Tools like RPA and AI are not yet suitable for “most finance organisations” as they have not sufficiently updated their processes to be able to integrate the tools into the finance function, according to Guillaume de Pommereau, CFO of Hitachi Europe.
De Pommereau was speaking at the Treasury Leaders Summit in London and explained how his team at Hitachi Europe had gone through their own financial transformation.
“The maturity of the finance organisation in most of the cases is not yet ready for that [RPA and AI],” de Pommereau said. “You cannot put an RPA on Excel. That would be crazy. You would you would waste hours of consulting time to put something on Excel and Excel is not very robust, it can have different versions and can have flaws in the calculations.”
Instead, de Pommereau called for finance teams to get to grips with the more basic automation tools that were already on the market.
“What we need to do first is use all these automation tools that are already on the market and have been for the last 10 years.
“Every technology I mentioned has been around for quite a while. So, once you have your operation having all the systems in place, then you can actually think about RPA and AI and then you can really go to the next level where efficiency increases even more,” de Pommereau added.
Excel not dead – yet
In addition, he wanted to see greater movement away from Excel, as he suggested there was an overreliance the software. However, de Pommereau did stop short of saying that Excel should be phased out altogether.
“I think Excel is a great tool, but it is not as robust as all the reporting tools or ERPs that we are using.
“Excel is like a tool in the box, but we need to make sure that it is not replacing everything as you cannot run SAP plus Excel only. It would be very inefficient because Excel is manual, you can have mistakes in some calculations, you have different versions of the truth, so Excel is a tool, but it is not the only tool,” de Pommereau said.
Indeed, Hitachi Europe was no exception to this rule, as Hitachi Europe’s CFO claimed that RPA was still at least 12 months away from being implemented.
“For the moment in our team, we’ve done a survey over six months – ‘Should we do an RPA?’ and we concluded that it was not yet ready.
“RPA is definitely the future, but you need to have the right organisations to use it and because Hitachi is so diverse – so much a collection of small businesses in Europe, we have not yet seen one business that is large enough and mature enough to be able to adopt an RPA straight away.
“I think in six months, 12 months’ time we will be there, but for the moment our maturity is not yet there,” he added.
It was also an issue of cost as the process of implementing RPA was expensive and needed to be managed carefully.
“A robot, or a bot as they say, is around £10K a year to implement and then about £10K to run, so it has to be done on something that is mature and well stabilised otherwise it needs something to get a return. So, in the case of Hitachi Europe we have lots of diversity and legal entities, but we didn’t find a process that was big enough and stable enough and mature enough to be RPA-ed,” de Pommereau said.