At a glance
Administrative tasks are the bugbear of any business. According to a 2017 report Sweating the Small Stuff: The impact of the bureaucracy burden, small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in Australia spend 4.9 per cent of their working time on administrative duties, representing a potential loss in annual productivity worth A$31.8 billion.
Yet in many cases, this burden is unnecessary, particularly in the accounting profession. Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other smart automation technologies are replacing cumbersome manual processes for a range of activities – everything from invoicing to compliance management and entity generation.
With integrated financial software, a task that might take hours manually can be completed with the click of a button, helping accountants work faster, more accurately and more productively.
Perhaps most importantly, back-office automation can free up time for practices to concentrate on value-adding products and services, says Andrew Russell, CEO and managing director of Class, which recently added NowInfinity, a cloud-based documentation and entity management platform, to its portfolio.
“You can get junior, cost-efficient resources using the software, and the more experienced resources then focus on roles that are going to generate income and business development,” Russell explains.
Automation is here to stay
For businesses yet to implement back-office automation, it’s time to get on board. PwC predicts automation will replace about 20 per cent of jobs by the end of the decade and 30 per cent by the mid-2030s. According to McKinsey, about 30 per cent of the activities in 60 per cent of all occupations could be automated already.
More than just a means of streamlining inefficient processes, most software with automation capabilities also offers cloud storage and back-up services, making it easy for employees to access anything they need, wherever they happen to be. With a major portion of the Australian workforce now working remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions, this function has never been more critical.
As Russell explains, the pandemic has forced many businesses to pivot overnight.
“In terms of technology, I think we’ve moved forward 10 years in a short space of time,” he says. “One of the positive things coming out of COVID-19 is that it’s got more organisations focused on cloud-based technology and how they can create collaborative environments.”
Embracing new and existing tech
Certain technologies have proved essential during the pandemic. DocuSign’s eSignature tool has made it possible to complete transactions, maintain compliance and perform a range of tasks that have historically relied on paper-based or manual processes.
Communication platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have likewise become go-to resources, enabling people to chat, share documents and conduct virtual meetings with colleagues and clients alike. Newer technologies are experiencing greater take-up, too, says Russell, who highlights the rise of Sneek: a platform that creates virtual offices with frequently updated photos of co-workers.
Meanwhile, collaboration tools such as Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 provide teams with remote access to documents, while task management apps including Trello and Asana are helping to organise workflows and keep employees on track.
Adapting to new technologies so quickly has no doubt been disruptive, particularly for practices that, pre-pandemic, had relied on manual processes. Nonetheless, Russell believes this episode presents an opportunity for such organisations to prepare for the future, adding: “It’s allowing them to think about workplace planning and how they can use different resources to service their customers.”