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Why it's worth harnessing Intelligent Automation

FYI, this story is more than a year old

A recent report published by KPMG indicates that by 2025 Intelligent Automation (IA) spending will reach $232 billion, compared to the $12.4 billion it currently sits at. This growth in spending comes as a direct result of the proven ROI of IA tools including RPA, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

While IA is merely a tool, it offers much more than a simple transfer of tasks from man to machine. The real power of intelligent automation is to fundamentally change traditional ways of operating and transform what people can achieve by weaving systems, data and people together.

Many of the most exciting and disruptive developments are emerging from open-source ecosystems, meaning businesses urgently need a flexible, efficient and secure way to implement best-of-breed IA solutions, whenever and wherever they will deliver maximum value to the business.

Ahead of the Intelligent Automation Summit 2019, we chat to Lina Badethalav, Senior Manager for Finance Systems and Data at AMP Limited (AMP) who began their IA journey back in 2016 and have recently expanded it through a number of proof of concept trials.

Lina, who is accountable for key Finance systems ranging from the general ledger to reconciliation, transaction mapping, planning, forecasting, and reporting, chats to us about how AMP is harnessing technology in an effort to keep up with the pace of rapid change. Lina further explores the proof of concept initiatives AMP have trialled in a bid to drive continuous improvement and optimise process efficiency.

Why is AMP Harnessing Intelligent Automation?

I believe technology is at the forefront an of how businesses are operating in the 21st Century, and this technology is bringing with it rapid change. From a Finance perspective, which is where I sit, technology really is driving the next phase of Finance transformation across, not just our organisation, but all organisations.  

As the wave of technology, globalisation and new demographic trends continue to disrupt traditional operations, the role of Finance as a function needs to adjust accordingly. So what I mean by this is where once Finance’s remit was predominantly that of a reporting function, it is now increasingly becoming a data-driven decision centre.

To that end, technology is playing, and will play, an increasingly significant role in executing many traditional Finance tasks and will lead the way in assisting Finance to provide insightful advice as opposed to transactional processing.

Could you give an overview of AMP Limited’s Automation Journey so far?

At AMP Limited generally, so outside the Finance function, we began exploring automation towards the end of 2016 in an effort to start tackling the disruptors. Through a focus on automation, which may well be through robotics or third-party applications or even internal scripting, moving to cloud technology, that sort of thing, we’ve been quite successful and have begun looking to expand automation into more business functions.

From a Finance function perspective ultimately we’re looking at simplifying the organisational landscape, creating a flatter structure, focusing on reducing manually intensive processes, and then looking at how analytics can help provide the business with deeper insights and data-driven advice.

How has AMP expanded automation within the Finance function? What PoC have you recently trialled?

AMP’s current process for financial report generation is fairly manual and managed in Word and Excel – which traditionally would have been the same for many organisations as the general ledger gives you all the data and consolidates it. This process, however, is neither efficient nor 100 per cent reliable. Following the consolidation, you need to prepare a 70, 80-page fax that goes out as part of your annual financial statements to the market. These manual activities therefore take time and occasionally lend themselves to errors.

To improve this process we looked around for products in the marketplace that would significantly improve this process for us. OneSource was one such product, which is essentially a corporate financial reporting software solution that helps with the preparation of the financial statements - including your cash flow statement, Director’s report, notes, all that sort of thing - quickly and accurately.

By harnessing OneSource we’re not only able to achieve standardisation in our financial reporting but are also able to keep abreast of new regulation changes. For example, if a regulation change comes in the software automatically alerts us to these changes so we don’t have to research them ourselves; saving time and reducing errors.  

Why did you decide to trial Finance function automation in this way?

Our Director here is very technology savvy so a lot of the innovation was really driven from the top down, which I think is crucial for the success of any new initiative. With our Director encouraging and pushing for change we were able to explore forward-looking technology solutions.

The OneSource product has been around for a while now and has yielded proven positive results. As such we embarked on this PoC as a quick way of us assessing the feasibility, the functionality and the architectural fit to our business. All this was achieved without having to carry the support and infrastructure costs of hosting applications in-house.

What the PoC further allowed us to do was explore any shortcomings or constraints of the solution without really hurting our hip pocket. By keeping the PoC limited to two distinct superfunds, and keeping the trial limited to two-three months we were able to test-the-waters so to speak.   

What benefits have you seen as a result of your PoC trial?

From a benefits perspective, we’ve seen a number of really great outcomes which is ultimately what has encouraged us to further explore automation. First and foremost the most common benefits of automation are that it removes menial, repetitive tasks, allowing people to move on to more value-added processes, and also removes human error. However, we’ve also seen a number of Finance function specific benefits too.

For example:

  • Standardisation: Reporting process can be standardised across all the sets of financial statements being produced. Following a one-off time investment and master template set up, year on year, you just have to push your input and it will generate all your output.

  • Internal note referencing: IA provides certain controls around internal note referencing. So if you change a number in your P&L or balance sheet, it will automatically update it wherever that value is noted, whether it is in the Director’s report or notes to the account.

  • Reconciliation and crosscheck: By reducing manual processes you remove human transpositional input errors with the software doing crosschecks and highlighting the latest updates.  

  • Data storage and capture: Data is captured only once and stored in one location so you’re not going into this spreadsheet and that spreadsheet and grabbing disparate information from everywhere.

  • Audit trails: The intelligent software provides very efficient audit trails and reporting as well. If for example a figure or value is changed or an update is made, you can go back and view previous versions and see changes as all the information is captured.  

What does the future hold for AMP in the IA space?

Following the proven successes of our PoC within the Finance function automation is an absolute key part of our business going forward. Year on year, we’ll be exploring a number of things in the IA space and we have a whole strategy of planned work that we would like to undertake in the new year and over the next two to three years.

Next year for example, outside of what we do with the financial statements, we are looking at initiatives around, vendor portals, on automating certain scorecards that we want to make available to manage our offshore team, and we’re looking to do some additional work in fraud detection and duplicate payments.

I’m also looking at some of our offshored processes because fundamentally businesses offshore activities that are standard and repetitive, so they lend themselves to automation to a large extent. To optimise these offshore processes too we’ll be developing a roadmap using a tool from one of our providers that highlights the areas that lend themselves to big opportunities versus none or small. This will drive our automation of offshored processes and ultimately help drive organisational efficiency and cost benefits.  

Interested in Learning More?

If you’re interested in hearing more from Lina about AMP’s PoC trial within their Finance function, the benefits they’ve seen and the challenges they worked to overcome, or exploring in more detail why keeping up with the pace of rapid change is imperative, then join us at the Intelligent Automation Summit 2019.

The event, held in Sydney on the 26th – 27th of February brings together over 25 local and international intelligent automation experts from the likes of Credit Suisse (USA), BNP Paribas (USA), Telstra, ANZ, Sydney Water, Mirvac and ING Direct.

View the full conference program here.

To secure your ticket to the event, and for special early bird pricing simply book online or email registration@iqpc.com.au

Feel free to also check out this 24-page APAC Intelligent Automation Market Report here.

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