The term ‘automation’ has become synonymous with efficiency, innovation, and growth. For businesses of all sizes, the question is no longer if they should embrace automation, but how and when.
Fabian Calle, managing director, small and medium business, SAP Concur Australia and New Zealand, said, “When we speak of automation, we’re not just referring to machines taking over manual tasks. We’re talking about a sophisticated blend of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that elevates processes, decision-making, and consumer interactions. It’s about harnessing the combined power of technology to reshape how businesses operate and serve their customers.”
Machine learning (ML), a practical application of AI, is at the forefront of this transformation. When combined with other technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), chatbots, and blockchain, ML forms a potent solution set.
One common misconception is that these advanced technologies are reserved for larger companies, leaving smaller businesses behind. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Businesses of all sizes can, and should, leverage automation to streamline operations, enhance consumer experiences, and drive growth. Through automation, businesses can solve substantial problems including:
1. Risk and compliance in employee spend
Many businesses face difficultly managing risks and compliance, especially when it comes to areas such as employee spending, travel costs, and invoice handling. With countless transactions and a mix of individuals, some of whom might not be fully familiar with the guidelines, mistakes are almost a given. There could also be employees trying to find system loopholes. Training helps, but with ever-changing policies, it can be difficult to keep everyone aligned to the correct process.
Adapting to change isn’t straightforward. Leaders must deal with policy breaches, sort receipts in multiple languages and currencies, watch for duplicate expenses, and ensure the business is complying with anti-bribery laws. Modern technology can ease the process of policy updates, and with AI, spotting risk and compliance issues becomes much simpler.
Detecting mistakes and possible fraud is incredibly important; however, it’s just as crucial to identify unusual spending patterns over time. Completing manual checks isn’t practical. AI doesn’t miss a beat and can dig into every single detail, even cross-checking with other databases. This lets human auditors shift their focus to finding solutions, rather than just identifying problems.
3. Managing taxes
Global businesses face challenges with tax compliance. Different regions have their own tax rules, making it difficult for leaders to keep up. In Australia, dealing with the goods and services tax (GST) is one such test. Many businesses don’t claim all their GST credits on purchases, leaving money on the table. But with the right technology, compliance becomes easier. Digital tools can streamline GST processes, match transactions to tax rules, and help businesses identify unclaimed GST credits.
When considering AI and ML solutions, businesses of all sizes should consider the following:
- Embracing established solutions: top-tier AI and ML solutions benefit from widespread adoption. A large user base translates to extensive experience and expertise across different sectors. Such solutions have encountered and addressed numerous challenges, accumulating large amounts of data, vital for AI training. Choose industry leaders to capitalise on their vast insights and best practices. These solutions offer enterprise-level capabilities, ensuring all users benefit from the intelligence gathered across various industries.
- Prioritising partner ecosystems and integrations: no business operates in isolation. Opt for solutions with extensive partner ecosystems, offering specialised intelligence to add value. Beyond just having an application programming interface (API), check the extent and quality of integrations with other solutions. Comprehensive integration with existing systems, such as financial or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, reduces manual work, requires less IT support, and ensures efficient data flow, improving employee’s responsiveness.
- Customisation: every business is unique. While there might be common challenges, the approach taken to addressing them differs. Some businesses may prefer managed solutions due to compliance priorities or lack of expertise. Others might opt for a hands-on approach, managing everything in-house. Often, a hybrid solution is ideal, balancing external support with internal management. It’s essential to find a solution tailored to the business’s specific needs and preferences.
Fabian Calle said, “Businesses of all sizes are now embedding intelligent technologies to help leaders oversee their entire spending process. The industry is evolving, shifting its focus to spend enablement, settlement, oversight, and control. The primary objective isn’t creating expense reports. It’s about efficiently processing employee purchases.
“By proactively identifying discrepancies in real-time and retrospectively analysing spending trends and potential fraud, these solutions can ensure compliance and efficiency. Leveraging the capabilities of AI and ML can help business leaders to anticipate future challenges and extract valuable insights from past transactions, ensuring robust, compliant, and strategic financial management.”