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Leaders of professional associations are urging auditors to embrace emerging technologies to advance the industry, create audit efficiencies and manage organizational risk. Some have even cited the perils of failing to adapt in the wake of the digital transformation, which is rapidly changing how traditional audits are conducted.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has become a hot topic among the audit community – for some good reasons. PwC estimates that 45% of workforce tasks can be automated, saving an estimated $2 trillion in global workforce costs. Auditors are well positioned to guide their organizations in using RPA to automate manual tasks.
According to industry analyst group, Gartner, “RPA tools are designed to mimic the same “manual” path taken through applications by a human using a combination of user interface (UI) interactions or by using connectors to client servers, mainframes or HTML code. An RPA tool operates by mapping a process in the RPA tool for the software “robot” to follow computer pathways between screens and various data repositories. An RPA tool can be triggered manually or automatically, move or populate data between prescribed locations, document audit trails, conduct calculations, perform actions, and trigger downstream activities.”
The RPA concept is relatively simple; let computers perform tasks a human would normally perform to shrink resource time for repetitive activities. RPA can be applied to automate transactional rules-based tasks where clear pre-defined rules and parameters are used, which sounds a lot like how IDEAScripts work.
RPA is not particularly new. While new software applications are being developed to perform repetitive tasks that mimic human actions, the concept of automation has been around for decades. It’s a natural fit for audit and accounting where processes involve high transaction volumes, copying and pasting data between applications and cross-referencing data.
Automating day-to-day, process-heavy work equates to time savings, allowing auditors to focus on more value-add work. IDEAScripts enhance productivity and efficiency by taking over labor-intensive tasks. RPA is essentially about working smarter – and creating scripts to automate mundane processes is not as complex as one might think.
Ben Johnson, an Internal Auditor at Utah State University, uses IDEAScripts to pull in high volumes of data into IDEA and perform repeat testing, which has saved him countless hours of effort.
“It’s not as hard as it seems and it’s 100 percent worth it,” said Johnson. “While I had some programming experience, IDEA made it easy. I played with the History feature and the tables it automatically creates to help me get started. There are also resources I dipped into including pre-developed scripts and videos produced by Brian Element that are helpful. The trick is to start with something simple and build your experience.”
When management needed to analyze employee data to ensure the University was compliant with the new Affordable Care Act, they turned to internal audit to help. Ben worked with IT to get employee data from different systems and used @functions to normalize the data since employees report their work in different ways (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). Using an IDEAScript, Ben automated the process to regularly review employee hours and watch for those who are trending close to the 30-hour window to monitor those who are reaching the cumulative hours of service requirement.
“We’re working on automating areas that require repeat testing,” said Johnson. “While it may require some effort on the front end, the time savings can be applied towards areas that require more value-add tasks and decision making. We’ve moved away from auditing just one department at a time to analyzing transactions across the organization.”
Ben has also used IDEAScripts to automate the analysis of receipts, which is usually a time-intensive task. He compared expense receipts to a list of merchant category codes for vendors who sell goods or services that are prohibited by the University, such as alcohol. By searching for transactions that fit specific criteria, he can review high transaction areas on a more regular basis and cover more ground.
Auditors have historically used purpose-built tools and processes to reduce manual steps and keystrokes. RPA has the potential to help auditors operate at much higher levels of efficiency and accuracy, freeing you to focus on more meaningful work.
Visit the IDEAScript Vault where you’ll find nearly 100 IDEAScipt samples and instructional materials. Carefully test them before using them in a production environment, but they can be extremely useful for performing complex tasks on an IDEA database. To access the IDEAScript Vault within IDEA: