can also win,” he said. “There’s no excuse for not having tried the AI route, but if you don’t get your foundations right, you can’t do this. And it’s relatively simple. You have to master data, and have transactional data entered in right, and entered in right the first time and things will become quite easy.

“It’s all about discipline. If I look at companies and companies that go wrong, they go wrong from a discipline perspective in all sorts of ways.”

Rudolph Janse van Rensburg, CTO at TreasuryOne, said one of the things they did right when they deployed the system in their organisation internally was communication to everyone at the same time.

“What you don’t want is top level first and everyone else follows. And we also advise our clients to do that as it removes some sort of resistance. Also, be honest in terms of what your goals are if you want to be more scalable and competitive.”