Robotic process automation in accounting systems

Date01 October 2020
AuthorSteven A. Harrast
Published date01 October 2020
Robotic process automation in accounting systems
Steven A. Harrast
College of Business Administration,
Central Michigan University, Mt.
Pleasant, Michigan
Steven A. Harrast, College of Business
Administration, Central Michigan
University, Bellows Street, Mt. Pleasant,
MI 48859.
Robotic process automation is rapidly transforming the world of work for
accounting and other information professionals. Data collection and entry that
used to occupy much of the workday is being automated by programmable
software robots or bots. Automation using bots should begin with processes
that are stable, repetitive, and consume sufficient resources to generate a solid
return on investment. As bots are implemented, a number of governance, risk,
and compliance issues need to be considered including appropriate controls on
bot access to sensitive records and transactions. The bot development process
also requires controls so that only tested and authorized bots are deployed. For
many companies, RPA is exactly what they have been looking for to drive
higher efficiency in information processing.
process automation, RPA, software robots, technology controls, technology governance
Modern information technology has greatly extended the
ability of companies to manage large amounts of data,
to integrate processes and to control the enterprise.
But technology innovation has also brought new chal-
lenges. Companies often have many different applica-
tions and systems running as part of their overall
information system landscape. Large companies may
support thousands of different applications. This usu-
ally necessitates capturing and moving data from one
application or system to another, a time-consuming
and error-prone activity. Many companies simply
patch their systems together with spreadsheets and live
with the inefficiency.
Until recently, options for eliminating data patches
were limited, and human labor was often a significant
part of the process. Individuals collected information
from emails and spreadsheets and entered it into an
application. Some companies have built elaborate mac-
ros, which work as long as the author is available to sup-
port them, yet too many spreadsheets are a control risk.
While the attempts made to maintain current systems
have been reasonably effective, efficiency has certainly
been an issue. Unfortunately, there have been few good
alternatives to transferring data from one system to
Recently, tools have been developed that far exceed
previous attempts at streamlining information processes
across applications. The technology, called robotic pro-
cess automation (RPA), has nothing to do with physical
robots, in spite of its name. The new robotic tools, or
bots, execute macro-like procedures across applications
and can imitate human keyboard actions. For many com-
panies, RPA is exactly what they have been waiting for to
drive greater efficiency. Watching a bot run is like
watching an invisible person at work at a computer
files are opened, data are copied, applications are opened,
data are entered and emails are sent. Almost everything
looks like a human is sitting at the keyboard, but the
work is being done by a software robot.
Software tools are available to automate almost any
imaginable human computer interaction. No longer are
humans required to move data between systems. We are
entering a new era in information technology, an era in
which software robots will take over many repetitive
tasks once performed by clerks. Work is moving quickly
from clerical to analytical. This may sound like hype, but
Received: 5 March 2020 Revised: 14 May 2020 Accepted: 22 May 2020
DOI: 10.1002/jcaf.22457
J Corp Acct Fin. 2020;31:209213. © 2020 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 209

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