After more than a decade of steady development, ERP systems today are changing fundamentally, facilitated by the availability of advances such as cloud computing, advanced database architecture, collaboration, improved user-interface design, mobility, analytics and planning. This was evident when Oracle recently held its third analysts-only ERP Cloud Summit in New York to coincide with its Modern Finance Experience event. Oracle now has an increasingly robust set of business applications that reside in the cloud and a growing list of live customers – large and midsize – from a range of industries across the world, both of which were offered as part of the here-and-now technology theme at the event.
SAP recently held a teleconference to highlight its blockchain strategy. Lately, the major business software vendors have been calling attention to their blockchain initiatives. While the focus on this technology might seem premature to those who still equate it with cryptocurrencies, evidence is pointing to a future pace of adoption similar to the rapid take-up of the internet in the 1990s. That blockchain is useful for a wide range of business functions isn’t news – just google “blockchain use cases.” Payment, provenance, testament and efficiency are four main themes driving a multitude of applications of the technology. That said, blockchain isn’t technology in search of a mission but is something more like the internet, both in its broad utility and in value multiplication through network effects.
Robots of the physical sort are not about to take over finance and accounting but we have arrived at the age of “Robotic Finance”. I coined this term to focus on four key technologies with transformative capabilities: artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotic process automation, bots and natural language processing and blockchain distributed ledger technology. Embracing these technologies will enable any department to redefine itself as a forward-looking strategic partner to the rest of the company.
For several years, I’ve commented on a range of emerging technologies that will have a profound impact on white-collar work in the coming decade. I’ve now coined the term “Robotic finance” to describe this emerging focus, which includes four key areas of technology: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA), bots utilizing natural language processing, and blockchain distributed ledger technology (DLT), each of which I describe below. Robotic finance will have a disproportionate impact on finance and accounting departments: I estimate that adoption of these technologies potentially will eliminate one-third of the accounting department’s workload within a decade.
Robotic process automation (RPA) relies on programming or the application of analytical algorithms to execute the most appropriate action in an automated workflow. RPA enables business users to configure a “robot” (actually, computer software) to interact with applications or data sources to process a transaction, move or manipulate data, communicate with other digital systems and manage machine-to-machine and man-to-machine interactions. This technology is gaining increasing notice by finance departments, with good reason: RPA represents an important step beyond simple process automation in that it uses software to execute routine but complex workflows that require judgment. Rather than making an individual check-off a step in a routine approval, a robotic system applies an algorithm that decides the next step. The system thus does what people spend an awful lot of their time doing every day: making judgments that most of the time could be done by a machine.