Insight & Analysis

How the robots are taking on manual journal entries

Published: Sep 2019
Robotic arm typing on a computer keyboard

The ability to effectively streamline SAP financial data entry processes is a dream for most financial teams. Less time spent manually collating and managing data and numbers means more available time to spend on analysing figures and delivering greater business insights. How is it done? We ask an expert.

The amount of data that finance departments need to manage is increasing exponentially. As a result, the time it takes to manually enter general ledger journal entries into an ERP system has grown significantly. Manual journal entries are often the cause of much frustration for finance professionals, particularly as they head towards month end. Not only do they take a huge amount of time to create and to ensure they are accurate, but internal approval processes and strict deadlines often significantly slow things down.

Microsoft Excel is typically the data collection, routing and management tool of choice for general ledger journal entries. Data entry into a spreadsheet can be error prone, and inaccuracies can be extremely costly to the business, often causing audit failures and making reporting and forecasting a real challenge. This fragmented approach to often-hurried manual processes inevitably means that data quality suffers.

“Organisations should not underestimate the time it can take to enter this data manually,” says Andrew Hayden, Senior Product Marketing Manager at US-based data management and process automation firm, Winshuttle. “We know of one organisation who, to comply with company policies, had to manually consolidate and re-upload data from over 40 different ERP systems to create one report in SAP.”

Hayden also notes that finance teams in large businesses often struggle with the “overwhelming volume” of journal entries they need to manage during peak month-end periods. “Imagine the time and effort it takes to post nearly 20,000 journal entries, in less than four days, to close the books,” he says. “Financial professionals have far better things to do be doing with their time than spending it manually inputting even more data and chasing others to meet deadlines.”

Robot: friend or foe?

However, some finance professionals are gradually realising the time and resource saving efficiencies that can be gained from digitally transforming these slow, laborious and error prone manual data entry tasks.

McKinsey predicts that 50-70% of tasks are potentially automatable. At a time when dealing with huge volumes of data and avoiding errors is critical to using information systems like SAP effectively, Hayden sees organisations turning increasingly to robotic process automation (RPA) for repetitive, structured processes.

“General-purpose RPA solutions are designed to automate processes across many systems, and therefore often rely on surface-level record and execution mechanisms to mimic user interactions,” he explains. This can cause the robotic solution to break when something as small as a change in the GUI occurs. “What seems like a simple process from the outset, can be difficult to automate and maintain, as exception handling, delays in system performance and other factors must be built into the process,” he adds. “These types of issues can cause project cost and time overruns, or even outright failure.”

SAP-specific RPA solutions obviously are able to integrate with the ERP system at a much deeper level. So while it’s simple for non-technical staff to record processes through the SAP interface, robotic process occurs at the system level, making these solutions much more robust and enterprise grade. Solutions built with SAP-specific RPA technology also enable a user to quickly step in to fix any errors using familiar software such as Excel—resulting in faster rollout and ROI.

As an example of this, Hayden says Vodafone’s shared financial services centre handles the bulk of the organisation’s financial management and processes.

RPA in action

“The company handles a huge number of assets within SAP where requirements are always changing,” he says. “In one area of the business, Vodafone was handling nine million assets and 100 thousand postings per month which would normally take six months to process.”

The tasks included using five different SAP screens and two different transactions, so a 100-line item entry would take up to 60 minutes to process. However, by using SAP-specific RPA capabilities, he says Vodafone was able to use an Excel-based solution and reduce the processing time down to 15 minutes.

SAP-specific RPA solutions can assist large organisations which are struggling with the number of journal entries they need to make for their general ledger. This digitised approach, explains Hayden, helps businesses improve control of the process and enable them to effectively manage large quantities of financial data while simultaneously improving governance, data quality and employee productivity.

Automating and streamlining the journal entries process can deliver a host of efficiency and management benefits and enable organisations to report and forecast much more effectively, he adds. “What’s more, removing the pain of the manual process from financial professionals frees up their time to focus on more strategic activities that add value to the business, while simultaneously helping to eradicate that month end headache.”

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