Robotics, AI and IoT
If last year was the year where robotics really started to fall into mainstream purchase to pay consciousness, 2018 is likely to be the year where we see RPA being implemented on a wider scale. At the moment, only around 4% of organisations are currently using RPA, but more than a quarter of UK companies said that it was on their road map for this year. More than just a way to ensure efficiency, organisations see using robotics as a way to gain a competitive edge, especially when linked to AI, or machine learning tools which are able to learn from past processing experiences and make quick decisions about business processes.
As the more forward thinking companies start to link the data that spills out of their RPA and feed it through AI enhanced solutions, they’ll be in position to take advantage of the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT). The various technologies and devices across a business will increasingly interconnect in both B2B and B2C environment, producing the kind of Big Data which can provide insight across an organisation’s digital supply chain, direct business outcomes and improve data management. But organisations and those involved in implementing new technologies need to keep an eye on ROI and keep their expectations realistic. RPA and AI have enormous potential if implemented correctly, but they are not magic wands to wave over bad process.
With the pressure on P2P departments to add more value and be able to prove that that's what they're doing, the need to be able to provide analytics against a variety of activities will grow this year. One of the main differences will be that analytics will increasingly be used to predict the future, rather than analyse the past.
Those organisations which are able to combine accurate, automated processing alongside some robust analytics, will be able to raise the transparency levels across the business. Increased automation and enhanced processing will mean that the right people will have access to the correct information in real-time. With an increase in compliance issues, and in procurement, the need to be able to provide clear sourcing data, this is something that will concentrate business minds in 2018.
Over the last 4 years or so, there’s been a drive towards more partnering between the various functions of accounts payable, procurement, treasury and finance. This has been partly as a result of the enabling technology, and partly an essential exercise in efficiency. However, it’s probably fair to say that up until now, some of the more powerful partners have been reluctant to share authority in some areas. But as CFO’s and CPOs are increasingly in the spotlight, tasked with making their enterprises more competitive and innovative, this year will see even more alignment between the functions as the c-suite wakes up to the potential of an interconnected business.
Just another buzzword, or is blockchain a true revolution as has been claimed? At the beginning of last year, practitioners who’d heard of blockchain were few and far between. In fact, in a survey at the time, we found that 80% of P2P professionals knew nothing about it. Fast forward to now, and while most have heard of it, many still don’t understand how it’s likely to affect them. As the platform on which the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin was built, its robustness as a means of transaction is easy to quantify, but so far its application in wider business has been limited. However, the potential in terms of the entirely new way the distributed ledger technology allows organisations to operate, means that it really does have the potential to revolutionise business. The question is, when. And although in all likelihood the answer is not 2018 – organisations would be foolish to ignore it. Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared and continually reconciled database, throwing out the need for third party verification. Hosted by millions of computers simultaneously, it offers a source of truth that’s accessible to anyone, meaning that the traditional methods of supply chain procurement and payments (for example) could be completely overhauled.
Still the wild card in the underlying economy, Brexit concerns are likely to continue to dominate this year with likely delays in negotiations leading to a continuation of uncertainty. For those organisations with exposure to risk, the advice is to plan for a hard Brexit to make sure that as much as possible, all eventualities have at least been considered.