Narrow AI Technologies Are Creeping into Finance and Accounting Services


Automation is transforming the way business process outsourcing (BPO) providers deliver services today. This is especially true in finance and accounting (F&A) outsourcing, as seen in ISG’s latest F&A Provider Lens Report, which shows BPO F&A clients are realizing quantifiable benefits such as reduced costs, reduced errors, improved accuracy and improved productivity. As providers see continued success with robotic process automation (RPA) implementations, they are increasingly ready to embrace narrow AI and cognitive technologies such as natural language processing (NLP) and optical character recognition (OCR) to extend the reach of automation into areas that require human-like judgment and that involve unstructured data like voice, text and images.

Here are some examples of what is now available in the market for BPO F&A buyers:

OCR technology allows a computer to extract text and images from unstructured image files and makes it possible to extract information from documents, including attributes of images, for further processing as part of automation. In F&A, this technology has wide applicability, especially in invoice processing, which is the low-hanging fruit that providers can take advantage of immediately to achieve higher efficiencies. For example, HCL’s Exacto tool recognizes and processes handwritten text that is unstructured. Digitizing paper records greatly benefits F&A processes. With invoices coming in various formats, OCR technology helps process unstructured data and extract information far more quickly than a human could do manually.

NLP is the application of computational techniques to the analysis and synthesis of natural language and speech. It allows computers to understand unstructured text, generate new text and extract key entities from documents. In F&A services, NLP has many use cases. It can interpret text and process paper-based invoices. It also can interpret email approvals required for the invoice transaction and further process the paperwork without human intervention.

Many enterprises are already implementing cognitive technologies like OCR and NLP. These technologies will play a major role in eliminating manual processes, improving accuracy and freeing up employee bandwidth for more complex tasks. Enterprises that have embraced RPA and have mature processes should now consider adopting narrow AI technologies to augment their automation capabilities and achieve greater benefits.

ISG can help enterprises understand the value of narrow AI technologies and design an automation roadmap that includes adoption of these technologies to achieve higher gains. Read our recent study Is Your RPA Program “Bot 3.0” Ready? and contact me to discuss further.


About the author

Namratha Dharshan

Namratha Dharshan

Namratha Dharshan is director and principal analyst for ISG. With more than 16 years of experience in IT/BPO outsourcing research, she has developed expertise in business processing outsourcing and customer experience broadly focused on horizontals such as finance and accounting and contact center. Her research focuses specifically on customer experience as it relates to digital transformation, omnichannel, analytics, AI and automation.

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