How digital assistants will change the way finance works

By Sarah George, ERP/EPM Cloud Applications Business Development Manager and Product Leader at Oracle

How many times have you visited a company’s web site, only to be greeted by a small pop-up window asking, “How can I help?”

Such a greeting is becoming more and more common. Often, it’s our first interaction with an organisation, and can influence how we perceive their customer service. However, a human being rarely gives that helpful greeting. It’s nearly always a chatbot, also known as a digital assistant.  

Digital assistants are text-based (we’re counting emojis as text) and designed to work within a single-purpose application (like Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or a web site). There are also virtual assistants (like Amazon’s Alexa), which are voice-activated and generally connect to a mobile device.

While South Africa is still at an early stage of intelligent digital assistants; these services need to be authentic and must not pretend to be human. We are continually improving algorithms around user sentiment, image analysis, language translation, self-learning and behavioural analysis, to both simplify digital assistant development and enhance the user experience. In South Africa we see digital assistants changing the way finance professionals are working. These assistants enable the finance workforce by simplifying and automating repetitive tasks, which drives finance professionals to focus on value driven activities and to manage by exception.

Today, tech companies are embedding voice assistants into business software, to help with tasks like recommending suppliers, filing expense reports—even advising which invoices to pay first. We don’t have to double-click or tap anymore; we ask a question and get an immediate answer.

At Oracle, we are embedding intelligent digital assistants into our products and applications, including an assistant that serves as an intelligent agent to help capture and track expenses such as requisitions or expense claims, and intelligent algorithms that recommend the best suppliers to engage with and vendor-specific discounts to improve cash flow.

Automating to increase efficiency and CX

Soon you’re going to see digital assistants help your organisation speed up year end, manage budgets, and perform financial forecasting. You’ll use these intelligent assistants to eliminate redundancy in work previously performed by people, liberating your team to use their knowledge and experience to provide insights and enable better decisions across the entire business.

An example of the power of digital assistants is Fortune 100 energy company Exelon that turned to digital assistants to deliver speedy customer service. Exelon required fast digital assistant implementation to multiple conversational interfaces including web, Facebook Messenger and voice assistants like Alexa.  Oracle’s fast digital assistant development capabilities from Oracle Mobile Cloud was implemented and the results were around the clock improved and faster response times, lower cost due to reduced call centre expenses and over 10 million customers served.

In finance departments, assistants can perform similar functions to automate repetitive processes that consume employee hours—time that could be better spent on higher-level tasks such as faster decision-making and architecting a new financial strategy.

Digital assistants will be able to provide an immediate and informed answer to a question like, “How much have we spent on travel and expenses this year?” Then, a manager can instantly determine if there is room in the budget to send employees to an overseas conference.

Bajaj Electricals, a consumer electrical equipment manufacturing company, required ways to creatively serve customers across varying levels of technology adoption and sophistication to help them with their purchases in a scalable and cost-effective way.

Using Oracle Mobile Cloud digital assistant technology Bajaj Electricals implemented intelligent digital assistants with conversational interfaces that help users via SMS and its website. With over 2 billion products in use and 20 million under warranty, the digital assistant service enables customers to report broken appliances, schedule installation appointments and repairs, or find out more about the product in question. The service has enabled Bajaj Electricals to interact with customers in a user-friendly way, improving their experience when contacting the company. 

The future of digital assistants is here

Digital assistants are expected to show huge growth over the next few years. While less than 4% of organisations have already deployed conversational interfaces (including chatbots), 38% are planning to implement or actively experimenting with the technology according to Gartner’s 2018 CIO Survey.

We expect that digital assistants will soon be able to automate the entire financial close, only asking a human to step in when an exception arises. Increasingly, finance employees will be freed from performing repetitive tasks, and will be able to spend their time on truly challenging and critical work.

This isn’t just good for the business in terms of having more minds working on long-term financial strategy; it’s also good for keeping employees engaged, challenged, and enthusiastic at work. Intelligent digital assistants will be a critical part of unleashing the power of people in the organisation to do amazing things.

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