Often, a discussion about robotic process automation (RPA) brings to mind images of robots on a manufacturing line or a Sci-Fi-style android. This makes the demo of an actual RPA “bot” a little anticlimactic. Where are the robots?
RPA automation actually comes in the form of virtual software robots, not a physical robot we can see and feel. Nonetheless, the benefits offered by these software bots are just as impressive as the physical assembly line bots common in modern manufacturing. While the benefits are numerous, within the professional services industry the business case for RPA is especially compelling. This is because time not spent on administrative or low value-add work does not only reduces cost but frees up time for billable work, business development or value-added efforts elsewhere.
Think of RPA bots as something like an Excel macro. They can execute a series of commands when given an input. However, unlike macros, bots can perform tasks across systems, queuing and running jobs submitted by multiple employees across the business. Like a human, bots are capable of reading items on the screen, navigating programs and browsers and typing information into specified fields. However, unlike a human, bots can perform many of these tasks in the computer background many times faster than an individual worker.
In many cases, the business case for RPA is quite clear. Robots don’t take breaks, they can work 24/7 and they’re consistent in processing rules-based jobs. The combination of these traits positions bots perfectly for many of the high-volume, repetitive, mundane processes that are a necessary function of professional services work. Whether the process is collecting and inputting figures for tax preparation, reviewing legal documentation for key words, running audit tests, tracking and recording invoices, or archiving internal data, RPA offers a rules-based solution that will perform consistently. All this makes for a very compelling business case — lower costs, increased efficiency, decreased errors, improved data integrity and, most importantly, time redeployed to higher-value work.
Generally, the biggest reason business leaders seek RPA is to reduce or eliminate costs. A recent Deloitte study estimated that implementing RPA for high-volume transactions saves between 60% and 80% in time and costs. Reducing the number of hours employees in professional services spend on non-billable work could help make or break profits for a firm. By automating back-office tasks such as invoicing, purchasing and data input, employees can spend more time working with clients, developing new business or building new service offerings.
In a recent project for a certified public accounting firm, we saved the firm’s partners five to 10 minutes each time they processed a specific client report — a process performed literally thousands of times in a year. By replacing this processing with RPA, the firm is poised to save over $100,000 over a one-year period on a cost-basis alone. Meanwhile, by redeploying the partners’ time to other client work, the revenue opportunity of using RPA in this process is three to five times the cost basis. We’ve identified an additional three thousand hours of staff time per year that could be automated, which translates to a potential cost savings of nearly $1.3 million over the next five years.
There are many similar opportunities for RPA in the professional services world. Broadly speaking, the amount of non-value add work that can be automated is staggering. For example, across law firms 30% of a staff attorney’s time may be spent on commodity work. Through RPA, these firms may be able to increase their capacity by 50% to 100% without adding additional staff.
RPA enhances productivity by allowing employees to accomplish more in the same amount of time. When tasks are assigned to a bot, employees can move on to complete other work — that is, work more suited to a human. For example, this work may include tasks that require complex analysis, creativity, making a judgment call or getting input from others. Among professional services firms, this increased productivity should be of particular interest for fixed-rate engagements. The opportunity of higher margins and quality on these engagements expands greatly with automation.
Take, for instance, audits. Auditors may spend hours pulling and control-testing small samples of data. With RPA, not only would the auditor be relieved to do more human-centric work, but he would also be able to analyze all the client’s records instead of just a sample. As another example, auditors may use bots to assess employee access to company systems to ensure files are secure. Because bots are very good at downloading and comparing data, what once took hours may only take a couple of minutes.
Furthermore, bots are very consistent in performing the tasks they were programmed to do, making it much less likely to have to repeat work due to typos, miscalculations, etc. The reduction in “rework” will translate to an increase in the bottom line, whether the task is in the back office or client-facing. Should questions or issues nevertheless arise, determining the root cause and resolving the issue will be much easier, as bots can be programmed to create logs for every action performed. Logs are not only a great tool for error resolution but for keeping internal checklists of process steps completed.
Although RPA bots may not appear as exciting as a robot from the latest Sci-Fi film, they can be a game-changing growth tool for professional service firms — whether by expanding margins or using savings to invest in new markets or service offerings. Professionals can add more value while bots handle the automated back-office work on time, consistently, correctly and with a supporting audit log. Bottom line — the benefits of RPA are powerful for any organization, but by enhancing revenue opportunities while also reducing costs, RPA can be a particularly valuable tool to professional services firms.
Please contact a member of your service team, or contact John Cavalier at firstname.lastname@example.org for further discussion.
Cohen & Company is not rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice. Information contained in this post is considered accurate as of the date of publishing. Any action taken based on information in this blog should be taken only after a detailed review of the specific facts, circumstances and current law.
Receive insights from our specialists in a variety of areas and timely information on upcoming events directly to your inbox as they go live in our online Knowledge Center.