Payroll specialist and software robot are an unbeatable payroll accounting team

Payroll specialist and software robot are an unbeatable payroll accounting teamAt OpusCapita’s service centers, customers’ payroll and financial processes are taken care of by an efficient team: a skilled payroll specialist and a software robot.

“Software robotics raises the level of traditional financial management outsourcing services. Robotic process automation enables us to offer companies higher quality and more efficient payroll accounting. We can also focus even more on work that requires the expertise that our customers value,” says Tuija Karhula, Product Manager at OpusCapita.

The outsourcing of payroll administration is a topical issue in many companies. Payroll accounting came top of the list when companies in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Germany were asked which financial processes they plan to outsource in the coming years. According to Karhula, the companies’ key goals here are not only associated with reducing costs, but increasingly with improving quality and developing processes.

“Payroll administration is a suitable environment for software robots. Accuracy and timing are of particular importance in payroll processes, and extensive knowledge and special expertise are also required in payroll accounting, for example regarding sector- and country-specific regulations and contracts.”

At OpusCapita, software robots take care of tasks that were previously carried out manually, including those related to checking and comparing information, and transferring it between systems.

“Robots do not get tired or make mistakes, and they complete these routine tasks quickly and with consistent quality. This leaves our payroll specialists with more time to focus on tasks in which their expertise is really needed: improving payroll processes and procedures, and on customer service,” says Karhula.

Virtual assistants working the night shift

OpusCapita started piloting innovative software robotics in early 2015 at its service center in Turku. The robots work Payroll specialist and software robot are an unbeatable payroll accounting teamon the parent company’s massive, varied and demanding payroll data.

Various regulations, agreements and salary types mean that payroll accounting requires special expertise and accuracy. Despite the IT systems in use, there are still plenty of manual routine tasks involved in payroll processes. Accuracy and timeliness are also particularly important because we are talking about the salaries of a customer’s employees.

Merja Suutari, who was in charge of the pilot project at the service centre, explains that the routines given to the robots were those that are repeated in exactly the same way from one day to the next and in which errors can easily be made. Of course not all payroll accounting tasks are suitable for robots – the robot functions as a virtual assistant in selected tasks.

The robots were first given the routine task that payroll experts have to deal with every morning: processing changed employment relationship data.

“Going through the report can be very tedious and involves checking information from many different places. You have to rely on your own skill and memory to find and correct inconsistencies,” explains Laura Mäkinen, Payroll Specialist.

The employment relationship data arrives in the customer’s ERP system in the early hours of the morning. The robot runs dozens of logical checks, fills in the missing information and, if necessary, transfers the information to the payroll system. Then, when the payroll expert arrives at work after 7 am, a completed report is waiting and the only thing the employee needs to do to the report is to sort out the errors that the robot was unable to solve.

Using a similar approach, another robot screens changes made in the customer’s employee salary data and makes a list of items for the payroll expert to check manually.

Wow moments

“When I look at the employment relationship data I can see straight away whether the form of salary matches the type of employment relationship, for instance. When we started the implementation process for the robot we went through the entire manual process concretely, step by step, setting out the manual routines as clear rules that can be given to the robot,” explains Laura Mäkinen.

Mäkinen and Merja Suutari stress that expert knowledge is needed during the specification phase so that the software robot knows how to perform the assistive tasks in the same way as a human.

“At first we were unable to envisage all of the things that the robot would be capable of. This has initiated the continuous improvement of the process. For example, calculating years of experience is based on rather complex rules and requires the comparison of information in various text files and spreadsheets. We were skeptical at first, but, wow, the robot was able to do that too,” says Suutari.

Confidence in the ability of the software robot to actually do the work properly grew during the pilot stage. During this stage, the payroll specialists checked manually all of the work that had been performed by the robots.

Roger the robot – is he one of us or will he replace us?

At the service center the software robot is jokingly known as Roger. The robot works in the payroll accounting system with his own user ID just like all of the other payroll experts.

“I wouldn’t say that the software robot is just like any other employee here. But he is a very good assistant who saves time in our everyday work and helps to improve the quality of our work,” says Mäkinen.

Mäkinen and Suutari, who has worked in payroll accounting for 20 years, are both very calm about the increase in automation.

“The developments naturally worry people and are a subject for discussion. However, computers, IT systems and automation have been changing the way we work and boosting efficiency throughout my career, one step at a time,” Suutari says.

They believe that the software robot makes work more inspiring – in the end no one will miss the more laborious and monotonous manual routines, and the automation of these tasks has been welcomed with a positive outlook even by those with the most critical attitude to the arrival of software robotics.

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