How one accounting program introduces students to RPA

Written by promotiondept

April 15, 2021

How one accounting program introduces students to RPA Bryant Richards knew little about robotic process automation (RPA) when accounting firms recruiting at his school, Nichols College in Dudley, mass., began saying his students should learn the skill. The push led Richards, an associate professor of accounting and finance, to learn more about RPA, and then […]

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How one accounting program introduces studts to RPA

Bryant Richards knew little about robotic process automation (RPA) wh accounting fir recruiting at his school, Nichols College in Dudley, Mass., began saying his studts should learn the skill. The push led Richards, an associate professor of accounting and finance, to learn more about RPA, and th to create RPA internships, advote for the inclusion of RPA in the business core curriculum, and conceive of the college’s Cter for Intelligt Process Automation. Richards talked with Extra Credit about how and why to incorporate RPA into accounting progra, and how studts react to learning this emerging technology.

Richards: It started with our stakeholders, such as trustees, alumni, and employers, saying, “Your studts need to have RPA,” and I said, “What’s RPA?” They gave me quick insight into it. It took me two of research and studying and practice to get myself up to speed.  

Richards: With RPA, you are recording instructions that able a system to repeat digital ks. Anything digitized that you n do with a computer n, for the most part, be recorded in the form of instructions, and that’s not necessarily new. What’s new about this is that now average users n easily learn how to do it and create powerful automations.

The “intelligt” part comes in wh you add artificial intelligce that allows you to explore certain things with prebuilt analysis, to do types of complex analysis such as stimt analysis. What I think we’ll see in the future is a lot more deploymt of artificial intelligce where things will get a lot more, dare I say, intelligt and advanced. 

Richards: The big accounting fir all say RPA is something they’re their folks to understand and use now. They’re sding the message that, if studts learn how to do this, it would be very useful to them in their reers. Larger companies are also starting to sd that message. 

Teaching RPA is a brilliant way to studts experice difficult-to-teach accounting concepts, ev if they never d up using it in their reers. Wh trying to create a “bot,” or software robot, that perfor a reconciliation, studts explore all the facets of that reconciliation, and it really courages them, if not forces them, to learn it a new and deeper way. They never forget it [after that]. 

Richards: As of this semester, we introduced one week of RPA into every one of our introductory information technology classes. Every studt who goes through our business core will be exposed to RPA.

We also offer research associate internships, in which studts advise companies. Twty studts have completed the internships over three semesters, and I expect to turn the internships into a course in the future. We get studts ing bots, and we slowly pull the wheels off and get them doing deep analysis. Usually, by the d of the semester, I’m having them work with a clit or solve a problem. 

Richards: At least half the studts are apprehsive, if not sred, to start with. Once they get through creating their first four bots, they start getting excited, especially if their bots work. Toward the d of the semester, they feel empowered and they n’t believe what they n do with it. 

The accounting studts are feasting on this [technology]. For some reason it comes more naturally to them.

Richards: A large bank would dump applitions into an Excel file which needed to be typed into another system. A studt created a bot that simply read the files and punched the data into the bank’s software program. I’m pretty sure it saved the bank a signifint amount of money. 

Another studt worked for a small public firm, and his role was to go to restaurants and do their accounts payable every week. He saw how that process could be automated. His bot saved him to 6 minutes per clit, and he had 30 to 40 a week.

Richards: We used UiPath, software that is fairly user-fridly and s a lot of and ademic support. They gave us a free community licse.

We rectly signed an agreemt with NICE Syste to have them be our r of software in the future. The partnership agreemt with NICE gives us the ability to leverage their software for Nichols College while we teach our studts.

Richards: This technology is coming, and they should be up on it. They are more than welcome to reach out to me. 

To understand it, you really need to a bot. UiPath and NICE have some nice starter training courses that n you create a quick bot on your own.

I think as faculty we feel like we have to learn stuff before we teach it. But you don’t have to be an expert at RPA to roll it out to studts and get them exploring accounting concepts with it in a meaningful and valuable way. The tool might be new, but many of us have signifint expertise in the related skills.

Richards: The Cter for Intelligt Process Automation (CIPA) will focus on three overlapping objectives: adopting technology for Nichols College to become a showse for higher edution; providing thought leadership and support to underserved communities throughout industry and higher edution with a focus on improving accessibility; and providing studt opportunity and experice, as it will primarily be staffed by trained studt workers. We announced the cter, in concept, in September 2020 and will release more information soon.

As we did research, we found two primary skills gaps in the accounting profession, one that is tool- and technology-based, and one around the process, data, and architecture skills associated with automation. Nichols College is at on business-user tools. We want to tell the profession: We’re going to with this problem. We’re going to commit resources. We’re going to make sure the skills gap shrinks. 

The AICPA offers a certificate in robotic process automation. Edutors n receive a discount on AICPA certifites.

Sharon Waters is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. To commt on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vi, a JofA sior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.


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