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When I owned a services company, my bookkeeper would cringe when it came time to process and reconcile credit card transactions each month. The process required inputting line item details of every transaction to be processed for payment.  Even with a small number of charges being processed each month, we would occasionally find that we had input an incorrect dollar amount, requiring us to cancel and re-enter the entire transaction. A few days later, the processor would send a bank deposit summary which contained line item details of the deposits the processor had made on our behalf.  We would then manually reconcile these deposits by “eyeballing” each transaction on the bank deposit summary against our submittals report; and then manually apply individual payments to the corresponding client account in our accounting system. As you can guess, many times the reconciliation would not match our submittal report, requiring another manual review to identify the cause of the discrepancy. This entire process took an average of 10 hours (requiring 2 people to complete the task) every time we processed credit card payments. As a small company, that was big overhead to incur each month.  You can understand why my bookkeeper would attempt to delegate the activity to another staff member, citing other accounting tasks that she needed to carry out that were more important at the time. The work was repetitive, error prone and tedious.

Fortunately, the above scenario can be avoided today by using Robotic Process Automation (“RPA”). RPA is the concept of using software robots or BOTs to mimic keystrokes for entering data into business applications along with a form of screen scraping for interpreting information contained in the application to accurately process transactions. In my example, the robot would be triggered to automatically pull the appropriate clients that had chosen to pay by credit card, extract the pertinent client information in order to process a credit card charge, automatically log into the card processing site and enter that data. When the processor submitted the summary of deposits a few days later, that same robot would again be triggered to review the deposit report, apply the payments that had cleared the processor site  by updating the client accounts and  notify  my bookkeeper only if the reconciliation showed that there any exceptions between submittal and summary of deposit reports. What had taken my team an average of 10 hours each month could now be done in a few minutes, without errors and without creating stress for my bookkeeper, and, hopefully increasing her job satisfaction by eliminating this tedious task each month.

While this “use case” is straight forward, RPA can be utilized for more complex use cases in accounting departments and other departments in the enterprise. RPA adoption has become so widespread in enterprises that industry analyst Gartner reports that 70% of finance organizations are using or piloting RPA.  BOTs can be deployed automatically (unattended BOTs) or requiring a human to trigger the BOT to execute a process (attended BOTs). I will get into more details on other use cases for BOTs and how RPA plays an important role in intelligent automation in upcoming blogs. Stay Tuned…