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Robotic revolution set to reach the back office

Fast-learning robots are set to shake up the way firms of all sizes manage their finances in the near future, according to chartered accountants Newby Castleman.

The Leicestershire-based firm is encouraging its clients to familiarise themselves with Robotic Process Automation (RPA), after HMRC announced plans to trial the software. RPA technology uses smart software to learn how to undertake repetitive tasks. It can mimic the way in which human workers interact with applications, completing back-office duties such as data entry, issuing purchase orders and managing invoices.

Some RPA systems even have the capability to handle objective email enquiries – using language recognition to deduce what is being asked, sifting through data and providing a timely response. HMRC’s chief digital and transformation officer, Mike Potter, recently discussed the institution’s plans to carry out trials of RPA within its own processes at the 2017 Public Sector Show. He described the technology as a means of ‘taking the graft out of people’s jobs to focus on higher value work’.

The exploration of RPA is part of a wider emphasis from HMRC on the digitalisation of tax. It follows the launch of ‘Making Tax Digital’, a government initiative with the stated aim of transforming the tax system and scrapping the traditional Tax Return before 2020, by using online software to record companies’ tax data in real time.

John Griffin FCCA, Partner at Newby Castleman, said: “We have been keeping our eye on developments with regards to RPA for some time now, and the fact that HMRC are now investigating its use tells us that this technology has reached a watershed moment and is on the verge of becoming mainstream.

“We have seen on so many occasions in the past that when HMRC implements a progressive change, industry soon follows.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that with certain administrative tasks, this technology is more efficient and reliable than a human worker, is cheaper than a human worker, can operate 24/7 and reduces the number of mundane tasks that staff need to undertake, which will free up a portion of their time each day for the jobs that require a human touch.

“In the vast majority of cases, RPA won’t replace human workers – it will just redefine their job roles, take away the mundanity, and offer the benefits of reliable, up-to-the-minute data that businesses and their accountancy partners can work with.

“Businesses of all sizes need to be aware of RPA at the very least, and those who can absorb the set-up costs should seriously consider the long-term benefits of this technology in terms of their back office administration.”

Newby Castleman is one of the Midlands’ leading independent accountancy firms, with offices in Leicester and Loughborough. It offers a range of specialist financial services, business and tax advice for individuals and businesses. For further information on the services offered visit: www.newbycastleman.co.uk.

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