Marko says: 'Robotization can create value in only one month'

Marko Voutilainen, ceo Attido: 'It’s essential to improve your processes first and then automate them'

THE SIXTH FLOOR. INTERVIEWS ON LEADERSHIP. In this series of interviews, CFO Services’ Jean-Marie Bequevort talks to C-level executives all over the globe about leadership, the challenges they face in business, recruitment and technology, and how they lead their companies through these turbulent times. In this interview, Jean-Marie spoke with Marko Voutilainen, CEO of Attido, a Finnish technology company specialized in business process automation. Attido recently signed a partnership with TriFinance for the use of the Aico robot platform. The title of the series ‘The Sixth Floor’ refers to the executive floor, that gives the C-suite a nice, panoramic view over all things business and human.

Interview by Jean-Marie Bequevort. Edited by Dirk van Bastelaere

Can you tell us about you, your role and your company Attido?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘I have been working as CEO of Attido for about three years now. I am also one of the founders of the company. I have a background of about 20 years in ERP solutions. At the time - I’m talking about the late 1990’s - most ERP systems were implemented by Oracle. Since Oracle didn’t have an organization in place to support their customers, there was a market opportunity for small companies that would offer that support to Oracle customers, some of which were amongst the biggest companies in Finland. ‘Like my colleagues at the time, I have an Oracle background. So, in 2001 we saw a great opportunity to start a company to support already existing Oracle ERP customers, and founded Nordic Solutions. In the beginning, there were four of us, looking at ways to extend Oracle ERP, developing the software package.

‘Quite soon, we added other services. We started our integration business: how to properly integrate external systems to ERP. Then we initiated analytics: how you do your business intelligence under ERP- and other systems. We hired functional consultants, people who knew how the product properly works and how to implement it. After that, we started software development, basically coding completely outside of the ERP-system using Java or MS.Net. We added DBA (Database Administrator) services, so we could support our customer environment completely. Quite soon, we had a complete package on offer: from support functions to project services. 

‘That proved a solid background for the Aico business that came later. The first Aico releases in 2008 came from customers’ requirements: how to do financial workflows and how to do them outside ERP, because the Oracle e-business tools did not support journals that well. That activity laid the foundation for the Aico business. Quite soon we started to integrate our products into other ERP systems. Today, we are able to integrate them into most common ERP’s like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft AX, Microsoft Navision, IFS.

‘Today Attido has 130 employees in total, with the head office located in Espoo Finland. We also have a company in Latvia supporting our customers and doing R&D for Aico.

‘We strongly believe that our purpose is to help our customers succeed in their business. Our people have a high work morale, that certainly helps to deliver on our promises. I believe that is a key driver for long customer relationships.
After 16 years in business I’m happy to say that our first customer, Fortum, is still one of our key customers.’

What's the position of Attido in the software market with regards to the automation of finance and accounting processes?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘With over 50 corporate customers, we are definitely market leader in the Finnish market and our products are used in more than 60 countries. Next year we are expecting a breakthrough in the overall European market. We are currently looking for good partners there, and CFO Services TriFinance is one of the first European partners. We see a lot of potential for success in your market.’

‘Most of our competitors say they can integrate any ERP. That’s true, but integrations are done offline and the customer is responsible to provide integration data. Eventually this amounts to a quite big extra cost for the customer, for an application that’s never real-time. Aico has online and real-time integrations to ERP’s, which is a huge difference vs. what our competitors have on offer. You cannot have Smart Process Automation in place without online integrations.’

How far can technology already automate the day to day financial and operational processes?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘Technology is already there, we can already automate daily and monthly tasks. There’s no need to automate everything. But we have to find those tasks that make out 90% of daily and monthly processes that are most labor-intensive. So, we can today automate financial processes in such a way that people in the finance department can spend their working days doing more value-added work.’

What are the benefits for the finance organization in moving to a higher level of automation?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘That answer is quite simple. You can save 50 to 90% of work time compared to the manual handling of the finance process, while at the same time reducing mistakes and completing tasks in less time.’

Can you briefly describe a process where you have seen it in action?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘The account reconciliation process might be a quite good example. Aico’s Account Reconciliation automates account reconciliation based on your schedule and rules and it can do it at balance level, open item level or line item level. Automatized reconciliation is based on configured limits and rules. It can save up to 80% compared to manual processing.’

What are the most important considerations for clients wishing to initiate a project around automation?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘There’s a lot of potential to improve finance. Most of the time, systems have been implemented quite a long time ago. Their architecture is quite old, and they are often not flexible. Processes don’t work very well, or they are sub-optimal. Before you start automating, you need to know what you have in place, how your processes work. You should start with definition, discovering your process to really understand how your finance process runs, where to improve it and only start automating after having improved your process. If you just start to automate your processes using robotics, you quite often end up with an automated suboptimal process. So, it’s essential to improve your processes first, and then automate them. You will end up with much better results. Don’t choose the easiest way. You have to make the extra effort.’

How long does it typically take for customers to see the benefits from such initiatives?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘In some basic cases, we can create value really fast. Our fastest delivery project has taken only one month. But then you don’t have to implement and roll out everything at once. You can automate piece by piece. If you go for full automation, then of course it is more complicated and takes more time. But if you look at the technical side, we can set up everything really fast. I would say typical projects are from one to four months, but in the best case scenario customers can see the benefits of automation in only one month.’

How do you think this level of innovation will affect the future of the workforce? There’s a global discussion going on about that.

Marko Voutilainen: ‘Robotization and process automation in finance will really change the role of the finance department. The weight of transactional processes will diminish. Automation will gradually turn into a real-time process. People in the department will be able to use their time for more value-added work, turning towards more internal, advisory roles to really support the business. Not just having to focus on transactional processes. The future is already here. It’s already affecting the workforce. We’ll have to ask what kind of skills are needed to sustain that development.’

Is the Finnish market or the Scandinavian market one of the more advanced in automating finance processes?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘There is a long tradition in Finland in automating finance processes. For example, Purchase-to-pay processes have been automated for more than ten years. Also, most of the invoicing is digital today in Finland, first XML-based e-invoicing solutions where introduced in the late 90’s. So we can here focus to automate core processes of the financial departments ’

Has Finland seen a shift in the workforce then, with more vacancies for people with different skills than traditional accountants?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘That has changed, indeed, since transactional processes have been automated and invoices are electronic. As far as I can see, not too many jobs have been lost. The labor market is just going through a transformation. I think automation actually means more competition for offshore work. You don’t have to offshore your simple task work anymore, because you can robotize it and get it more cost-effective that way than by offshoring it. But essentially, the size of finance departments has not become smaller compared to 2007. Job roles are just changing.’

Doesn’t that mean there are many opportunities to train and coach people so they can adjust to the new environment?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘Indeed. We have not seen massive lay-offs. Work is just changing for everyone. Because people don’t have to do these repetitive tasks anymore, companies have been making work more interesting for people at the finance department.’

How tough is the competition?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘Competition has been quite easy in Finland, but we have seen some competition. We have USA and European based competition for some RFPs. But our value proposal has been superior this far, so we have won most of the RFPs. I think we have a competitive edge in online integrations and in our product vision that has made the difference this far.

What's your ambition for Attido in the coming years?

Marko Voutilainen: ‘I think we have an excellent product that we can connect to multiple ERP’s and we have a lot of experience in how to integrate it, with online, real-time integration in ERP’S. We have set very high goals for Attido, so we want to be European market leader in the smart process automation for finance by 2022.’

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Marko Voutilainen - CEO Attido