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Interview with Andrew Dickson, Director Advisory at Grant Thornton

18.5.2021 | News

"By deploying RPA companies can not only save money and increase process productivity but make better use of their employees' time and potential"

RPA technology for process automation has long been the preserve of large firms, but the faster pace of digitalisation has now made it more accessible to smaller and medium-sized companies. In theory all tasks and processes can be automated but a key step is to perform a robust analysis and identification of those processes whose optimization brings the greatest potential for efficiency gains and cost savings. Andrew Dickson says that in the experience of professionals at Grant Thornton Advisory, the return on investment in RPA is very short, typically in the range of 6-9 months.

Why is Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, currently of interest to businesses and what benefits can be expected from it?

There are activities in every company that are routine, repetitive and that can and should be automated. Human workers should not be perfoming monotonous and uninteresting work re-entering data between systems or battling with multiple data sources. RPA software technology execute these tasks perfectly. The advantage of software in this case is that it handles the processes many times faster and 24/7. And since it doesn't get tired, it doesn't make mistakes. At the end of the day, if a company decides to replace these activities with RPA technology, it will increase its efficiency, improve quality and free up staff capacity for other higher value-added activities.

Which activities could firms replace with a robotic RPA system?

A typical activity suitable for automation is the management of customer data in multiple company systems such as CRM and ERP. RPA can also take over the processing of incoming invoices using optical character recognition (OCR) and post them in the accounting system, validate with purchase orders, and track the progress of payment approvals. Another area that RPA can completely take over is reconciliation and reporting. Companies check the progress of projects through data reporting from multiple teams involved. RPA can oversee the reconciliation and reporting of data from multiple sources, perform required checks, and report exceptions for management review. And last but not least, RPA can act as a "bot" that can search open or subscription databases and the Internet to assist the company with business intelligence.

RPA can take the leg work out of the recruiment pocess...

When advertising open positions, firms often receive CV‘s in large quantities of varying quality. HR professionals have to put a lot of effort into the initial screening of documentation and selection of applications. With RPA, this is not necessary. The technology can identify CV#s, send pre-defined emails or text responses to applicants. It can even extract defined information from the documents sent and summarize it for management. This way, the company gets to the actual selection much faster without burdening itself with unnecessary paperwork.

There are quite a number of application areas for RPA, based on your experience do you recommend companies to deploy it across the board or rather a gradual process?

The big advantage of RPA is that it is a easily scalable automation tool. That's why we recommend companies to start with one, maximum two processes and when the change is proven, it can be smoothly expanded to other activities. In this way, even small and medium-sized companies can plan their RPA deployment so that they are able to enjoy the benefits of faster and cheaper processes as soon as possible.

How can Grant Thornton Advisory help firms with RPA deployment?

My colleagues and I at Grant Thornton have long been involved in analysing and optimising processes within firms. We are able to advise clients on which processes can be effectively automated right away and which ones need to be optimized first and then "flipped" into automated mode. Our RPA project methodology consists of six integrated steps. In the first one (Discover) we look at existing processes and design a business case with defined TO-BE goals in automating them. We then develop the software solution with our IT partners from Continuity IT, who have several years of technical experience with RPA from companies of all sizes in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Before deploying into live operation, we perform a series of tests to make sure that the automation works exactly as designed. Of course, our activity does not end with the launch of RPA itself. On the contrary, we provide support to the client and address any changes. We can complete the entire process for clients in approximately 8 weeks.

What do you see as Grant Thornton Advisory's greatest strengths in the design and implementation of the RPA?

As business consultants, we have been working with our clients for several years to make their processes faster, more accurate and more resilient. In doing so, we draw not only on experience from the Slovak market, but also from Austria and ther European countries. At the same time, we have access to the know-how of Grant Thornton's global network of consulting firms.

Our advantage is also the use of the Microsoft Power Automate RPA tool. It is part of the Microsoft 365 office suite, which makes it affordable and flexible in terms of licensing costs and commitments. I believe that Grant Thornton is the only RPA consultancy that works in this way.

IT change tends to be difficult in companies, but deploying RPA is significantly easier. Why?

RPA is now a proven technology for creating additional capacity and freeing up staff for higher value-added activities. Unlike other IT changes, it is system agnostic, i.e. it works across enterprise platforms and requires no system integration. This makes RPA accessible not only to large enterprises, but now to businesses of all sizes. Here at Grant Thornton, we have also been using RPA for a long time to automate selected tax processes.

What costs should firms expect when deploying automated processes and what is the payback?

After conducting a feasibility assessment of suitable processes, we can calculate with great accuracy the effectiveness of automation in terms of time savings, error elimination and productivity gains and compare it to the current process. This allows us to accurately plan savings and target efficiencies achieved. In our experience, the typical ROI on RPA projects is 6 to 9 months. This is a really fast payback due to the relatively low project cost of RPA compared to other IT changes.

What would you particularly like to highlight to companies that are also considering approaching Grant Thornton with a brief to deploy RPA as a result of this conversation?

We sometimes see companies trying to replace staff and reduce their overall headcount by deploying RPA. However, in our experience, such a target is not correct. RPA should never be deployed to replace employees but, on the contrary, to support them and help them to make better use of their own potential. If, from experience, an employee is able to move from repetitive, low-value activity to more creative and independent work, the company will gain significant added value and cost savings at the same time.