-Respondents whose companies have not adopted intelligent automation may lack awareness of its benefits, such as increased efficiency, greater compliance with standards and competitiveness.
-There is a lot of potential for intelligent automation to be used across different Finance functions. Among these, the top three are Accounts Payable (61 percent), Accounts Receivable (57 percent) and Budgeting/Financial Planning and Analysis (51 percent).
19 August, 2021 – The Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA), AI Singapore and the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School today released a joint report on the use and perceptions of intelligent automation in finance functions.
“The State of Play of Intelligent Automation in the Finance Function” aims to ascertain the role played by Intelligent Automation in the Finance function and help management understand the challenges and benefits of implementing Intelligent Automation solutions.
Intelligent Automation is an enhanced form of automation that uses technologies such as robotic process automation and artificial intelligence to streamline information and provide insights to support decision-making, delivering more efficient output for organisations with greater accuracy and reduced cost.
Mr Kon Yin Tong, ISCA President, said: “Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of digitalisation, and businesses are looking to leverage digital solutions to gain a competitive advantage. Intelligent automation is a tool which companies can utilise in their digital transformation journey. For companies which have yet to adopt intelligent automation, the report provides relevant information, including recommendations to consider before adoption. It also includes the perspectives of C-suite executives and finance staff regarding the benefits and challenges of adopting intelligent automation solutions in finance functions.”
"AISG is pleased to contribute to this report. Finance functions today have to face manual, repetitive tasks such as data collection, forecasting, reporting, onboarding, payroll, etc. With intelligent automation, processes can be streamlined thereby improving accuracy, efficiency and lowering overall costs. AISG's TagUI is one such example of an open-source robotic process automation (RPA) tool that can help finance functions rapidly automate repetitive or time-critical tasks. It is easy to install, no coding knowledge is needed and the user interface automation can reproduce cognitive interactions that you have with websites or desktops. One can try and learn about TagUI on our AI Makerspace," said Laurence Liew, Director of AI Innovation, AI Singapore.
Dr Hanny Kusnadi, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Accounting at NUS Business School, who was involved in data analysis for the report, said, “Implementing intelligent automation does not mean removing the human component of the work processes in the finance function. On the contrary, human connection is key to the success of the digitalisation journey. Our study indicates that companies who focus on cultivating the human side – such as establishing open communication and strong feedback loop across all levels, and offering opportunities for employees to engage in continuous improvements of the solutions – are the ones in the best position to harness the greatest benefits of intelligent automation.”
Findings From Respondents Whose Companies Have Adopted Intelligent Automation
Upskilling and training of Finance employees
75 percent of respondents in the C-suite said intelligent automation has helped to augment their employees’ capabilities. 47 percent retrained their employees to work within the same department but in jobs higher up the value chain. 63 percent retrained affected staff to work in a different department at the same level of seniority.
After companies have moved beyond the teething problems of implementation, automation can provide employees with jobs that are less likely to be displaced and advanced skill sets which enable them to do higher-value work while remaining relevant in the digital age. The organisation will benefit directly from the increased efficiency and productivity, and indirectly, from intangible ways such as better resource allocation, talent retention and employee morale.
Of the respondents whose companies have adopted intelligent automation, 49 percent implemented it in the Finance/Accounts department. Within the Finance/Accounts department, the top three functions where intelligent automation is implemented are Accounts Payable (61 percent), Accounts Receivable (57 percent) and Budgeting/Financial Planning and Analysis (51 percent). Intelligent automation is least used in Risk Management (24 percent), Tax (20 percent), and Treasury (14 percent).
The study found that Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable, with their established routines, are the ideal candidates for automation. It is relatively simple to set up the process and companies can either adopt domain-specific accounting automation solutions or adopt robotic process automation to build automation for their work. Those looking to adopt intelligent automation for the first time can begin by automating the accounting cycle (accounts payable and receivable, journal entry, account reconciliations, and financial close). The experience will build familiarity and confidence in intelligent automation, paving the way for more complex solutions to be adopted in other functions such as Risk Management, Tax and Treasury.
Among respondents whose companies have implemented intelligent automation, 57 percent shared that intelligent automation relieves them of 26 to 50 percent of their work, while 21 percent said intelligent automation alleviates 51 to 75 percent of their work.
There appears to be a difference in perception between the C-suite executives and finance staff at the working level. While 61 percent of C-suite executives believed intelligent automation alleviates 26 to 50 percent of the work, 69 percent of staff at the working level said that intelligent automation relieves them of up to 25 per cent of their work.
To address the perception gap, the technology experts, consultants and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) interviewed as part of this study suggested that the C-suite can cultivate an environment which encourages honest, constructive feedback from all levels, especially from the users of the solutions, about their effectiveness.
The experts indicated it is essential to have a continuous feedback loop whereby the intelligent automation solution can be continuously improved upon with feedback from the finance employees, while the employees gain a deeper appreciation of and develop confidence in the intelligent solution in the process.
Findings From Respondents Whose Companies Have Not Adopted Intelligent Automation
55 percent of the C-suite respondents whose companies have not adopted intelligent automation revealed that they have no intention of adopting an intelligent automation solution in the Finance function, while 45 percent indicated “yes” or “maybe”. Among respondents whose companies intended to implement an intelligent automation solution, 78 percent said they would do so within the next one to three years.
Of the C-suite respondents whose companies have not adopted intelligent automation, 67 percent indicated that they had not done so as they were not certain if intelligent automation would lead to increased efficiency and standards of compliance.
51 percent indicated they had not adopted intelligent automation as they were not sure if intelligent automation would increase the company’s competitiveness. The responses suggest that those whose companies have not adopted intelligent automation may be unclear about the benefits of adopting automated solutions.
One such benefit would be the long-term sustainability of the organisation’s operations. Adopting these solutions allow companies to grow their teams’ capabilities, which enable employees to move up the value chain as automation takes over mundane and routine tasks.
Upskilling and Training of Finance Employees
Among C-suite executives whose companies have not adopted intelligent automation, 51 percent have indicated that the most significant impact on the employees if they were to adopt intelligent automation was the need to augment the employees’ capabilities in the Finance function.
45 percent indicated the need to retrain their employees for horizontal movement, and 36 percent indicated the need to retrain their employees for vertical movement. 35 percent indicated that natural attrition could result from the adoption of intelligent automation.
“These findings are consistent with our belief that technology is an enabler. The adoption of intelligent automation facilitates the upskilling of varied roles in the Finance function by enabling Finance employees to take on roles higher up the value chain or expand their skill sets by moving to other departments.” added Mr Kon.
The findings were based on a survey completed by 277 respondents comprising mainly C-suite executives and some finance professionals as well as in-depth interviews with CFOs, consultants and technology experts.
The report was released at ISCA’s 2021 Professional Accountants in Business (PAIB) Conference.
To view the report, please click on this link: https://isca.org.sg/resource-library/business-insights/data-analytics-adoption-in-singapore-smes/state-of-play-of-intelligent-automation-in-the-finance-function
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About the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants
The Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) is the national accountancy body of Singapore. ISCA’s vision is to be a world-class accountancy body of trusted professionals, contributing towards an innovative and sustainable economy. There are over 32,000 ISCA members making their stride in businesses across industries in Singapore and around the world.
Established in 1963, ISCA is an advocate of the interests of the profession. Possessing a Global Mindset, with Asian Insights, ISCA leverages its regional expertise, knowledge, and networks with diverse stakeholders to contribute towards Singapore’s transformation into a global accountancy hub.
ISCA is the Designated Entity to confer the Chartered Accountant of Singapore - CA (Singapore) - designation.
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For more information, visit www.isca.org.sg.
About AI Singapore
AI Singapore (AISG) is a national AI programme launched by the National Research Foundation (NRF), Singapore to anchor deep national capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI) in order to create social and economic impacts through AI, grow the local talent, build an AI ecosystem, and put Singapore on the world map.
AISG brings together Singapore-based research institutions and the vibrant ecosystem of AI start-ups and companies developing AI products to perform applications-inspired research, grow the knowledge, create the tools, and develop the talent to power Singapore’s AI efforts. AISG is driven by a government-wide partnership comprising NRF, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), Economic Development Board (EDB), Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), SGInnovate, and the Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS).
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About NUS Business School
The National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School is known for providing management thought leadership from an Asian perspective, enabling its students and corporate partners to leverage global knowledge and Asian insights.
The School is one of the 17 faculties and schools at NUS. A leading global university centered in Asia, NUS is Singapore’s flagship university which offers a global approach to education, research and entrepreneurship, with a focus on Asian perspectives and expertise. Its transformative education includes a broad-based curriculum underscored by multi-disciplinary courses and cross-faculty enrichment. Over 40,000 students from 100 countries enrich the community with their diverse social and cultural perspectives.
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