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Intelligent automation services coming to the middle market

Written on May 1, 2020

By Abigail Draper, OSCPA communication & engagement manager

A hot accounting buzzword is becoming an affordable option for mid-market businesses, as Sikich LLP has recently developed an intelligent automation services offering.

The term CPAs might have heard is “RPA,” which stands for “robotic process automation.” The robots in this case aren’t the metallic sidekicks from sci-fi movies but are a form of artificial intelligence (AI) software that can capture, interpret and manipulate data, triggering responses with other digital systems.

Ryan Spohn, Sikich CFO and lead on this new endeavor, said a lot of software firm have offerings that are structured for enterprise or multibillion-dollar companies. Sikich is working with those businesses to take their offerings and “break them down into digestible chunks mid-market businesses can then have at a lower cost.”

To accomplish this, Sikich is looking into using a managed service model. What does this mean? Spohn said Sikich may hold the license to a software but manage a client on that software. “We may also do shorter-term licenses, like year to year instead of three years and selling parts or individual virtual workers versus five or 10 at a time.”

A virtual worker is an AI bot that can complete menial tasks while human workers perform more meaningful ones.

“A virtual worker would come in and take the repetitive processes,” Spohn said. “They would open an email, take the attachment, look at it, massage the data, upload it into a new system, run the report, and check it against other data. Then – boom, click – it’s ready. So, people get the output versus having to do all those steps that can disrupt their day-to-day activities.”

There are concerns that AI will begin replacing jobs for humans, but Spohn said as with technological advancements of the past, it will allow people to handle different work.

“There’s definitely repetitive work that this type of technology can automate and get done a lot faster, which would make that work unnecessary,” he said. “But, there also tends to be a lot of activities that firms would like to do that they don't have the capacity to invest in right now. So, I expect you'll see a migration to new types of work opening up, which will essentially elevate the workforce.”

Spohn said it’s important for CPAs to begin adopting this AI-based technology because “as more of the blocking and tackling work can be automated, you'll move to a fixed-fee model versus the number of hours it takes to do an audit. So as firms are trying to compete, there'll be price compression, and these types of software will offer the productivity they need to keep up.”

Spohn said these intelligent automation services will allow mid-sized firms to be more productive and save money by keeping most things in-house.

“With the ability to use AI-backed automation solutions, firms can avoid the complexities and compliance hurdles that come with outsourcing work to a lower-cost market. They can keep all their work in-house and develop new roles to manage this technology without having to create new legal structures. We see that as a positive change this type of solution will bring about.”