If you are like many Accounts Payable leaders, you know you have some lingering manual processes that the team is responsible for completing. These processes are considered tedious or only done rarely, or they may require using multiple programs like excel and the Accounting System/ERP, and because of these reasons they are not considered for larger automation processes. It’s also inevitable that someone will forget to perform the task and if there is turnover, it may be forgotten altogether until the department that needed the task to be done reaches out. Just like last week’s episode “4 Vendor Maintenance Fraud Prevention Tasks That Can Be Automated Using RPA”, Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is once again to the rescue.
A great example of this is years ago when I was an AP leader, my Vendor Maintenance team was the only team that had access to edit a vendor record. Even though we had semi-automation of the vendor creation (yay), and the vendor record was automatically created, there were specific fields not included in the automation that were needed to enable the vendor for electronic Purchase Order delivery. Compared to other IT projects, this was not a priority. So, a team member and a backup were assigned to run a report to identify all the PO vendors created for that week, then go in and populate the two or three fields. And so, it went weekly. Or it didn’t. The team members would get busy, or both would be out, or it would be month-end, or year-end. Also, when there was turnover, it did not always get transferred to the next employee, and so on.
When the company offered to have one of my team members trained on a new RPA tool – I was all for it and wanted this manual process along with any other manual tasks that may be eligible, to be automated. These are steps that we took to identify eligible manual processes and then implement RPA Bots:
1. Train a Team Member. One of my team members was trained on RPA Software or tool. Click here for a list of RPA Tools & Vendors provided by AI Multiple.com.
2. Identify Eligible Processes/Task. Another team member that was knowledgeable about the team processes identified all manual processes. There were almost 20 processes.
3. They Work Together. Then both team members reviewed each manual process:
a. Determine whether each step was rules based and no decision had to be made
b. Identify the total time it took to complete the task and the number of times it needed to be done. Even projects that only took 5 minutes daily were candidates if they were critical.
c. Determined how hard it was to implement (Number of sign-ins to other applications. For example, any that required the IRS TIN sign-in was not implemented because the IRS implemented the two factor sign-on which the bot could not handle.)
d. Determined whether security approval would be given - Bots were treated like employees. Segregation of duties still had to be maintained, so if a process involved invoices, it could not be implemented because a Bot could not have access to both post invoices and edit vendors.
Tip – Make sure your process documents are updated so during this step they are reviewing up-to-date processes.
4. Management Review/Approve Eligible Processes/Tasks. Once a final list of projects was identified, I prioritized them.
5. Program Bot. Bots were programmed using the RPA software.
6. Management Review/Approve Bot. I reviewed and approved.
7. IT Review Approve. IT Security team reviewed the process and approved (or disapproved)
8. Implement. Bot was put into production.
Lesson Learned: Don’t automate until you have reviewed and standardized your processes. There is no need to automate the compilation and emailing of a report if no one reads it. We also found that there were some manual processes handed down from transition or acquisition that NO ONE knew why they were done and once we inquired, were able to eliminate those tasks altogether.
The actual Bot creation? My suggestion is to identify which tool will be used and start learning with their trial program. As stated in my last blog post I included as options Automation Anywhere and UI Path since they offer training, certifications and a free trial to get you started.
We took one manual process at a time. Each company or team will have unique Bot processes based on their Accounting System/ERP and business processes. What ideas do you or your team have? I’d love to hear about it – comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking to add Fraud Prevention to your manual Vendor Setup & Maintenance process? Get the Toolkit here.
Debra R. Richardson,
MBA, APM, APPM, CPRS
Debra is an accounts payable speaker, consultant, and trainer with over 20 years of experience in AP, AR, general ledger, and financial reporting for Fortune 500 companies including Verizon, General Motors and Aramark.
For the past eight years, Debra has focused on Global Vendor Maintenance, and implemented a vendor self-registration portal for 140k+ global vendors across five Accounting Systems/ERPs. In her consultancy, she focuses on internal controls and authentication to prevent fraud in the vendor master file.