Robotic process automation (RPA) offers a potential solution to integration problems that plague MNCs in China. China’s tight regulations inhibit cross-border data flows. At the same time, blazingly fast local applications, such as those found on WeChat Enterprise, are not well integrated into global applications due to security concerns. RPA helps integrate disparate systems while preserving independent databases. At a recent IMA China CFO Forum meeting, an RPA expert explained that
‘RPA allows people to move information between systems. It is like an Excel macro, but one that can deal with two or more pieces of software. It can move between mainframe green screen applications to the latest web applications, and everything in between.
‘This includes tools for business process management (BPM), functional planning, customer relationship management (CRM), office documents, emails, PDFs, and paper documents. RPA can read all of these in the same way as humans do, even in Chinese. There is no limit to how companies can use RPA.’
RPA is taking hold in China
Chinese SOEs are experimenting with the technology. For example, one prominent state conglomerate with a complex web of 100 legal entities uses robots to support its ERP system when conducting reconciliation.
‘A large SOE downloads SAP transactions monthly and this takes a week. As part of the process, the accounting team takes two weeks for recalculation. This reconciliation job can take a robot just four hours. Even opening a government website takes 30 seconds, and then downloading data is very time-consuming. Robots save time.’
Local Chinese POEs are also aggressively using bots for various tasks too.
‘A large Chinese online retail platform employed dozens of robots to automate 60 systems in the last two years. When it was time to update the 15-digit tax file numbers for 420,000 merchants, they initially predicted it would take 800 human workdays at a rate of one minute per update. Instead, they completed the task in 120 robot workdays.’
Managing China’s complicated tax environment is a perfect task for robots.
‘One large private Chinese firm has 700 legal entities across every province each with its own set of rules. Finishing their tax declaration is a huge task; they must calculate tax deductions that cover value-added tax and employee tax deductions. They deploy robots to do this job.’
While RPA is an invaluable tool for finance teams, it is proving its value to other departments from sales to store managers.
‘Every merchant has to have product information entered into a merchant management system, which then merges into an ERP system. Now, bots are doing this work with 100% accuracy.’
Some other examples of RPA utility include:
- Social media scanning: Bots can track negative or positive mentions on social media accounts to manage corporate reputation.
- Password controls: Bots can replace the use of USB keys.
- Forecasting and commercial analysis: Robots can collect pricing information and predict demand in the near term for such commodities as steel. The technology also tracks when customers finalise contracts, pay debts, and even how much robots have reduced overall costs.
- Logistics monitoring: RPAs track shipments of different parts as they arrive from across the globe and send alerts should delays arise.
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