How RPA can improve ERP efficiency

Robotic process automation can help companies manage the implementation of ERP tools.

Robots and resources: How RPA can improve ERP efficiency

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools are now essential for business success.

Equipped with these solutions, it's possible for companies to better track, monitor and manage key processes across global operations. And market trends reflect more mainstream adoption — over the next 10 years, ERP software investment is expected to "surge" with a compound annual growth rate of 10.1%.

However, as these systems become more complex, many companies face challenges in effective implementation and integration. Robotic process automation (RPA) can help. Here's how.

Current challenges in ERP system management

When it comes to ERP adoption, companies fall into two broad categories: those combining a new ERP platform with existing enterprise planning environments and those deploying their first ERP solution. Each approach comes with unique challenges.

Data migration and integration issues often emerge for companies combining systems. The concept is simple: Businesses need to get ERP data from point A to point B. However, legacy tools and technologies may not be compatible with new solutions. For example, many modern systems are cloud-based, while legacy tools are typically hosted on premises. This creates a disconnect when companies look to merge disparate data sets and discover there's no easy path forward.

Meanwhile, enterprises deploying ERP systems for the first time may see initial success in harmonizing key business functions but struggle to layer in new tools and technologies as they become available.

In both cases, challenges with process and organizational change are also common. According to recent research, 69% of companies say process change is challenging, and 55% point to issues with organizational shifts. This is because people tend to prefer familiar processes and structures. Introducing new operations — even if they offer significant benefits over existing solutions — can prove problematic.

The role of RPA in ERP

RPA can help reduce friction and improve efficiency in ERP systems.

At its most basic, robotic process automation is a software solution that helps solve the problem of integration by making it possible for two systems to communicate. While the term "robotic" gives rise to the idea of powerful machines completing complex tasks, the reality is far more benign. RPA allows disparate technologies to talk by translating data from one into a format that's readable by the other.

Consider the example of a retailer running a legacy system for customer service but deploying a new ERP platform for order processing. To ensure continuity, legacy system data must make the jump to modern ERP tools. The problem? Much of this legacy system isn't digitized. Instead, it's stored on paper.

RPA makes data transfer possible, starting with optical character recognition (OCR) to scan forms and extract relevant data. This data is then pushed into a solution such as Microsoft Dynamics 365, where it’s checked, formatted and then passed on to ERP systems.

Put simply, RPA is like the duct tape of technology solutions, making it ideal for "sticking" two systems together, no matter how different they may be.

Rise of the robots: What's next?

Much like its ERP counterpart, RPA is constantly evolving.

The concept itself isn't new. Robotic process automation has been around for decades, often flying under the radar as a way for IT teams to connect disparate internal processes. However, over the last five years, RPA has seen mass adoption.

The cause? Cloud-based solutions that enable anytime, anywhere connections — so long as technologies and tools can communicate. Suddenly, small-scale RPA processes became the building blocks of effective cloud collaboration.

Because RPA connectors are naturally technology- and platform-neutral, they're well-suited to any task, from cloud/cloud crossings to legacy/cloud connections and even legacy/legacy collaborations.

In some respects, RPAs are similar to application programming interfaces (APIs). The most significant difference? To function, APIs require a connector, which may be natively built into the software solution or added later. However, without an accessible connector, software cannot be connected using APIs.

RPA, meanwhile, comes with no such restrictions. As noted above, these processes are like duct tape — they can be customized to work with any technology solution.

This adaptability leads to a potential shortfall for RPA: the need for humans in the loop. Right now, humans are often required for process monitoring and data validation. While in most cases, RPA should operate as intended, there's always the possibility of missed data or incorrect outputs.

However, on the horizon is the integration of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) into RPA. As these frameworks help RPA "learn," it will become possible for robotic processes to conduct their own data validation rather than requiring constant human oversight. Instead, tools will notify staff of potential problems or unexpected results, freeing up employees to work on more business-critical tasks.

How Mazars can help

Used effectively, RPA can streamline ERP processes and eventually improve business outcomes. However, for many companies, the adoption and integration of new ERP systems leaves little time for RPA development.

Mazars provides end-to-end support for RPAs. As a one-stop shop for implementation, delivery and management of technology services, Mazars can help companies at every stage of the process, from initial ERP selection to deployment to the creation and integration of RPAs.

RPAs offer a way for businesses to combine the data they have with the tools they need to deliver the outcomes they want. When RPAs are functioning as intended, they should be virtually invisible. Outputs should be logical and consistent, and tools should only require oversight to ensure ongoing consistency.

ERP systems should offer similar functionality — data should be accessible, accurate and actionable. For many companies, this is easier said than done.

While cloud-based ERP offers advantages over legacy systems, transferring and combining data can prove complex and cumbersome. Meanwhile, RPAs enable connection regardless of solution age, type or operation.

With Mazars’ help, companies can create an RPA framework that empowers current ERP deployments and sets the stage for future process insight.

Ready to realize RPA benefits for ERP? Check out Mazars’ Robotic Process Automation and ERP Modernization solutions.

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The information provided here is for general guidance only, and does not constitute the provision of tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, legal advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal or other competent advisers.