ó Marna Ricker has her own personal robot.
it doesnít shoot lasers or clean her Minneapolis
office Roomba-style, her "bot" can do some of
her digital data dirty work so she doesnít have to.
donít want to sit at my computer and do process type
of work," said Ricker, the central region tax
managing partner at Ernst & Young.
firms have recently employed the virtual bots in their
own offices, as well as advised clients to use them as a
faster, cheaper and often more accurate option to
complete repetitive tasks.
process automation, or RPA, is the use of a software
robot or "bot" that replicates the actions of
a human to execute tasks across multiple computer
systems. According to professional services organization
Deloitte, a minute of work for a robot is equal to about
15 minutes of work for a human.
example, a bot could scan an invoice in a PDF document
attached to an email, save the data into an Excel
spreadsheet, log into a web system and enter the data to
generate a report, all before emailing an employee to
say the work is done.
is predicted to automate or eliminate up to 40 percent
of transactional accounting work by 2020, a 2015
Accenture report found.
Cline, the national advisory leader for digital labor at
global audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG LLP, said
robotics is the biggest inflection point of the industry
since global sourcing.
think a lot of people know that physical robots are
being used in factories, or even that AI (artificial
intelligence) is being used in medical diagnoses, but I
donít think many people understand how extensively
software bots are being used to automate previously
manual business processes and functions," he said.
& Young has built in the last 18 months an army of
about 200 bots in the firmís tax practice operations
that has resulted in saving several hundred thousand
hours of process time annually. The firm, which also
offers assurance, transaction and advisory services,
uses bots for its own core business functions, including
finance and performance management.
bots can have accuracy rates as high as 99 percent and
can reduce operating costs by 25 to 40 percent or more,
work 24/7. They are happy. They donít take
vacation," Ricker said.
can allow humans to focus on higher level tasks, she
said. Ernst & Young is in its second full year of
training staff on RPA. Over the last year, the firm also
has started to help their clients use RPA in areas such
as finance, procurement and human resources.
robotic software will be as freely used in accounting as
Excel, Ricker said.
time and cost savings, RPA and other types of automation
could have several other benefits.
automation can provide greater accuracy, accountability
and defensibility by logging every process step executed
and data source used, Cline said. Furthermore,
automation allows for larger amounts of information to
be analyzed for audits, risk analysis, and predictive
analytics instead of depending on a smaller sample size
that has been the norm when done manually, he said.
use of RPA and other intelligent automation is also
leading to a decline in offshore outsourcing for the
array of tasks that can be replaced by digital workers,
Cline said. In turn, that would also save companies
money and give them more control.
has used various degrees of intelligent automation for
more than three years. In the future, Cline predicts use
of automation will become more sophisticated with
advancements in natural language processing and
are getting smarter," Cline said. "The lines
are blurring between those classes of automation. Now
some of the newer bots can actually watch a human worker
do work and learn through observation."
all the talk of advancement, there has been speculation
on whether digital robots could start to completely take
the place of their human counterparts and pose a threat
to the everyday accountant.
said he acknowledged that the end result could be that
it will take fewer people to do a task with the help of
automation. But he said automation can also help open
the door for companies to expand their services. In
general, the clients that KPMG is helping with
automation are trying to keep costs under control as
they expand their capabilities, he said.
some ways, robotics will create more jobs because it
requires tech-savvy workers, he said. More firms will
need staffers who understand how automation works.
are not enough people in the market right now that know
tax and technology," Ricker said.
A. Knutson and Co., a smaller accounting firm outside
the Twin Cities, doesnít have the automated tools that
the Big Four do, but Kyla Hansen, a director, said they
will be useful.
now, accountants coming out of college are high in
demand," she said. "So it doesnít scare me
at all to automate whatever we can to make best use of
the workforce that we have because there is a shortage