By Anthony McKibbin, Associate Director, Business Risk Services, Grant Thornton

It is not often that an initiative comes along which can revolutionise an entire industry, but that is just what is about to happen to accountancy with Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Much like the effect that the first iPhone had on the world, we envisage that RPA will have a significant impact on how accounting functions operate in the future.

All the advancements in technology over recent years have clearly influenced our daily lives. From the likes of Alexa ordering your local takeaway or telling you the daily weather forecast, to the countless number of apps on smartphones to help make our daily lives just that little bit easier.

So far, the same impact cannot be said for the daily activities of the average finance team. In most part, changes in this sector have been relatively small, having only minor impacts on roles and resourcing.

However, embracing RPA can deliver tangible results to almost all businesses. As an example of what can be achieved, we are aware of a business whose monthly reporting pack took five working days to produce.

A robotic process replaced this, and the same reporting pack is now produced within 30 minutes, which has freed up the finance team to spend time analysing and interrogating the results, and adding value to the business.

On a larger scale, so significant are the recent advances in RPA that computers can now look after some of the key areas in even the biggest organisations. The cost of implementing such systems can be high initially, however, with the high levels of efficiencies achieved and labour costs saved, it will not be long before these systems become the norm.

As well as the processing speed, another of the key advantages with RPA is that machines do not make mistakes. An organisation being able to eliminate processing risk from their financial operations is a real benefit and one which senior management and Audit Committees are likely to support.

Of course, RPA cannot fully replace the role of people. Yes, robots are more efficient and cost less, but people can think outside the box. What happens when there is an issue that a machine cannot process? There will be a need to manage, monitor and constantly assess the outputs of these machines, to ensure they are actually doing what they are meant to do. Job roles will change and people will need to adapt and adjust.

It is exciting to think about the impact that RPA will have when fully implemented, and the results should speak for themselves. It is a fascinating area, and one that, no doubt, will continue to grow and develop significantly over the coming years.