Despite the numerous gains in quality and efficiency it provides, automation is still not widely used by finance departments. Especially with SAP S4/HANA migrations, major process changes towards standardization and digitalization can be implemented to provide a solid basis for RPA.
"There is currently too much hype about digitalization in Finance, we need to sort our thoughts and impressions first." This statement was expressed by a CFO in our "Finance 2025" study. The statement was no surprise, it is rather reflecting the current status quo of digital transformation of the Finance function. Digital transformation is still progressing slowly.
Until today, disruptive transformations are not visible. New technologies such as Big-Data Analysis and Business Process Management (BPM) platforms are only used in small scope applications, according to the findings of our study.
Most companies are still busy to implement the necessary pre-conditions for efficient digitalization, for example; improving Master Data Management and Data Quality, standardization towards a homogenous systems landscape and the decommission of old legacy systems.
Our study about digitalization in accounting has been conducted for the 4th time and allows us to draw first conclusions. Compared to 2018, when the study was run for the first time, the distribution of automation technologies has almost not changed.
Remarkable is the very low interest in Business Process Management (BPM) platforms for Finance process automation, even though Finance processes are perfectly suited for automation as they are repeatable and highly standardized.
About one-quarter of the surveyed companies use Robotic Process Automation (RPA) bots. These bots support the validation of Accounts Payable invoices or the reconciliation of bank statements against the Accounts Receivables. Furthermore, RPA solutions can also be used for data entries, regular Reporting, or even support e-mail communication.
The majority of the surveyed companies made very positive experience with RPA: ~90% of the companies were able to generate efficiencies through time savings, and the majority realized also quality improvements and cost savings.
However, there is also the other side of the coin: Many companies are disillusioned with the current bot-hype. "The introduction of bots has not triggered any major revolution", commented one survey participant. The reason was, that RPA governance was significantly underestimated. Several study respondents report a high level of maintenance expenditures. As a consequence, RPA is merely considered as bridging technology.
The study results show still unfounded doubts about added value of new technologies. Cloud solutions and in-memory databases are enjoying growing popularity in accounting, but big data analysis tools and self-service reporting are currently only being tested in pilot projects, if at all. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is hardly used either.
A major project that creates the basis for further digitization and automation is the migration of the ERP systems to SAP S/4HANA. This migration also offers the opportunity to "clean-up" the processes in the company, i.e. to standardize and digitize them. The majority of companies are now planning the migration to SAP S/4HANA over the next years.
Much work is still needed in the digitalization of the Finance function. Operational processes are almost digitalized in only 20% of the companies. Especially non-Finance related reporting is particularly low in digitization adaption.
The advantages of new technologies, such as BPM platforms or virtual reality tools, for the visualization of key figures are obvious. Businesses should seize the opportunities towards digitalization, especially in the face of an ever faster changing world and digitalization pressure due to the COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, increasing complexity of regulations can be better managed with technological support.
It pays off to use innovative solutions for financial processes and the organization as challenges can be mitigated more efficiently. At the same time, the Finance function puts itself in a position to support business decisions through intelligent analysis of the data and thus generates added value for the company.