Journal 2/2015

Knowledge work will undergo a significant transformation in the near future, and the change has already started. OpusCapita is already using software robots to do work and to assist finance and payroll experts.

“Utilization of software robotics brings financial process automation to the next level,” says Jaakko Lehtinen, Manager of OpusCapita’s RPA (Robotic Process Automation) unit.

“As robotics boosts the efficiency of work it naturally cuts costs, but what I am most excited about is that it offers greater potential for applying our expertise and producing new added value for the customer.”

“Skilled individuals should not be wasting their working hours on routine ‘cut and paste’ tasks, such as simple entry, copying, comparison and handling of data. Software robots free these people up to do work that actually requires human intelligence,” explains Lehtinen.

Virtual assistants working the night shift

OpusCapita started piloting innovative software robotics in early 2015 at one of its service centers. The robots work on a massive, varied and demanding payroll data.

Various regulations, agreements and salary types mean that payroll accounting requires special expertise and accuracy. Despite the IT systems in use, there are still plenty of manual routine tasks involved in payroll processes. Accuracy and timeliness are also particularly important because we are talking about the salaries of a customer’s employees.

Merja Suutari, who was in charge of the pilot project at the service centre, explains that the routines given to the robots were those that are repeated in exactly the same way from one day to the next and in which errors can easily be made. Of course not all payroll accounting tasks are suitable for robots – the robot functions as a virtual assistant in selected tasks.

The robots were first given the routine task that payroll experts have to deal with every morning: processing changed employment relationship data.

“Going through the report can be very tedious and involves checking information from many different places. You have to rely on your own skill and memory to find and correct inconsistencies,” explains Laura Mäkinen, Payroll Specialist.

The employment relationship data arrives in the customer’s ERP system in the early hours of the morning. The robot runs dozens of logical checks, fills in the missing information and, if necessary, transfers the information to the payroll system. Then, when the payroll expert arrives at work after 7 am, a completed report is waiting and the only thing the employee needs to do to the report is to sort out the errors that the robot was unable to solve.

Using a similar approach, another robot screens changes made in the customer’s employee salary data and makes a list of items for the payroll expert to check manually.

Wow moments

“When I look at the employment relationship data I can see straight away whether the form of salary matches the type of employment relationship, for instance. When we started the implementation process for the robot we went through the entire manual process concretely, step by step, setting out the manual routines as clear rules that can be given to the robot,” explains Laura Mäkinen.

Mäkinen and Merja Suutari stress that expert knowledge is needed during the specification phase so that the software robot knows how to perform the assistive tasks in the same way as a human.

“At first we were unable to envisage all of the things that the robot would be capable of. This has initiated the continuous improvement of the process. For example, calculating years of experience is based on rather complex rules and requires the comparison of information in various text files and spreadsheets. We were skeptical at first, but, wow, the robot was able to do that too,” says Suutari.

Confidence in the ability of the software robot to actually do the work properly grew during the pilot stage. During this stage, the payroll specialists checked manually all of the work that had been performed by the robots.

Roger the robot – is he one of us or will he replace us?

At the service center the software robot is jokingly known as Roger. The robot works in the payroll accounting system with his own user ID just like all of the other payroll experts.

“I wouldn’t say that the software robot is just like any other employee here. But he is a very good assistant who saves time in our everyday work and helps to improve the quality of our work,” says Mäkinen.

Mäkinen and Suutari, who has worked in payroll accounting for 20 years, are both very calm about the increase in automation.

“The developments naturally worry people and are a subject for discussion. However, computers, IT systems and automation have been changing the way we work and boosting efficiency throughout my career, one step at a time,” Suutari says.

They believe that the software robot makes work more inspiring – in the end no one will miss the more laborious and monotonous manual routines, and the automation of these tasks has been welcomed with a positive outlook even by those with the most critical attitude to the arrival of software robotics.

Published in OpusCapita Journal 2/2015.
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