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The journey towards hyperautomation

How business and professional services firms can best use automation to drive efficiencies and add value for their clients.

How automated technologies are driving digital transformation

Covid-19 has accelerated the transition to automation technologies in the business and professional services sector. We invited a panel of experts to talk about the benefits of different types of automation and the trend towards joining technologies together in single end-to-end systems – or hyperautomation.

The ‘building blocks’ of automation

Tried and trusted automation solutions are already well established at many firms. Richard Joyce, Head of Technology Advisory for Grant Thornton, believes the trend will continue to accelerate, with increasing sector-specific applications. The automation software market could double in worth by 2027 as a result.

The global digitisation trend, led by Asia, means pressure is growing on CIOs and CTOs in the UK and Europe to automate all aspects of a firm’s operations, but the appetite for change still varies considerably between firms, according to Richard.

Some of the technologies that make up the ‘building blocks of automation’, such as e-signature platforms, are so common that firms might not consider them part of the digital transformation. Client relationship management (CRM) systems, used to manage mailing and distributions lists, are also very well established.

However, robotic process automation (RPA) technology is now fundamentally changing the way some firms work, in some cases replacing human input entirely in repetitive and manual data tasks, such as batch transaction processing and other standardised activities. Alternatively, RPA-powered ‘back-end’ solutions can work in tandem with human ‘front-end’ customer-facing services.

Technologies such as production capture, text analytics and process mining look at data to help identify further opportunities for automation tools, which are increasingly augmented by artificial intelligence (AI), the next step up in the sophistication of automation technology. AI-based exception management tools use machine learning to identify where a standard activity can’t be completed, because of missing or incorrect data, introducing a level of ‘insight’ and ‘judgement’ into automation.

How finance functions can benefit

Gary Beasley, Associate Director – Finance Consulting for Grant Thornton, focuses on how automation’s power to free up resources through efficiencies can transform business and professional services firms’ finance function.

Entry-level RPA solutions are available that require no or very little coding to help finance teams integrate and analyse data, and work seamlessly with existing applications with minimal integration requirements, making them easier and quicker to install.

Activities best suited to RPA typically involve high volumes of repetitive and manual data tasks, which ideally rely on structured digital data that doesn’t change very often and doesn’t involve insight or judgement.

The benefits of these automation tools using RPA are:

They can work 24/7, while improving both reliability and accuracy.

They can provide a full audit trail of all tasks performed.

They can release capacity to focus on tasks that require human intuition, insight and creativity – such as improving customer experience.

One example of an automated solution driving efficiency in the finance function uses RPA and optical character recognition technologies to match receipts to invoices. This can complete in seconds what might take a person up to 20 minutes to do.

However, Gary suggests that any organisation considering this type of solution needs to first map out the relevant business processes, step by step, and may need to re-engineer them for optimum efficiency before introducing automation.

Just as important is early engagement with the internal IT team – they may already be using automation technology elsewhere and should, in any case, be heavily involved in the selection process for a software supplier once the objectives of automation have been defined.

End-to-end hyperautomation

Martin Mersey, Head of Platform Automation at Barclays, says that although standalone automation processes can obviously be of huge benefit to firms, the real opportunity is hyperautomation: combining multiple technologies, from RPA to machine learning and AI, in a fully automated environment.

Hyperautomation represents a fundamental shift in approach, with technology-driven business processes that need human input only when that technology fails or needs to be modified. As a result, employees should find it easier to do their jobs and be able to focus on value-adding activities.

However, there’s no doubt that attitudes towards automation are divided – while many in the technology field are excited by the possibilities, some staff may be concerned about future job prospects. Helping employees understand and be comfortable with automation is a key part of firms’ digital transformation journey.

It’s important that employees see that automation isn’t necessarily designed to remove their role but instead make their working lives easier by eliminating repetitive and mundane tasks, freeing them up to engage with more interesting and rewarding work.

Joining the dots of existing data and automation can result in end-to-end processes that makes the business more efficient, generates value and leads to a better client and colleague experience.

These issues were discussed during a Barclays webinar, Hyperautomation: the journey to a digital transformation, which you can watch here.

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