By Arun Khehar, Senior Vice President Applications, Oracle ECEMEA
Most readers are familiar with the monthly bills that come from utilities: electricity, light, water, and heat (depending upon where you live). If you stop to look at the fine print of those bills, you might see a notice similar to this:
“Payment due by July 31. Payments received after this date will be charged a 2% monthly interest fee.”
Companies do this because they want to get the cash into their bank accounts as fast as possible. When it comes time to report to investors, cash on-hand is better than accounts due.
A similar thing happens in B2B companies, for the same reason: suppliers offer discounts to those vendors who pay early, and charge full price to those who pay late. It’s a chance for the purchaser to save money by paying suppliers ahead of the deadline. But we all know that deadlines often slip, especially in companies where processing is slow—and that can cost your company money.
What if your company could automatically identify the suppliers that offer discounts for early payment, and ensure that those accounts are paid ahead of the deadline?
Oracle offers this capability with one of our partners. Software automatically monitors supplier invoices and flags those that offer discounts for early payment, alerting finance teams on how to prioritize disbursement.
We refer to this as dynamic discounting—and it’s just one example of a shared service process that can be automated by robots. Others include getting the best freight value and creating “smart offers” to customers, all available in the Oracle Cloud via Adaptive Intelligence Apps.
Robotic process automation, or RPA, is the use of robotics to automate a business process from end-to-end. Usually, when we think of “robotics,” we think of the mechanical arms used to assemble car parts in manufacturing plants. But the meaning of robotics is expanding to include computers, mobile devices, networks, and the software that runs all of them.
Virtual “bots” (short for software robots) are now being used in the “chat” function of some customer service web sites. The bots have become sophisticated enough that they can interact with human beings—to the point where a real, live person on the other end doesn’t know that they’re chatting with a bot. Bots have achieved this ability through something called machine learning, which goes beyond the rules programmed into the software. Machine learning enables the bots to continuously identify new patterns and trends as new information flows in, and then automatically adjust their behavior accordingly.
For finance, this will lead to bots that can mimic human keystrokes to take on clerical jobs—completing them more quickly and accurately, and at a lower cost. This can have a potentially enormous impact on the cost of shared services centers. Many of the finance processes that have been outsourced overseas—such as procure-to-pay, accounts payable, and even simple exception handling—will eventually be done by bots.
For many businesses, the ability to sweat their legacy assets (such as on-premises ERP systems) while driving efficiencies is very attractive. RPA is ideally suited to that end. The more transactions the business automates via bots, the bigger their savings.
RPA is still in the early planning stages at most companies. While a few, specialized outsourcers are seeing early success with RPA, a true “lights-out” approach is still some years away—and there will always be some exceptions that machines can’t handle.
RPA will have the most potential when it influences human decision-making for the good of the business. By automating routine processes, finance and HR teams will have more time to focus on value-adding activities like business partnering. The boardroom has long been calling for more strategic thinking from the back office; RPA will give finance and HR leaders the time and energy required to help shape the company’s future.