Beyond data entry: How process automation is driving productivity gains

By Andrew Hayden, senior product marketing manager at Winshuttle

Businesses with shared service centres for functions such as finance or HR are increasingly adopting automation into their operations with 87% claiming they have automated at least one key process over the past few years. This is causing heightened levels of uncertainty among employees, with many believing that increased use of automation to handle manual, time consuming processes, will fuel a displacement of workers within the UK and Ireland. Yet, the reality is that automation is opening different options for workers, giving them the opportunity to learn new skills and play a more valuable role within their businesses – it’s not just about replacing humans with robots anymore; it’s about taking the robot out of the human. 

So why are shared services centre managers interested in adopting automation solutions? Highly qualified professionals within shared service centres (SSC) are spending large amounts of time on laborious tasks, which can often drain morale, lower productivity and cause data inputting errors. According to our research, the successful adoption of process automation has enabled 34% of those working in SSC’s to focus their skills and attention on other more productive tasks. With these results, it’s not surprising that nearly half of SSC managers have investigated RPA solutions where robots can assist employees in carrying out tasks to improve the effectiveness of their daily activities. 

Boosting productivity & job satisfaction

SSC’s finance teams will regularly manage processes such as accounts payable, purchase to pay, general ledger and/or journal entries for the entire business. With increasing amounts of financial data to contend with every day, manual data entry can cause an abundance of challenges which often lead to inefficient processes and frustrated staff. 

For example, the accounts payable team will likely process thousands of invoices manually during the month from receipt through to payment. As invoices are circulated around the business for approval they can easily be misplaced, have incorrect payment values recorded, or contain missing purchase order (PO) numbers causing many issues. 

Adopting automation to overcome many of the challenges associated with these monotonous and time-consuming processes will free up time for SSC professionals to concentrate on other tasks that will make a measurable, positive impact on the business. Our research revealed nearly half of SSC managers claimed that the automation of manual processes has enabled them to start new projects that they previously did not have time to do. And, over a third of employees transfer their skills elsewhere in the business for doing higher value tasks such as predictive analytics, custom reporting, or providing consultancy on other areas of the organisation. Automation has provided additional opportunities for staff to utilise their talents elsewhere such as:

  • 46% have been able to start projects they previously didn’t have time for
  • 31% have moved into other roles within an organisation where they can be more productive
  • 30% have moved department entirely, allowing them to take on new challenges

Success with automation

While organisations can reap many benefits from automating manual processes, there are still steps that need to be taken to ensure success with the technology. Just under half (46%) believed that achieving small project wins using automation software was necessary to demonstrate its value to the wider business. Initially this could start with just one or two processes to increase employee visibility while measuring positive impacts on workflow. For instance, 43% of SSC professionals have already automated parts of accounts payable, eradicating costly delays, eliminating paper invoices, guaranteeing delivery times, and allowing the approval and payment process to be more efficient and faster. 

In addition, 30% believe that to guarantee success, it’s important to start small and ensure that business and users’ expectations for the technology are aligned. From establishing business objectives and strategy to making sure staff are fully briefed on new processes, it is vital to form a synergy between technology and employees as this will allow for better synchronisation across each stage of implementation. 

According to Gartner, spending on RPA technologies has increased by 63% making it the fastest-growing enterprise software category in the world, while Deloitte reports that automated solutions will be close to universal adoption by 2023.  Automation is quickly becoming a business imperative, not just to stay competitive but also to improve employee retention and morale.  

About the research:

Winshuttle’s research report, which surveyed over 100 senior level professional workings in large organisations within the UK and Ireland

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Author: Eleanor Hazelton