How to Embrace Accounting Automation as a Strategic Advantage
Any finance professional wants to be more than someone who performs manual work. They want to be strategic partners for their business. They want to add value beyond bookkeeping tasks. The question is: how?
It’s a simple formula: the less manual work your accounting professionals need to do, the more they can focus on the “important stuff.”
Some estimates indicate that as many as 75% of accounting’s most repetitive tasks can be delegated to accounting software. With automated accounting systems in place, finance professionals will have more time to focus on the following:
- Supplying key financial data for strategic decisions
- Employing data analytics to drive creative organizational insights
- Saving administrative time beyond the accounting team
With the right tools, accounting automation can be a serious strategic advantage. Here’s why-- and how-- you can empower your accounting team:
Why embrace automation?
Freeing up time for more important tasks
One study found that office workers spend 69 days per year on repetitive tasks. Freeing up that time to streamline productivity would also prevent task-switching. That’s responsible for 40% of lost productivity every year.
Simply put, accounting automation cuts down on the most time-consuming accounting processes. It’s not replacing jobs; it’s replacing outdated tasks and giving your accounting team the freedom to think big-picture.
Integrating your accounting processes
Bringing your accounting tasks under one accounting software “umbrella” pays dividends in productivity. You can link everything from payroll to expenses with the right spend management software. The result: reduced frustration with tasks like data entry and administration.
When that’s in place, everything moves faster. Forbes found that robotic process automation cuts down on processes like audits. What used to be months-long endeavors can be accomplished in just a few weeks.
Backing up big decisions with data
Accounting automation doesn’t just save time. When you integrate multiple finance functions through software, you’re also collecting data. Business owners and finance professionals can quickly sift through this data to make more effective decisions at an organizational level.
Every organization benefits from improved data accuracy. And a well-automated process can even eliminate the chances of human error. According to Harvard Business Review, robotic process automation (RPA) can process data up to 15 times faster, “with almost no errors.”
In short, automated accounting won’t just gather data. It will make it easier to run data analytics, increasing the confidence of business leaders who rely on data-driven insights to make decisions.
Elevating the voice of finance
Finance professionals tend to think differently than CEOs or CMOs. But what if they’re stuck in basic bookkeeping tasks or putting out fires caused by manual accounting processes? They won’t have the time or energy to think big-picture. Accounting will become more than bookkeeping--it will be a full strategic partner that helps define future objectives.
How to do it: software, software, software
Rally your team
Automation should be a team-wide experience. Bring your full team together. Ask them which parts of their jobs feel tedious and where they see opportunities for automation. Bring everyone on board with this process. Accounting automation isn’t about the threat of artificial intelligence taking their jobs; it’s about freeing them to be more productive. They should feel they can make strategic contributions to the business when software starts to perform their least-favorite tasks.
One thing should be clear to your team: robotic process automation (RPA) like this is about identifying the tasks they don’t like. Harvard Business Review recommends a distinction between repetitive vs. variable work. The goal is to eliminate the most repetitive work.
Bringing your team of accounting professionals together won’t just get everyone on the same page. It will help your accounting work become more efficient. Who better to ask about repetitive work than the finance teams who perform that work?
Look for the manual tasks
The process is simpler than it sounds. You need to find the most tedious tasks and turn them into automated tasks. How can you tell which fits the bill? A “manual task” ripe for automation has a few key features:
- Repetitive. Is the task repeatable in predictable ways?
- Needed. Data entry, for example, can be tedious. But it also needs to get done. Extraneous tasks can be eliminated rather than automated.
- Time-consuming. Invoicing, for example, can be done manually. But you can implement business processes to automate invoicing.
Identify the right software for your repetitive tasks
In real estate, the mantra is “location, location, location.” In accounting automation, it’s “software, software, software.” If you’ve successfully identified the right manual tasks, there is likely a software solution offering a new opportunity for automation.
But just because you have software in place doesn’t necessarily mean you have the right software. In some cases, you may be underutilizing your software’s tools. Or maybe your tools don’t offer the robust automation you need--and you need to find something that does. Here are some of the most popular solutions to consider:
- Accounting Software: Solutions like Intuit QuickBooks. The magic here is that every other tool can easily integrate with your core accounting software. No more manual journal entries, no more data entry. Properly synced, your accounting software can unite your data into one dashboard.
- Accounts Payable: Solutions like Bill.com or Wave. These solutions can automatically enter invoice data for review, saving time on one of the most repetitive tasks in accounting: populating repeat invoices.
- Expense Management: Lola.com eliminates expense reports, and captures all spend in real-time through software-enabled corporate cards. This will literally give you tens of hours of time back every month, in addition to giving you and your budget owners the ability to easily make decisions about spend throughout the month.
- Budgeting and Planning: Excel has robust automation tools, and Planful makes it possible to handle continuous planning. In one Reddit thread, for example, commenters mentioned the automation possible with Excel. They implement solutions like AutoHotKey to fill out forms. AutoHotKey can even handle tasks like mouse clicks, opening documents, retrieving variables from documents, and managing files and folders like someone was sitting at the computer.
- Billing and Transactions: Stripe and Square. This is an example of where an added tool like Greenback can simplify your accounting processes. Greenback connects to Stripe and automatically separates transactions into categories--sales, taxes, expenses, refunds, etc. It can then feed that information into QuickBooks and Xero. The result: minimal input from your end, but accurate data.
Accounting automation isn’t about replacing people with new technologies. It’s about replacing repetitive tasks to empower people. An accounting team that isn’t worrying about importing data or opening Excel spreadsheets is able to become something more: a real strategic advantage.