Keith Stagner is the CEO of T-impact, a digital transformation company that works with ambitious organisations seeking to improve customer experience, reduce costs and manage risk & compliance through the use of robotics and AI. We met with Keith to learn about how this technology is affecting the accounting, legal and FS industries, as well as what it will mean for smaller businesses.
Question 1 – What do we mean by ‘robotics’, and how is it being used by businesses?
“When we speak to people about robotics, quite often they’re thinking of Terminator or R2D2. In reality, what we’re talking about is a specialist piece of software. You can load it on a PC, go on a server, it can go in the cloud. What it does is it replicates human activity, so it can interact with the IT systems- such as you know, accounting software, SAGE, those other types of SME packages or integrated big packages like ER pieces, like SAP and Oracle Financial. Or with, desktop software like Excel and it goes in and acts as a human does, pulls information in and out of the system. So robots are particularly useful for tasks that are repetitive because humans are particularly bad at that, things that have to be done again and again, have to be done in a consistent way, and have to be done in the same way regardless of the volume of transactions you have to deal with. Robots can form the entire transactions you hand over to it and perform it step by step or they can work in collaboration with a human where it may do, for example pre-processing doing a certain number of steps and then routing it intelligently to the right person who can complete that transaction based on informations picked up throughout. You’d be surprised how many organisations use robots today.”
Question 2 – How is Robotics impacting the Financial Services industry?
“Well, financial services is one of the early adopters of robotics and AI, and they’ve been running these programs for years, probably decades now and they were used initially to try and bring some quality and standardisation to activities that were off-shored and then over time they started automating a large proportion- because they thought it was cheaper to have robots run this than the former cheaper option was which was to use offshore staff with lower labour rights.- They’re also used a lot of financial services because a lot of these organisations grow through acquisition, so, as they acquire companies they get lots and lots of different IT systems and redundant activities. It’s far too expensive to integrate all these things so they’ll just slap a robot on top, that’ll either keep the data up to sync between systems or cut through systems to deliver results. And, you also find both within the financial services and other industries, the accounting teams within those organisations are using them for accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger, a lot of the lower level kind of entry level activities that you would find somebody doing when they when they first start a career in accounting. You know, nearly a hundred percent of all that can be automated with robots now.”
Question 3 – Are Robotics and AI the preserve of large organisations, or can companies of any size benefit from the technology?
“You know, that’s a good question. That’s a perception that lots of people have. But, we’ve got customers with less than 100 staff that are using the robotics and artificial intelligence to free up some of the most valuable staff, so that they can do more to help grow their business and take care of their customers. There was a point in time, you would have to spend millions, or certainly hundreds of thousands to get one of these projects all off the ground. We don’t think that’s a sustainable model, and at T-Impact we’ve launched a subscription service where for a small setup fee, you know, and a monthly charge, we not only help you identify where to use robots, but we design, build it and we ensure that it keeps working. I think these are the models that organisations moving towards, where they’re used to paying subscription for their video that they consume, they’re used to of paying subscriptions for the music they listen to at home, they’re used to paying subscriptions for software, they want- more and more people- want companies that package up capability and delivery in a subscription model.”
Question 4 – How is Robotics impacting the accountancy industry?
“I mentioned earlier that a significant amount of the entry-level work in the council field is being automated with robots for artificial intelligence, and if you think about it, this is where graduates are coming in and getting their training. That’s how they learn to work, developing their skills in the workplace and as that type of work disappears – that demand for accounting professionals – it’s going to change. We’re already seeing the Big Four reducing the number of entry-level account positions they have. On the flip side, the organisations that are dealing with the complex world of digital transformation and all the opportunities and challenges that it brings are looking for more strategic and analytical specialisation. They want someone with a finance background and understanding to be able to advise them. We believe that in a few years it would be very difficult to advise, without having some knowledge of robotics and artificial intelligence and how that can help a country to grow and to be more efficient.”
Question 5 – How are Robotics and AI impacting the legal sector?
“The Legal sector has already gone through huge disruption with these alternative business structures allowing non-lawyers to start to provide legal services, and some organisations that are very experienced in customer service, such as retail organisations are now starting to offering legal service. To respond to that, the largest law firms are using technologies including robotics and artificial intelligence to free up their time and offer services at a much lower rate. Medium-sized firms really need to think about the future, they’re being attacked, you know, from from external vendors coming in, from the bigger vendors coming into their space; they need to think about how they use these technologies, particularly their transactional services to reduce the costs to customers and remain competitive against all of these people that are moving into their space.”