It’s been a running theme in the corporate finance space for years now—Rosey the Robot will make the move from the Jetson’s cartoon maid to controller’s best friend. Well, as predicted, this is happening; and as predicted, AI is finding a home in positions it excels—merging columns, transferring information, and automating repetitive tasks.

The New Star Employee

Cited by both the New York Times and Going Concern, the robots are coming for your job. Driven by the pandemic, lockdowns, and recession, companies are looking to invest in technology built to automate tasks where humans are both inaccurate and slow. Looking at an article titled The Robots Are Coming for Phil in Accounting, Going Concern’s Adrienne Gonzalez highlighted the following section from the article:

“These robots are here to merge purchase orders into columns J and K of next quarter’s revenue forecast, and transfer customer data from the invoicing software to the Oracle database. They are unassuming software programs with names like “Auxiliobits — DataTable To Json String,” and they are becoming the star employees at many American companies.

The trend — quietly building for years, but accelerating to warp speed since the pandemic — goes by the sleepy moniker “robotic process automation.” And it is transforming workplaces at a pace that few outsiders appreciate. Nearly 8 in 10 corporate executives surveyed by Deloitte last year said they had implemented some form of R.P.A. Another 16 percent said they planned to do so within three years.”

What’s Driving the Rapid Push?

Need for Integration

As noted in the NYT article, robots are finding a place at companies who need help merging columns and transferring data. In fact, we found a similar experience at companies in our Accounting Robots webinar. Specifically looking at the challenges in AR and AP, we found AI to be the missing link for all the data you need:

“AR should have all the necessary data available, getting customer information from CRM and feeding the ERP with data. AP is similar. Invoices should automatically route alongside information for approval. But too often, neither happens.

Inaccurate invoices pair with inaccurate vendor and customer files. Add this to slow processes for internal approvals and lack of visibility, and manual processes are crippling businesses. […]

With companies wasting up to $624,000 annually as a result of manual processes, leaders need to understand that it’s not just the AP and AR that’s at risk. Friction and repetition is one thing, labor costs are another, but a lack of audit readiness is concerning.”

Tight Staff Budgets, Increased IT

NYT notes that the lockdowns gave companies the cover they needed to turn their focus from business as usual to one in which they needed to streamline operations and liberate workers from mundane tasks. Gonzalez notes that the Coronavirus gave already AI-eager executives “cover” so they can “implement ambitious automation plans they dreamed up long ago.”

But the reality is that many of these plans were in the works. A Journal of Accountancy Article found that IT investment is a hot issue right now:

“After a brief, severe dip in tech spending plans after the start of the pandemic, CPA decision-makers in the fourth quarter of 2020 projected that their investment in IT spending would increase 2.8% over the next 12 months, according to the AICPA Business and Industry Economic Outlook Survey. That number had almost recovered to pre-pandemic levels, which had held steady at about 3.5% over several quarters.”

Need for Better Reporting

One of the major reasons for embracing automation and AI in the accounting space is the need for accuracy and speed. Much of the current landscape that requires human interaction is an area that shouldn’t have it. Paying someone an accountant’s salary to be the best person at hitting CTRL-C and CTRL-V isn’t helping the person or the company.

Journal of Accountancy notes that “Leaders of finance functions across the globe expect a shift to a smarter and more automated operating model for corporate reporting, according to a new EY survey of more than 1,000 CFOs and financial controllers across 26 countries.”

Securing Your Place: Controllers’ Guide to Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is permeating business and organizations of all types and sizes. For those in the accounting and finance department, AI may have one of the most significant impacts on the way you work. Recently, we released a free guide for both members and non-members titled Controllers’ Guide to Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The Controllers’ Guide to Artificial Intelligence (AI) will provide a concise but complete view of AI and related technologies of Machine Learning (ML), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and more. Click here to download this entire guide.

Additional Artificial Intelligence Resources

Areas for Improvement: Where Are Accounting Robots Finding a Home?

The Robots Are Coming: How Accounting Robots Will Automate the Finance Back Office

Is AI Becoming Mainstream in Finance?

Become a Member Today!

Controllers Council is a national community and platform of controllers, accounting and finance professionals focused on accounting best practices, information, and resources, recognition and networking.