Drives to make enterprise business functions such as finance and IT more efficient are not being realised quickly enough due to a lack of automation. That’s according to research from Winshuttle, a leader in data management and process automation.

 The research, conducted independently with 100 senior managers of enterprise shared service centres (SSCs) in the UK and Ireland, found significant appetite to automate back office processes. 79% recognise the need for digital process automation and 98% hope to adopt automation in some form. However, so far only 32% have gone live with automation projects.

 Many enterprises are still to implement new technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) in the back office. For instance, less than half (48%) have investigated the use of attended RPA that allow people and machines to work on processes together more effectively.

 The Winshuttle survey collected views of enterprises using ERP systems, including SAP, Oracle, JD Edwards and custom-built applications in their centralised shared services environments. Despite many being behind the curve, there is a healthy understanding of the benefits digital automation can bring to the back office. For example, 46% want to reduce service costs, 44% seek increased productivity, 44% want improved data accuracy, 41% want to focus on more value-added work and, 36% are seeking improved flexibility and scalability.

Automation also has the power to help back office shared services deal with its most pressing issues. Winshuttle’s survey highlighted these as: reducing cost per transaction (for 50%), automating manual tasks (for 39%) and improving business process efficiency (for 38%).

The research also indicates why automation is being delayed, the three most common reasons being:  difficulty identifying the processes suitable for automation; budget restrictions, and projects being controlled from elsewhere within the business. The business processes where automation appears most lacking are order-to-cash, journal entry, and purchase-to-pay, indicating that the finance and procurement functions have the most to gain.

A third of respondents are concerned about process intensive tasks that can be improved through automation. These include the rekeying of data into ERP systems and the time taken to perform bulk changes.

“Many enterprises have adopted a shared service centre approach to creating efficiencies across distributed back office functions such as finance, IT, HR and procurement but many seem to have stalled at the automation stage,” explained Andrew Hayden, senior product marketing manager at Winshuttle “Merging business functions into enterprise-wide shared services is only the start of the journey to ensuring efficiencies are achieved. The business must also look at process improvement through automation, as a way of removing repetitive manual administrative tasks that continue to weigh these functions down and stifle employee productivity.”

Vodafone, Engie and Novacon are some of the organisations Winshuttle has worked with to help consolidate and optimise data in shared services environments, using its automation platform for improving SAP data management processes.

“Both our research and first-hand experience with customers illustrate that many SSCs have thought about implementing automation projects or plan to within the next twelve months,” Andrew continues. “The reality is that automation is necessary today. We have seen many organisations struggle as they have had to rapidly adapt their operations due to the unforeseen circumstances brought on by the Coronavirus. There’s now more pressure than ever before for businesses to start their digital journey in order to deal with the current crisis.”