The world is witnessing a deluge of data and it is the accounting industry that has its task cut out in effectively handling this data for outcomes. While getting all the data onto an accounting solution is the means to the end, actually getting it there poses the biggest challenges. Data is typically available in different forms and from different sources. Data entry automation has advanced, and the rate of progress needs to continue to take automation to higher levels that will be of greater use to accounting companies and clients. Outsourced accounting firms like Outbooks already combine manpower with data entry automation to process tons of data for various accounting firms.
Automation – the engine and driver of productivity
In terms of productivity, there is very little to beat automation. Automation is the force multiplier that can turn the most mundane of tasks into super efficient processes. And in accounting the numbers nightmare is very clearly, the need to handle the large volumes of data. Having to do it on a regular basis, with very little room for error, can sometimes challenge even the most dedicated of resources. This is where automation can help by taking care of the repetitive tasks, driving productivity, not just in the area of automation, but also in areas that work in tandem with the automation.
Drawing closer to a period of fully automated data entry
While it may be some time before all data entry is automated, we are getting there. The gap is closing as more and more solutions and applications permit users to capture and parse data through automated processes. The record keeping process and the need to manually enter data for accounting purposes will certainly be regarded as a relic of the past in the years to come. But, till we officially embrace such a period, it is necessary to work towards creating a platform where the data capture and automation is not only seamless and fast, but accurate with zero error.
Setting up and configuration – the two most important aspects for bootstrapping
Automation is essentially more of a bootstrap process. You kick start a process or a set of processes and it works on its own till conclusion of assigned task. For this to successfully commence and conclude with limited errors in the outcome, it is essential to setup the data and configure the systems/processes. Once this is achieved, then automating the data entry aspect of data will be smooth and trouble free. At present, automation and cloud accounting applications handle automated tasks smoothly, post setting up and configuration. In the future, as automation begins to work in tandem with AI, this process will also be a part of the automation loop, driving greater efficiency.
The need for accuracy when processes are reliant on automation
What could be considered as a challenge or the need for caution is the accuracy component of data entry. When automation processes proceed at breakneck speed, there will be limited scope for verifying the underlying data that is processed, which is a lot different from manual processes where there is scope for flagging data as possibly incorrect at the time of data entry itself. This mandates the need for turning the automation processes into intelligent processes, and more importantly maintaining a standard for the source data. All transaction records need to follow a minimum level of accuracy and standardisation to prevent feeding incorrect data to the automated data entry processes.
Role of accountants in evolving accounting practices
In the backdrop of automated data entry processes, questions may emerge about the actual role of accountants in tasks related to basic accounting services. Only a part of the processes will be taken over by automation, more as an augmented service. The role of accountants cannot be replaced by machines or automation, only certain functions. The responsibility will remain vested with the accountants. It is hard to imagine compliance being entrusted to a machine. The processes related to compliance can be performed by a machine to help specialists achieve compliance. And accounting is more of an regulatory requirement, which adds value to business outcomes as a corollary.
The future – automation and humans will complement each other
The future will witness a scenario where machines and humans will complement each other. For instance, a machine or a process cannot work indefinitely without human intervention through servicing, upgrades, fixing of bugs etc. Similarly, humans in the future in accounting roles will find it nearly impossible to complete tasks without the assistance of automation. The sheer volumes of data and the speed with which the data needs to be entered for processing makes it virtually impossible to meet the deadlines and the accuracy requirements.
Automation of the future – a part of the triad of technological solutions
The three technologies that will impact the future of accounting are – automation, AI and robotics. While AI and automation may appear as natural solutions to accounting, robotics may appear as odd in the triad. However, auditing involves physical stock checking roles, and it may be extremely difficult for physically verifying stocks at high speeds. Neither will it be a cost effective exercise to have a large number of individuals carry out stock checking and then collating the results. This effectively hands over the reins to robotics, which will permit auditors to receive updated reports from devices that will carry out the stock checking. The three solutions – automation, robotics and AI with its subset of machine learning – will combine together to help accounting companies keep pace with the changes in business.
Automation – the mood of change among clients
Automation has beneficiaries not just among accountants, but among the clients serviced by the accountants. Automation slashes costs, but more importantly, it helps cut down on the need for allocating resources for liaison with accountants. Bookkeeping and auditing tasks required greater involvement of resources from among clients who were required to facilitate meetings with accountants. This will become a relic of the past, as clients will no more be expected to be physically available for handing over data or for discussions. All inputs will take the cloud route and clients can continue with core activities without having any aspect of operations be impacted by data entry.
Future automated data entry processes will be intuitive
Automated data entry processes in the future will be intuitive to offer greater flexibility. Automation, at present may involve inflexible processes, that require human intervention for flexibility. For instance an automated data entry of records may involve the capture of data at a fixed period during the day or end of day. Overriding this automated process now requires human intervention, without which the process will commence and conclude automatically during that period. In the future, the processes will be a lot more intuitive with the automation itself being flexible enough to capture data as and when necessary, or by considering the workloads.
Accountants will immensely benefit from increased bandwidth in offering services to clients. With automation taking care of the repetitive and the most time consuming aspects of accounting, accountants will have more time to handle the technical and more complex aspects efficiently. This means that the output will increase not just in terms of speed or volume, but in the standards of accounting. The time spent travelling or meeting will be slashed, limited to initial discussions and clarifications. This means that accountants will have greater bandwidth to handle a large number of clients at the same time without compromising on any parameters of the service. Outbooks provides outsourced accounting services to accounting firms helping them increase capacity. We leverage automation to scale as accurately and quickly as possible.
Automation has led to the creation of a new discourse in the traditional number crunching processes of accounting, replacing rote with efficiency. As time whizzes past in a blur, as developments unfold in the new techno-social order of business, automation will take accounting to standards that will help it to keep pace with future developments. Digitisation is a juggernaut with a difference – entities that do not join the transformation, will find themselves out of the race altogether.