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Do you want to build a robot?

Audit wins with Robotic Process Automation

INSIGHT ARTICLE  | 

Not your average pencil pusher

If your image of a CPA is anything like the jokes and stereotypes you see in movies, you may not think of RSM US LLP auditors as being part of a team of cutting-edge innovators who consider how the latest in data analytics and robotic process automation (RPA) can boost accuracy and efficiency in their practice. But you should, because at RSM, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

We foster a culture of innovation in which our auditors combine the best of their financial experience and accounting acumen with the latest in digital technologies to find ways that can make the audit process operate better than ever. This adaptability to an increasingly digital workspace has already proven vital to RSM’s perseverance through the challenges of COVID-19, as our workers shifted smoothly to remote and virtual environments and continued to be first-choice advisors to our clients.

Our multipronged approach to innovation taps into every auditor’s drive to build a better audit. What exactly are we doing? Dave Uhryniak, RSM audit innovation director, describes our approach as “digital upskilling.” He explains: “We are working to train our auditors and empower them to be part of a team that creates solutions as they go through their work.”

At every level—from our freshest faces to the seasoned pros of busy-seasons-past—our professionals are finding those areas of the audit that rely on time-consuming, error-prone manual work and exploring technologies to automate those tasks. It makes the audit more efficient and, critically, allows them to focus their energies on the most important part—analyzing the results.

Do you want to build a robot?

When Wendy Elliott thinks about what she expected in her career, the RSM audit manager says, quite frankly, that it wasn’t this.

“I’m not a tech person,” she says. “Or, at least, I didn’t imagine my work would be bringing new innovations to audit. But here I am using a bot.” As a member of a team completing audits for the 30-plus associations all under one management company, they saw the opportunity to introduce RPA to their process. “We wondered, ‘What could a bot do for us?’” she recalled.

As it turns out, a bot could do a whole lot. Elliot’s understanding of the intricacies of the engagement enabled her to convey a precise set of details to audit innovation manager Ryan Lim, who leads various initiatives to integrate automation into RSM’s audit practice.

“Wendy painted the picture of the engagement and identified the pain points that they’ve experienced in the past,” Lim says. “We determined where we could construct a bot to do the kind of work that would not only boost their time efficiency, but expand the breadth of their testing capabilities in ways unthinkable before in person-hours.”

“We determined where we could construct a bot to do the kind of work that would not only boost their time efficiency, but expand the breadth of their testing capabilities in ways unthinkable before in person-hours.”

Through RSM’s burgeoning work with Alteryx’s analytic process automation (APA) and our partnership with Automation Anywhere, Lim and crew created custom automation solutions to fit the needs of the engagement.

In Alteryx, the automation ingests and analyzes millions of lines of data to search, match, filter and identify areas to investigate as part of the audit. In Automation Anywhere, a bot mimics human interaction, opening software and working papers, collecting files with vast amounts of information, omitting the extraneous details while extracting the imperatives, and processing it all to a new structureWhat used to take a person hours of pointing and clicking and searching and copying and pasting, the automations completed in minutes.

What used to take a person hours of pointing and clicking and searching and copying and pasting, the automations complete in minutes.

However, before the bots could be unleashed to do their work, Lim says, “We knew we needed to check every box of the necessary auditing standards and our firm’s own methodology. That’s why we’re always working in tandem with the methodology group.”

And because no team of specialists is complete without the know-how of a bookish pro helping to set the parameters of the group’s goals, enter David Haller, audit senior manager.

“Me being part of auditing standards and methodology—I was like the cool TSA guy at the airport implementing a full risk assessment. I made Ryan and his team take off their shoes and put their bot through my X-ray,” Haller quipped. “We needed a complete understanding of what the bot is and isn’t doing to ensure their solutions fit in our very specific prescribed methodology. And through those processes and considerations, we created very thorough documentation to include in the audit file.”

Lim adds, “The level of detail in our documentation makes it possible for someone to manually replicate each step of the automated processes to verify the results—even if it takes them hours and maybe even days to do what the bot can do in minutes.”

Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto

Maybe the best thing about this bot is that it’s part of a repeatable workflow that can be used with this same client year after year, compounding the benefits of hours saved, testing accuracy and the increased depth of analysis. “The timesaving and efficiencies this brought to our work across the associations…it’s substantial,” says Elliott. Processes that took hundreds of hours before, the bot had done in three minutes. Three. 

“The timesaving and efficiencies this brought to our work across the associations…it’s substantial.”

The chain of knowledge that made this RPA solution possible is emblematic of RSM’s dedication to our culture of innovation and the digital upskilling model to evolving the audit. “It’s a broad generalization to think that auditors are overconfident and stuck in their ways,” says Haller. “The thing about RSM’s audit innovation initiatives is that everyone from senior leadership to people new to the field are very cognizant of how the landscape of audit is shifting. In 15 years, it will be night and day. And the coolest thing is, at every level at RSM, we have absolute buy-in.”

And Haller’s right—from our CEO Innovation Fund to our data analytics shark tank-style challenges, people are passionate to be involved in RSM’s grassroots efforts to rethink the role of the auditor in an increasingly tech-savvy ecosystem. They’re rising to the challenge of building the audit of the future while continuing our pledge to deliver the power of being understood.

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