Corporates’ digital transformation journeys are a part of strategic initiatives to optimize workflows, cut expenses, expand revenues and pursue the status of industry leader. Today, while that remains true, digital transformation is increasingly a matter of necessity — and in some cases, survival.
Regardless of where a business is along its digital transformation journey, Venu Kannan, global vice president of UiPath‘s domain and applications practice, says technologies like Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Robotics Process Automation (RPA), are finding new roles in corporates’ back offices as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Not only are these automated technologies key to reducing friction, he told PYMNTS, they’re also essential to accelerating cash flows and preserving business continuity at a time when disruption is the new norm.
“Pre-COVID, automation was a lever for transformation,” Kannan said. “What used to happen is, if you didn’t automate, you can imagine a stack of paper sitting next to your desk — it could be invoices, or cash that needs to be applied to customer accounts. You had the ability to get approval from different people by just walking around to their desk.”
“Now, you can’t because everyone is sitting in their own homes.”
Interest in RPA and OCR has been growing in recent years in the corporate back office, particularly within financial workflows like invoice processing in the accounts payable department.
One of the most valuable propositions for implementing these tools is enabling companies to automatically process invoices for payment without forcing suppliers to change their invoicing behavior.
“Sometimes third-party behavior change is very difficult,” said Kannan, adding that, “there are also different types of vendors — some are more powerful than others.”
This reality applies for B2B relationships regardless of the information being exchanged, from invoices to purchase orders and payment instructions. The value in OCR and RPA, explained Kannan, is that the technology is able to read and capture data regardless of the format in which it is exchanged, whether via email, PDF or eInvoicing portal, and then wield automation technology to take action based on that information.
It’s also able to collect data in different ways depending on what the document is. For instance, information from a purchase order must be ingested and applied differently than payment directions. Collecting and inputting information remains one of the largest pain points of accounts payable, accounts receivable and other offices in the back office, and as such, is one of the most influential motivations behind organization’s adoption of these tools, Kannan said.
Accelerating Work Flows — And Cash
Pre-pandemic, the opportunities for automation and workflow optimization were attractive to businesses looking to make progress in their digitization efforts. But today, the opportunities to accelerate these workflows also mean the chance to accelerate capital between businesses.
In accounts payable, invoice process automation means the ability to capture early payment discounts and accelerate payments to suppliers. For vendors, automating purchase order and cash application similarly presents attractive financial benefits.
RPA and OCR are also critical tools today to ensure business continuity at a time when more companies are facing major disruption to their traditional workflows in the office. In the time of coronavirus, these tools are gaining traction in a variety of other use cases, said Kannan.
He highlighted use cases to automate federal stimulus loan processing from the Small Business Administration, or RPA tools implemented in hospital settings to automatically capture information from patients, leaving more room for healthcare providers to provide critical services to patients.
Not every organization is able to immediately adopt such sophisticated tools in their back office. For organizations that continue to rely on paper, Kannan noted that they must at least be able to scan physical documents into a digital format like PDF. But at a time when flexibility is essential for businesses to continue operating, digitization is critical; it’s just as important for technology to be flexible, too, and work with a business’s existing workflows regardless of digitization maturity.
“That’s the beauty of it,” he said of OCR and RPA. “You could go from zero to 100 in a matter of weeks. You can start with one process and be completely manual, and start applying this technology right away across different types of applications and different types of documents.”