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The automation opportunity

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee)

Automation is changing business. It is having a huge impact on both companies and their employees, and according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, just under 50 per cent of jobs are expected to transform or become redundant due to automation.

Understandably, statistics such as these create concerns around automation. However, we should not let them blind us to the benefits of software such as Professional Services Automation (PSA), including the creation of new jobs and opportunities for employees.

Far from being a technology of the future, automation is already helping a growing number of organisations adjust to the realities of digital business and the increased expectations of their employees. Let’s take a look at some of the ways automation is making a real difference today.

Getting ahead of the competition

In a digitally connected world where consumers expect rapid response times competition is fierce. Customers want higher quality services at greater speed and have no qualms about switching providers to ensure they receive it. At the same time, businesses are under pressure to make accurate decisions more quickly. Businesses need to turn data into insights at speed.  Without automation that is virtually impossible.

PSA can increase the efficiency of a company’s end-to-end processes. For instance, it helps staff quickly digest inbound business opportunities by delivering instant access to data on risk and compliance. Using this information, timely and correct decisions can be made about taking on new projects and how to allocate resources.

Without the need to spend time and resources on manually aggregating data, onboarding teams can reassign this effort to analytical tasks. For instance, finding trends in data that can assist with problem-solving.

Revolutionising business finance

Automation also enables finance teams to increase the efficiency of reconciling books and handling payments. Rather than manually working through invoices and other documentation to manually correct errors in the general ledger, it can help intelligently match payments with invoices. Greater visibility over money going in and out of the business means margins and revenue streams can be monitored more easily. As a result, finance teams can work with the wider business to simply and efficiently identify the most profitable parts of the business and where investment is vital to drive company growth.

The technology is also making waves in financial risk — a notoriously complex and tricky field to navigate. Automated systems, built on machine learning, are able to flag suspect payments to vendors in real time. Internal and external fraud costs businesses billions each year. In fact, last year’s Financial Cost of Fraud report highlighted a total value of over $15 trillion was lost to fraud in 2018. Currently, businesses mitigate risks of fraud through manual audits on a sample of invoices. This means only a fraction of payments can be examined, and is essentially a “needle in the haystack” method of identifying fraud and mistakes. Automated systems can vastly increase the volume of invoices which can be checked and analysed to ensure that organisations are not making duplicate or fraudulent payments.

Facilitating business growth

Efficiency and end-to-end visibility of company performance are key to a business' ability to grow. Once a company reaches a certain size, manually processing the volume of data required to accurately monitor performance and plan will become too time-intensive, and therefore impossible. This is where automation comes in. In addition, to signposting lucrative areas of the organisation, automation allows businesses to move away from traditional and lengthy planning cycles and towards live, data-informed planning.

Upskilling staff

PSA is also triggering an evolution in staff roles. If companies don’t respond to this by upskilling employees, it will inevitably result in unemployment spikes. Businesses are, however, unlikely to allow this to happen, not least because they would then be faced with a skills gap.

To prevent a skills shortage, businesses should embrace a continuous development approach to training. This will ensure their workforce will always have the skills they need to flourish as individuals and as part of a team. Automation facilitates this process by offering clear insight into employee performance and the opportunities available to them so talent can be recognised, rewarded and nurtured.

Nurturing employees

Not only does PSA help businesses enhance their employees’ skill sets, but it can also ensure employees aren’t overstretched by intelligently directing new projects towards staff with capacity. By ensuring each member of the business is working at their optimum, company productivity will be increased while reducing the likelihood of burnout and associated turnover due to staff dissatisfaction.

Working towards a common goal

Automation should not be feared. When combined with the human touch, automation unlocks countless opportunities. By removing the time-consuming practice of aggregating data, employee work experiences are enhanced, and their time is freed up to focus on analysis and more effectively serving customers. The result, a more efficient, successful business primed for growth.

Jens Krueger, Chief Technology Officer, Workday