TechnologyAmazon “100% in” on treasury department RPA

Amazon "100% in" on treasury department RPA

At the UiPath Forward III conference, Jonathan Finch spoke about his experience with RPA at Amazon, where the company values automation—and where it doesn’t.

Robotic process automation (RPA) has made waves across the financial industry in recent years, and is expected to become a $16.2bn (£12.5bn) market by 2023.

Experts say that within the next three to five years, RPA will continue to evolve and change exponentially in both its application and creation.

One of the forward-thinkers on automation, Amazon, has implemented RPA across its platforms. From consumer-focused applications to internal treasury use, the use of automation is changing the way international conglomerates work.

Amazon’s Jonathan Finch, has seen the benefits of RPA firsthand, pulling experience from his previous roles at PwC and as a director of finance technology at Amazon.

Now the assistant treasurer of technology, Finch’s team of treasury and risk professionals utilise RPA, machine learning and AI to help digitise Amazon’s treasury–a massive undertaking that the company approaches uniquely.

“Amazon doesn’t have a CIO, we don’t have a centralised IT team—we actually invest in small teams, and we go quick,” Finch said.

Creating automation that creates automation

Finch explained that RPA that begets RPA will make the whole system more effective—and a more worthwhile financial investment in the long run.

From a treasury standpoint, this continuous evolution will make the work of both the treasurer, and their team, less repetitive and lessen the chance of errors.

The latest Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) survey showed that, looking ahead to the next five years, cloud computing ranked as the most important technology for treasurers (44%), followed closely by analytics (42%) and artificial intelligence (37%).

While RPA pulls many of these considerations together, only nine percent of respondents said that it would be the most important technology, which stands in contrast to Amazon’s outlook on it.

“Automation is in the DNA of Amazon, from Alexa to the robots and the fulfillment centres, but RPA is actually new to us,” Finch said. “I think there’s a bit of a mental model shift that we’re going through at Amazon about RPA.

“Historically, if you had something that was manual and repetitive, we would move that to an offshore centre—I think RPA is going to disrupt a lot of that. So the mental model shift for us is, ‘How do we create a digital workforce and move these processes to a digital workforce, versus the human workforce in the lower-cost geography?’”

Internal automation at Amazon

The internal benefits of implementing RPA are widespread, allowing employees to focus on the important tasks they are trained to do, rather than wasting time inputting data.

“Every meeting we have, we ask: what are you doing to automate the business?” Finch said.

“We have software engineers, we have data scientists, machine learning, we’re starting to hire RPA developers—but the complexity that we manage, we have no choice but to automate it.

“If I think about Amazon today and its footprint, it blows my mind. We have hundreds of legal entities, thousands of bank accounts, 100 subsidiaries, every line of business you can think of—I mean, it hurts to think about it.

“The way we’ve compensated to support that growth, historically, is to hire operational headcount. So, as the business is growing, we’re adding heads—we can’t do that, that’s not a long-term, sustainable strategy, so we are all in, 100% automation.”

That investment makes sense from an efficiency standpoint. At a supersized company like Amazon, automation has gone beyond being a helpful tool to an operational necessity.

According to Bloomberg, the company pulled $25.6bn (£19.8bn) in revenue from cloud computing and over $234bn (£181bn) from e-commerce sales alone in 2018.

“The amount of inner-company transactions we have are in the millions per month, we need to automate all of that,” Finch said. “Tax withholding, cash positioning is something that we’re thinking about RPA for—a lot of treasury departments were doing that—so we’re 100% in.”

This enthusiasm has translated into action, with Amazon set to invest $700m in its employee upskilling programme through 2025. Among other programmes, machine learning and cloud-focused tech training will be offered, with a goal of upskilling 100,000 employees in the next six years.

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