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Tech & Innovation

Automating productivity in tax & accounting with API and RPA

Samantha Mansfield  Founder of Samantha Mansfield LLC

Samantha Mansfield  Founder of Samantha Mansfield LLC

Tax & accounting firms and their professionals can benefit from the automation advantage offered by both Application Programming Interface (API) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Like doctors, tax & accounting professionals are developing niche specialties so they can provide deep knowledge and expertise to their colleagues and clients. The complexity has become so great it is not possible for a single professional to be an expert in applying every regulation and standard to every industry and scenario. Software has long since become a critical component of productivity for tax & accounting professionals.

The number of technology providers designing tools for the accounting and tax industry has grown substantially over the last decade. Technology entrepreneurs are also specializing in various portions of the accounting process, creating an ecosystem of applications where practitioners can choose the programs that best fit their needs and the industries they serve. For example, tax & accounting firms no longer have to license a generalized inventory tracking or accounts payable system that they then have to make fit their needs.

However, one major problem comes in when the workflow is made up of disparate systems each with their own technology platform. The solution to this problem may rest with API and RPA to enable further automation in this environment.

What is API and RPA?

API is Application Programming Interface, and it is allows one application to talk to another third-party program. Perhaps this doesn’t sound new because for years we have used the power of integrated software, however, APIs are more than the transfer of data and new industries have emerged as a result of APIs.

APIs enable innovation and flexibility for the end users and technology companies. As users of cloud-based technology, we have come to expect frictionless access to our data and processes. And many of the functions we perform every day are facilitated by APIs — paying with PayPal is just one example that has become commonplace.

RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, is another automation software, but instead of requesting and sending data behind the scenes, RPA interacts with the user interface of the applications. In place of having a staff member opening invoices that have been received in emails and then entering them into an accounts payable program, RPA can be programmed to perform this task itself by actually entering a copy of the invoice. In this example, the rules and criteria are clearly defined — no API needs to exist between the systems to input the information from the email into the accounts payable program because the RPA bot clicks and interacts with the front end of the applications like a human being would.

In short, APIs are designed to be used by a computer or application; whereas, RPA bots interact with the user interface, much like humans.

Increasing productivity through automation

As tax and accounting professionals look to solve the productivity challenges they face from an increased demand for their skills and services throughout the pandemic, now is the time to lean in further with automation technologies.

“RPA is about maximizing your return on your people,” says Dmitry Karpov, co-founder of ElectroNeek, an RPA solutions firm. Today, organizations of all sizes have access to this technology, and a sophisticated IT team to program and maintain integration between systems is not required.

There are times a tax & accounting firm may want to enlist the help of a technology company to create further automation. In fact, many accounting software companies have a “marketplace” page where they list all the companies with which they’ve established partner APIs. If you don’t see the program that you are looking for listed on a software company’s API partner page, contact the company to see if they have an open API with which another provider could interface. Technology consulting companies could also assist you in enabling the transfer of data via the open API if the software company does not offer a service to build the API transfer to a new program.

RPA is a younger technology, and firms likely will want the assistance of IT professionals to program the bots. If your organization does not have access to this type of expertise there are emerging companies that will do the programming for you. In place of licensing software, you are licensing their technical expertise to build the automation for you — this is called Automation-as-a-Service (AaaS). With the growth of RPA during the pandemic, the price of this technology has been dropping and becoming even more affordable.

Finally, the continued growth of cloud adoption will only make these tools more accessible. As technology companies continue to develop what they do best, they will partner with companies to expand their network and further create a seamless user experience.

Tax & accounting professionals and firm leaders should take the time to explore the automation options available in their tech stack. By becoming aware of them, they can begin to lessen the capacity challenge that’s plaguing the profession. Instead of asking “Where do we find more staff?” they can begin asking, “How do we free up our talent by automating more of the work?”

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