How AI is taking the drudgery out of expenses
The debate on how artificial intelligence (AI) could shape the way we work tends to take place on a grand scale. We talk about a future where driverless vehicles will deliver our goods from factories filled with armies of robot workers.
Adam Reynolds, CEO of global expense software provider webexpenses discusses how we may be missing the more mundane and practical ways that AI is already reshaping our everyday working lives, and transforming the way businesses operate.
Thanks to a new generation of AI-based systems and tools we can eliminate a whole swathe of tedious and repetitive work and home tasks - bringing intuition, help and time-saving benefits to our lives. These can be found within every industry - from systems designed to root out important clauses from large volumes of legal documents to medical software that identifies potential risks in patient data.
These kind of ‘big data’ tasks are ideally suited to AI applications with adaptive algorithms to find distinctive patterns within documents and datasets.
Eliminating repetitive tasks
The benefits of this can be seen with a commonplace office task such as the processing of employee expense claims. It’s a job that has traditionally involved employees having to manually transfer information from a paper receipt and into an expense report.
It creates a slow, frustrating and error prone procedure as employees try to decipher weeks old spending information that’s contained on bundles of paper receipts.
And the success of a conventional receipt scanning solutions, such as OCR, has been limited.
While OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is able to convert text into a digital form, the lack of accuracy means the information still has to be manually checked and adjusted. For many companies, this results in them outsourcing document scanning tasks to a third party company.
The latest in receipt scanning functionality - Automatic Character Recognition ‘ACR' - removes this barrier by using AI technology to significantly improve the accuracy of scanned text. Removing the need for manual adjustments, it allows a paper receipt to be scanned with a smartphone app and turned into a digital claim within 20 seconds.
Reshaping the way we work
It’s in this way that AI is helping to streamline processes and to remove much of the drudgery involved with handling business information. Rather than replacing existing roles - it’s redefining them.
One of the main reasons that employee expenses have been so tough to control is the administrative burden they have placed on finance teams. So much time has been devoted to processing reimbursements instead of properly managing them.
So the move to AI-based systems and automated processes doesn’t remove the need for skilled finance professionals but it does alter the skill-sets they require. With less need for repetitive ‘number crunching’ tasks, there’s a greater emphasis on the ability to manage and interpret data.
This is something that’s also happening within the legal sector. The introduction of AI systems to analyse large volumes of legal documents has not resulted in a reduction of clerks and paralegals.
Adding value to employees
The number of legal clerks in the US has continues to increase by 1.1% each year despite the introduction of automated processes. The lower costs and greater accessibility provided by technology has created a job demand.
A similar story is found in the medical world with image scanning and AI analysis helping to empower medical practitioners rather than replacing them. In an area such as radiology, it’s a way to extend people’s capabilities and value to employers.
So while the media attention remains on robots and grand visions, there’s a whole range of everyday ways that AI is quietly transforming our working world. By eliminating the need for repetitive drudgery, companies can find more productive ways of using their employees’ talents and time. AI tools should provide people with a greater level of efficiency, freeing them up to do their job and achieve more.
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Melanie Guy is HR Manager at webexpenses, a cloud-based expenses management solution.
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