What is accounting automation? Automation, AI, and machine learning are shaping how organizations are getting work done, and are the driving forces behind efficient processing and company growth. Through automation technology, professionals are able to focus on higher-value activities by eliminating the mundane, manual tasks that make up a significant portion of the workday.
Accounting automation is leveraging technology to take the most manual tasks and steps of the procure-to-pay process and allowing software to handle them. The goal is to simplify and provide visibility into the process, enforce controls, and allow accounting teams to focus on higher priorities and initiatives.
Many misconceptions surround accounting automation. These expectations can prevent the adoption of this valuable tool. Understanding the reality of accounting automation allows professionals to realize the benefits.
Expectation: Automation takes our jobs.
Reality: Professionals can focus on higher-value activities and do more without having to hire more people.
As more professionals enter the workforce, they are adapting to this technology. However, for older-generation accounting professionals, automation creates an uneasy feeling. They’re unfamiliar with the technology and concerned that it could make them feel redundant.
By emphasizing the direct benefits to these professionals, they can see that accounting automation is not going to replace them. Instead, it will empower them to spend more time doing interesting and engaging tasks.
There are only so many hours of the workday, and many accounting professionals might find that they’re staying later to finish projects. They may have to do the work that would normally take multiple people, if a company is particularly small. Accounting automation can help in these scenarios as well, by supporting professionals and speeding up the time-consuming parts of their work.
They can get home earlier and enjoy a better work-life balance, which leads to overall higher satisfaction with their job and improved wellness. Automation shouldn’t be viewed as an enemy, but rather a way to maintain productivity without allowing work to take over your life. Rather than taking your job, it makes it more fulfilling and allows you to focus on your core competencies. You didn’t go to school for data entry, after all, you went for accounting and all that entails.
Accounting automation handles the standard, easily processed work. You get to tackle the cases that require a critical understanding of the complexities involved in accounting work.
Expectation: Software can "Automagically" do all the work.
This unrealistic expectation consists of two parts. The first is the assumption that you’ll never have to process invoices again. The second is that every single aspect of accounting becomes automated. It’s easy to think that accounting automation is a magical tool where you wave a wand and poof! Everything is done! The danger with this expectation is that it makes you have unrealistically high hopes of what accounting automation can and can’t do for your company. Once it’s actually implemented, you end up disappointed when you find out that the reality is much different.
Reality: Accounting automation still requires human intervention when needed.
Someone has to make decisions and judgment calls, especially on edge cases that don’t fit into the standard processes that the automation tool is built around. Exceptions will always exist and need human eyes looking at them. Software can only make decisions based on the information that it has. It doesn’t know what to do if there’s not a process or procedure for it to follow.
When it doesn’t have this data available, it relies on human operators to take over. As you get used to using accounting automation tools, you’ll learn more about its capabilities and limits. You’ll find ways to adjust your typical workflow to accommodate human intervention requests, as you’ll have plenty of time available given how much standard work the system can process for you. Once you gain more familiarity with the system, it’s possible that you’ll be able to find processes that work for cases that previously required hands-on work and attention.
Leading accounting automation tools add new features continuously as innovations are introduced and users request changes and additions. These systems also adapt to new compliance measures that are put into place for various industries and accounting as a whole. Much as you learn and grow throughout your accounting career, accounting automation tools also change over time.
Expectation: We no longer have control over the process since it’s automated and software is handling it.
If you can’t see what’s happening, how do you know what’s going on? Is the information being entered into the ERP correct? Is the system even capable of handling the unique processes used by your business? The perceived lack of control can lead to a lot of concern among accounting professionals.
There’s also an underlying worry that the business processes already established will be completely changed by implementing accounting automation tools. Resisting change and wanting to continue doing things the way they have always been done is a common situation in many accounting businesses. People who have worked there for decades have a lot of experience in using the existing business processes, and they don’t want to lose that level of control over their work.
There’s also a concern that experienced workers would essentially be “starting from scratch” due to sweeping changes in accounting processes. It can be distressing for senior-level accountants to find themselves upstaged by software that takes over many tasks they’re used to doing.
Reality: You have MORE control using process enforcements and enforcing steps within the software.
The control that you have is different than what you’re used to. That much is true. However, you end up with a net gain of control and have the capability to enforce the processes and procedures in place. You get to determine what that control looks like, and have software support to ensure that everyone follows the same consistent and established steps.
While some parts of work processes need to change because they are clunky or no longer needed in an automated system, the shape of the workflow remains familiar. You’re able to take the best parts of your current processes and set up enforcement measures so everyone is doing things the same way. Another benefit of this configuration is that collaborating with others becomes much easier. You’re using the exact same processes, so any differences in results can be quickly identified and examined to see if there are errors in the numbers or another accounting issue.
Expectation: Automation is going to cost too much.
It’s a common belief that automation is too expensive for smaller-scale businesses. Professionals may believe that it’s easier and cheaper to hire someone and keep doing what they’re doing.
Reality: There are levels of automation and investment, which can be tailored for your company.
There’s no rule saying that you have to go from zero automation to full automation all at once, or ever. It’s common to start out small, based on your budget and the expected value returned. There are different levels of automation and when partnering with an automation company, you mutually codevelop that solution.
Through this collaborative effort, you end up with a solution that meets the unique needs of your accounting business. Many companies choose to start with automation that has the most potential to transform that part of the business or process. It could be duties that get the most complaints from professionals, or those that take up the biggest portion of the workday.
By focusing on those quick win areas with the first instance of accounting automation in a company, they help to prove the concept as a whole to people who are not convinced that it’s a good idea to put it in place.
Another option for testing accounting automation in your company is to set it up for a specific team first. You can opt for professionals who are most interested in using technology to improve their work. This focus group can help you determine the type of solution that you need for your company, potential areas to expand with the software, and whether there are any unforeseen concerns with implementing it. This group of users also becomes your advocates for accounting automation. They can help win over their peers who are not as on-board with this technology.
Expectation: The results and success is immediate following accounting automation implementation.
When accounting automation is held up as a magical tool for all of your company’s problems, it’s easy to believe that it’s a push-button system that shows results immediately after implementation. If they don’t see improvements in short order, they assume that the solution is a failure. They might try to go back to the old way of doing things, or look for other ways to circumvent the processes that accounting automation puts into place.
Detractors of accounting automation may bring up the money invested in a solution that isn’t living up to their expectations. It’s easy to end up with a vocal subset of professionals who are upset that the money wasn’t used elsewhere in the budget.
Reality: It takes time to see results.
The first few months are used to catch the exceptions. Saying “Oh, we forgot about this unique scenario” is a common phrase during this phase. Each accounting company has its own set of business processes and workflows that are unique to them. The type of clients they work with can also change what they need out of their accounting automation tool significantly.
You also have to consider the change management that will be uncomfortable at first. It takes patience to get accounting professionals used to sweeping changes, such as technology automating many tasks that take up substantial portions of their workday. They may not realize how much time the more tedious accounting work takes up, so it’s a wake-up call following the implementation of this type of tool. It also takes time to build up vocal advocates for the accounting automation software, as well as a general familiarity with the system.
ROI is typically seen within 5-7 months, but there is a learning curve in place. It takes time for the team to build confidence in the solution, adjust to a new way of doing things, and effectively learning how to make the system work for them.
Once your team adjusts, they will gain confidence and be able to do more with less, while focusing on higher-value activities. They won’t know what they did without such a helpful tool, and your company’s productivity will see great gains.
By focusing on the reality of accounting automation rather than incorrect expectations, you can better make decisions about the solutions that work best for your company’s future. Empower accounting professionals with the tools they need to expand their capabilities and do more of the tasks they enjoy, while eliminating or reducing mundane duties.
Want to learn more about empowering your accounting team with automation tools? Schedule a custom demo today!