Robotics can drive reporting and planning efficiency in controlling

25 June 2019 Consultancy.eu

Controlling departments can significantly advance their effectiveness and hence services by embedding more automation in suitable processes, according to a report by German consultancy Horvath & Partners. 

The study, authored by the trio of Johannes Isensee, Sebastian Ostrowicz and Daniel Reuschenbach, explores the potential for automation as a means of driving efficiency in the controlling department. They highlight that despite positive experiences in other areas of the finance realm, including accounting and payables/receivables, automation maturity in controlling on average lags behind.

On the surface, this may seem surprising. Controlling is typically the largest area of finance – accounting for a 35% share of all finance headcount – and arguably the most value-adding to the business. Controlling supports strategic and financial planning, budgeting, cost accounting, management reporting and project financials, among other areas. It would therefore be expected that controlling operates at the forefront of technology adoption. 

In practice, the contrary is the case. After diving into the state of automation in controlling, Horvath & Partners assert that much of the work done is completed without the help of intelligent automation, including rules-based workflows and workflow robotics process automation (RPA). In the eyes of the researchers, there are three reasons for this lower maturity. The first is that controlling activities are less rule-based and recurrent, which ultimately limits the suitability for automation.Suitability of control processes for RPASecond, for automation to be fully successful, structured data must be in place supported by a heterogeneous system landscape, two prerequisites that controlling ranks poorly on due to a more fragmented systems landscape. As a result, “automation by robotics in controlling competes with more comprehensive approaches to modernising the system architecture” – in other words, robotics, which can easily be implemented for small workarounds, are often bypassed for broader digital transformation endeavours.

In addition, the authors suspect that awareness and knowledge around the benefits of RPA is still low within controlling teams, slowing the launch of prototypes and the number of use cases coming to fruition. The dependence on IT departments to help design and roll-out robotics is seen as a bottleneck, with controlling teams much less acquainted to working with IT compared to their colleagues from accounting or payments. 

However, not embracing automation – in a selective manner – is clearly pinpointed as a missed opportunity by the consultants. Robotics process automation has been identified as a clear value-creator in three of the eight main sub-processes of controlling. “The use of RPA is particularly promising for processes that are repetitive, have decision rules in place without human evaluations, and can build on a high degree of process and data standardisation,” write the authors.

Reporting

Management reporting is one such example which can match these requirements. The purpose of management reporting is to provide decision-makers at all levels of the company with up-to-date information on (financial) progress and to support them in company management. For this purpose, both recurring standard reports and event-driven analysis reports (ad hoc reporting) are created and distributed within the company. For this to succeed, data on all units of the company must be collected, validated, prepared, and converted into suitable reports, including commentary and recommendations.

Robotisation can automate large chunks of this process, while speeding up delivery time and improving accuracy. The benefit is closely tied to the scale of the organisation and scope of reporting – “the larger the corporation and the more diverse the business models, the more complex and cost-intensive this process becomes and the higher the value RPA can offer.”The potential for RPA in controlling

Planning

The same applies for planning tasks. Strategic planning is not very suited for broader automation, with focus to be placed on limited areas of the process such as data collection and updates to models. In the area of operational planning opportunities are more abundant – “there are a large number of repetitive activities for data preparation and checking (production) that have not yet been automated and are therefore clear candidates for RPA.” Alongside bolstering efficiency, robotics can further be used to reduce governance activities because automation also increases the degree of traceability and uniformity.

Data management

Using smart robots to keep controlling master data is a third area earmarked as a large opportunity. With data nowadays at the heart of decision-making and data volumes exploding in its slipstream, this part of operations has become more important but also more of a headache. Using robotics process automation to perform for instance data checking, enrichment or validation tasks can free up time at controllers, which in turn allows them to focus their arrows on more value-adding activities.

According to a 2018 survey by Horvath & Partners, digital finance transformation is a top priority for CFOs in the DACH region.


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