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IAASB Digital Technology Market Scan: Robotic Process Automation

Jan 12, 2023 | English

Welcome to the sixth Market Scan from the IAASB's Disruptive Technology team. Building on our ongoing work, we issue a Market Scan every 2-3 months. Market Scans cover exciting trends, including new developments, corporate and start-up innovation, noteworthy investments and what it all might mean for the IAASB.

In this Market Scan, we explore Robotic Process Automation, a technology used for executing repetitive tasks that has applications across the audit process, from data transformation to workpaper creation, as well as potential for forming part of an audited entity’s IT environment.

Technology Landscape, September 2022

We cover:

  • What is Robotic Process Automation and why is it important?
  • The latest developments
  • What this might mean for the IAASB

What is Robotic Process Automation and why is it important?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a technology that involves creating software robots or “bots” to perform repetitive, routine manual tasks, such as extracting data, filling out forms or moving files. By completing rules-based actions that emulate human processes, RPA tools can autonomously complete various activities across multiple unrelated software systems. 

What is RPA (Robotic Process Automation)? Two-minute watch, Eye on Tech

What is RPA (Robotic Process Automation)? Two-minute min watch, Eye on Tech

RPA has evolved in recent years with companies such as Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and UiPath developing ever more sophisticated technologies to automate tasks, workflows and processes. Coupling RPA with artificial intelligence technologies, such as machine learning, has enabled businesses to automate more complex tasks that may involve more judgment or use of unstructured data. This combination of technologies is often referred to as Intelligent Automation or Cognitive Automation.

RPA within the audit process

There are several areas across the audit where RPA can be deployed to drive efficiency in the audit process as well as improve audit quality by enabling consistency of outputs.

  • Data preparation – combining data sets (e.g., general ledger transactions and trial balance information) and carrying out transformation actions to prepare data for use in automated tools.
  • Transaction matching and reconciliation – automating the process of matching transactions to external datasets (e.g., bank statements)
  • Basic documentation – completion of basic standardized documentation, such as workpapers, checklists or templates based on prescribed inputs (e.g., trial balance information or information documented elsewhere in the audit file)

RPA within audited entities

Audited entities may use RPA to support certain business processes or repetitive task activities, such updating records, processing transactions or completing reconciliations.

Benefits of Robotic Process Automation, Digital Beanie

Recent Noteworthy Developments in Robotic Process Automation

These recent developments that may signal future disruption in this area. It is not a complete list of all activities in the field of RPA. For a reminder of Key Venture Capital and Investment terms please refer to the first Market Scan.

1.  RPA market experiences slowing growth

The RPA market is dominated by some key players, with the 10 largest RPA vendors accounting for over 75% of the market. There have been some indications in the RPA market that growth in this technology sector may have begun to slow, although double digit growth is still predicted for 2023. UiPath, one of the leading companies in RPA software, has seen its stock value continue to fall since its IPO in 2021. Whilst Automation Anywhere, another well-known RPA provider, sought to secure a $200 million loan and Blue Prism, another large player, agreed to a $1.5 billion takeover offer from Vista Equity Partners in September 2022.

2.     Startups with Low-Code and No-Code RPA Solutions

Whilst the traditional RPA industry may be slowing down, business process automation— a term used to describe the use of technologies, including RPA and AI, to streamline and automate more complex business processes—has seen continued growth, particularly with low-code or no-code solutions that can be deployed by those without coding skills.

  • In May 2022, UiPath announced a new partnership with airSlate, a workflow automation company, to advance the development of workflow solutions to enable individuals and small businesses to digitally transform their organizations.
  • In June 2022, Next Matter, a workflow automation platform for business operations, raised $16 million in a Series A funding round to expand its team and operations.
  • In November 2022, Rewst a no-code RPA provider for managed service providers, raised $21.5 million in Series A funding to continue to build out its Robotic Operations Center.

What this might mean for the IAASB

The IAASB is interested in maintaining its collective knowledgebase on digital technologies (including on specific sub-topics such as robotic process automation), promoting digital readiness and enablement through its engagement with stakeholders, and encouraging action by others to supplement and support the IAASB’s standard-setting activities.

The IAASB is also keen to explore how technologies could be used to enhance interaction with auditing standards. Subject to the IAASB’s work plan decisions, possible use cases of digital technologies for audited entities and audit engagements might provide input to further modernize the IAASB’s standards to be adaptable to and reflect the current business and audit environment (while recognizing that the standards would address digital technologies in a principles-based manner).

The increasing accessibility of RPA through the growth of low code and no code technologies offers opportunities for those without extensive programming knowledge to develop solutions to address specific pain points or low value time-consuming activities in their everyday work, including for audit practitioners or audited entities.  

Where RPA or other robotics-based technologies are deployed by auditors to complete audit procedures, adequate governance and approval of these technologies needs to be in place to ensure they are designed effectively, fit for purpose and used appropriately, including provision of training or enablement where needed. Availability of no-code or low code technologies may give rise to wider use of small-scale RPA to address specific needs which has the potential to improve audit efficiency but if ungoverned, could impact audit quality.

The use of RPA in audited entities to automate actions previously performed by a person may change how a process and its related controls operate, and therefore the risks within the process and the appropriate audit response, which may include understanding how the use of RPA is being governed and controlled. As the use of this technology develops further, particularly when coupled with artificial intelligence technologies, this may present new challenges for the auditor and may, therefore, have implications for the IAASB’s work, whether in terms of future standard setting related to technology or facilitating or supporting action by others (e.g., developing guidance).

Useful Articles and Resources 

Interesting story

KFC Draws Backlash for Automated Kristallnacht Promo Message - BNN Bloomberg, two-minute read

KFC, the popular fast-food chain, experienced a public relations disaster when its automated communications process messaged customers in Germany about a promotion to “commemorate Kristallnacht”. Kristallnacht was a series of Nazi pogroms that took place against German Jews in 1938. The company blamed an error in the automated process which linked calendar events to promotional content.