You’ve no doubt heard of it, maybe you’ve even seen the effects of it – ‘automation’ is transforming the accounting profession! But what exactly is automation and what does this mean for a business’ finance function?

In a world without automation, finance staff spend their time collecting data and ensuring that it is accurate, leaving little time for other responsibilities. Automation has the ability to streamline processes, with machines and technology capable of completing the manual paper-based tasks that have traditionally been assigned to a finance team member. This greatly reduces manual processing time and improves efficiency and productivity, leaving staff more time to focus on ‘value add’ activities.

Over the last few years there has been a shift, with core general ledger systems moving away from traditional in-house computer servers to the cloud (i.e. web based systems). Products such as Xero & MYOB offer fully cloud-based software systems, and are able to integrate with a wide variety of ‘add-ons’ that can complete a range of other finance tasks. Key features include bank feeds that can automatically import bank and credit card statements from the bank’s internal computer system. The transactions can then be easily reconciled, with artificial intelligence embedded in the software used to code transactions accurately based on the history of the business, removing the need for human intervention in the reconciliation process.

Another time saving feature is the automatic calculation of GST and payroll returns, which can be directly filed to Inland Revenue – removing the need for manual calculations and duplication of data. Sales invoices can also be set up to automatically send to customers, and automated invoice reminder rules can be created, taking the work out of chasing payments.

Moving your general ledger system to the cloud is the first step, however building a comprehensive cloud ecosystem will help take your business to the next level. This occurs by installing an “app stack” to use multiple software applications specifically targeting various manual processes within a business. Even though each individual tool is useful in its own right, the collective power of using them together can generate real savings.

Some may consider automation to be new and uncertain, however the increasing accuracy of technology is providing numerous opportunities for businesses to implement change that is targeted to their circumstances. By allowing automation into your business you can spend more time on those areas where it is most valuable and ensure you have a competitive advantage over those not yet ready to make the step.