There Are Bots For That | Transcript | Episode 001

There Are Bots For That | Transcript | Episode 001

[Adam] Hello, and welcome to tech for finance, where we help finance teams, leverage technology to support their ambitions as businesses and as individuals, I'm your host, Adam Shilton.

And in this episode, we're going to be chatting with Daniel Lawrence CEO at 'Bots for That'. Daniel has over 20 years experience in his space, holding senior positions in companies, such as Yahoo, Oracle and Coca-Cola, and having previously been plagued by a very heavy and stressful manual workload, Daniel decided to co-found bots for that in 2017, and is now determined to help free teams from the drudgery of the mundane and a manual, which can make us unproductive, ineffective, tired, and uninspired.

As CEO of box for that, Daniel is dedicated to improving how the workplace of the future can and should operate using technology to provide the best possible working experience for his clients, their employees, and their shareholders.

Thanks for joining me today, Daniel.

[Daniel] Thank you very much, Adam. It's a wonderful introduction. Best one I've ever heard. Very good.

[Adam] Very good. So yeah, from the intro, obviously we know you've worked in some, some pretty stressful roles in the past, right?

Positions where you probably didn't have a lot of modern technology supporting you. So is it fair to say that you were thinking, you know, there must be a better way of doing this being the trigger to what you're doing now?

[Daniel] Definitely. I sometimes sit around thinking, God, I wonder how different my professional life would have been in 20, 30 years ago, if I'd have had the things that I have at my disposal now.

But I guess from as early as I can remember what I actually wanted to be a, and you'll sympathize with this, a complete change of career, but all I really wanted to be was a carpenter.

I loved working with my hands and making things out of wood. I love the measuring, the cutting. I loved working with joints, but not the kind that Elon Musk likes, but I loved the process of taking, you know, basic raw materials and creating something that was either functional, useful, but also beautiful and elegant.

And I learned a valuable lesson from my early days when I did carpentry and that was, I've actually applied it to everything I've ever done since in my career.

And that's the measure twice cut once. So it's an unusual start, I guess, but, you know, we ended up where we ended up, but through a series of circumstances, I found myself studying accountancy one evening.

And from there my career, you know, sort of went through from a humble country life in, in the Southwest to London and Ireland. And then around the world, as you said with those, those companies that you mentioned at the start, but early on in my career, I was, and I guess I still am, to be honest with you still quite amazed at just how, how much boring, repetitive and manual work and hard work that there is out there.

I've got a really good actually example from my one of my early days, working at Oracle, I was an expenses administrator.

I was part of a very small team that I had process and pay all of it, pay sales and employee expenses for the whole of UK and Ireland’s operation at the time, which was massive.

It was hundreds and hundreds of claims every single week. We used to receive an envelope, a physical envelope in the post stuffed full of receipts, often with a badly filled out, or it might note have even been filled out claim form, because sales thought we'd do that for them, it was very kind of them.

And we had until Thursday to sort through, and open up envelopes, to sort through, make sense of it all, fill out forms. And then we had to, you know, it was an Oracle system, had to put all of them, all of those receipts, and manually enter them all as well as all the physical stuff.

And, but the end of Thursday, when we were absolutely worn out knackered, we'd have to stop, and then begin the payment process, which was on a Friday morning.

We'd we'd run the expenses as we used to call it, which took quite a while. To be honest with you, it was a few button clicks, but then you'd have to wait about two and a half to three hours for it to finish.

And once it was finished, we then got on the phone and rang the data centre, down the end of the 329M, and say, can you load another tape for us now because they're ready to start putting the expenses over.

So they would do that. And this sounds terrible, right? And this is not that long ago. This was 1997 - 98. They would run these new tapes for us, and put them on and we'd click the button again and we'd load it up and get switched over.

And after several hours, I'd, I'd go and ask the FD for his car keys, drive down the 329M to Bracknell, collect the tapes, drive back to the office again, and then we'd phone a courier to come and collect the tape and drive it to London, to the bank so that they could make payments to everyone's bank accounts the following week.

And that was just 20 years ago.

You know, fast forward, you know, you take a phone on your receipt with Dext or whatever, and you hit send and it's there, it's in your accounts and it's in the bank of the next day.

So that's some progress in 20 years, to be honest with you. And it often still brings me to tears thinking about the work that we had to go through back in those days.

But it's, it's examples like that, that motivate me to do what we do today.

[Adam] Yeah, absolutely. And like you say it's not that long ago if you think about it. It really isn’t.

You look at technology today and it really is a hockey stick, you know It's interesting to see where, where are going to go.

There's also surprising if you say we have all of this technology at our disposal, you know, we're now living in the cloud, obviously code COVID accelerated that for everyone because there was no choice. Right. But I know you and I still see a lot, a lot of challenges. That you're often surprised about.

So I guess, you know, forgetting about the days of it being on a, on a tape because, you know, fingers crossed, they are long gone, right?

As this this is tech for finance, specifically, with modern finance teams who may be using a cloud system already, you know, or fill in the gap, as we've got to assume that there is some sort of basic technology in place. What sort of challenges do you tend to see when people come to you to say, look, I'm struggling.

[Daniel] Yeah, you're right. As much that has changed, there's as much there’s that hasn’t as well, so surprisingly or not, maybe not. But a lot of the challenges I see, the underlying issues are exactly the same today as they were, as they were 20 years ago.

When I, when I was working in finance, the challenges I see all the time can, I guess, best be summed up by a phrase I, I heard about 20 years ago when I was working at Oracle and it was better, faster, cheaper. In reality, you know, we can only generally achieve two of those things, not three necessarily at the same time, but it doesn't stop us aiming high, I suppose.

But I see modern day finance teams battling with a lot of the same challenges I did. They're trying to close the books as quickly, efficiently and accurately as possible, trying to provide the business with some really useful insights, metrics and numbers and, and partner with them so that they can make better decisions that drive the business forward.

And all that is, you know, to try and get the best outcomes for everybody effectively. So in doing so, they've got to contend with a hell of a lot of internal and external factors that are beyond their control.

They've got to attract and recruit and retain the best talent they can, which is proving more and more difficult, you know, as every day and week goes by, right now. They're trying to find and use the best technologies and use them in the best way they can.

Both whilst they've got this massive, ever-growing list of demands from the business, new data, new requirements and they best not complain.

And so that's, that's certainly hasn't changed, maybe it has changed. I don't know, but I learned a very valuable lesson from an FD I used to work for many, many years ago.

The company was sharing its strategic goals for the next 12 months. And they, they brought finance in to, to do the same thing. And we were sat around trying to figure out, what's finance going to do, that's going to help the company achieve these goals, overall.

There was some significant ones in there that, that were beyond even finance capabilities. But the one that I always remember was to reduce the operating costs to a certain percentage of another number. I forget exactly what is was. But our FD at the time said, that cost cutting is going to be a major factor. And I never forget his words, but hr said finance must lead the way.

I knew at that point we were doomed. For all those things that we were hoping for to come out of this wonderful new world that's going to exist in 12 months time, all we saw out of us was more of the same less, less to show for it, less motivation.

And I think, the way things feel today, a lot of things haven't changed really since then, which is anyway, it's just, it's a shame, isn't it?

[Adam] No, absolutely. And you touched on an interesting point of discussion, which, which I've had a lot of conversations around recently, which is the concept of month-end close, closing out as quickly as possible, you know, getting data to who it needs to go to as quickly as possible. And the variance that we're seeing at the moment is actually still quite dramatic. You know, some companies is still taking weeks, some have managed to get it down to a couple of days.

But we've got to consider that we have technology, but we also have people and sometimes technology, isn't the silver bullet right now, because a lot delays in month end could be waiting on information from another department, for example, you know, it could be waiting for people to submit time sheets before they can go through the payroll process, for example. So there are variables outside technology but I guess technology is there to be used.

Moving forward then, so let's say I don't know what good example is, but say the problem is we're taking two months to close out the month, or, you know, we're stuck with a million spreadsheets. We don't know what to do, we don’t know how to tie them all together. If somebody came to you, where would you advise they start? How would they go about their investigations?

Because of course there is so much tech available now, that everybody can do their own research on you, and you only need Google or your favourite search engine to do that.

So what would you suggest to point them in the right direction at the early stage of their investigation?

[Daniel] It's a brilliant question. And it's one that I encounter all the time.

I think I actually read an article not long ago. I think it was Forrester, but don't quote me. And I think they said all buyers now touch an average of 12 pieces of research before they actually contact a solution provider of some sort in order to see, how do we fix that? So there's almost too much information at our hands. That's, that's part of the challenge, but the interesting thing about this is, that most people don't actually know where the real problems are, or how bad their work is. It's sort of like people become numb to it.

We once worked with a lady who was retiring from in payroll, and she was spending 12 days creating the invoices for the payroll solution provider, based on all the different payslips that were going through. So we built a bot, that runs in about five minutes.

It took the 12 days of work that it was taking her, and it took this thing away and it was all gone.

And five minutes later a bot does it now, and it's continued to this day.

So people generally don't realise just how bad their work is, but also they might not actually be as motivated to fix it sometimes, you know, ‘better the devil you know’, ‘don't rock the boat’ kind of approach. It's easy to get up now, and go through and do what you normally do and do it the way you've always done it.

So sometimes the biggest challenge is actually having a clear sight of what's what's wrong. But then having a motivation to actually try and find out how we fix it, how we make it better.

Now finance, in fairness to them are really good, generally speaking, at diagnosing specific problems and symptoms in their world that cause them pain. They're usually acutely aware of it. The problems that we commonly see in finance is that it just simply takes them too long to certain to perform a task. If they just had enough time to find a solution, they probably would.

Macros and that stuff aside, there's only so much you can do. It nearly always involves their ERP system. It nearly always involves reporting and it normally always involves spreadsheets unfortunately. And the trigger problem usually revolves around something in the business.

You know, there's have been some big growth or there's a demand for something different switch of direction. And it just exponentially increases that amount of work suddenly.

And some poor soul is then dumped with having to consume that extra activity. And it's probably the reason why it's a challenge now to keep people in finance, accounting I’d say.

But what happens if we assume that someone has identified this this piece of work or this pain point in the business, I've always used a simple framework when we engage with whatever part of the business it might be.

And it's called the ESSA framework - E S S A, which stands for eliminate simplify, standardise, and automate.

So we can eliminate the task altogether, stop doing it. Most cases that's not possible, most finance people’s eyes would pop out there if you suggested it. So if you can't eliminate it altogether, sometimes you can simplify the task so it's not as monstrous, to maybe allocate what's left to other people. Or you can standardise it and then reduce the variability or the complexity so that's a more manageable task. And then again, allocate what maybe is left to other people. But you can also just automate it and that's, that's part of the discussion that we take people through. Because a lot of times, people want to try and optimise it, improve it before they think about the automation.

And then, what we actually find, in reality, is that people try and make those optimisations, still thinking of it in the current tense. So they still think about how would this improve it for me, but actually if we're going to automate it, it usually cuts the need for all of that. And then you optimise it for a robot to do rather than for a person. So approaching it with that different frame of mind is difficult for some people to get their heads around, but once they do it, it frees them up so much more, because they’ve automated that process, that piece of work, and that pain point has suddenly disappeared. There might be a version two where we expand on it and make it even better. But that's the typical approach that we take.

Otherwise people tend to try over-engineer a solution to a problem that doesn't really need it, and automation is really great way to just cut through the thinking process and trying to think of what's the best way this could possibly work.

You just give it to a bot, some of the rest of the solutions naturally present themselves when you do that.

[Adam] Thanks for that. It's interesting. Isn't it? I find it fascinating, and it is an interesting point you made there about looking at things from a different perspective, and everybody finds it, right?

I'm sure you're the same, it's remarkably difficult in some situations to actually remove yourself from the equation. It's that level of con conceptual thinking that is, is difficult. When you are stuck in the day-to-day and you live in your world, how do you remove yourself from that situation? It's phenomenally difficult. How do you step back and say, what's the bird's eye view of this? If the technology's there, how to use it?

Your, ESSA framework is good. Just to double check, we've got eliminate, standardise. Those, what was the second S?

[Daniel] Simplify, Simplify, And automate and automate.

[Adam] So what I'll do anyways though, I'll add it to the show notes. So it'll be

So I'll include a transcript and some of the notes that I've been making as we go along, so people can pick up these nuggets and, and surf to their heart's content, I guess.

So that's great. And it's nice that you've got a, got a framework and that you are providing that, that guidance, It's tricky to, as we say, take yourself out of the equation and actually think about what the future looks like as opposed to being stuck in the, in the here and now.

So, let’s address the elephant in the room - Bots For That - There's a big logo on the screen for anybody that's watching this by video.

I must admit that I'm familiar with the concept of bots. But I think to a lot of people, in most instances in terms of their day-to-day interaction, the only time that they might encounter a bot is if they're on a website and either a chat or a support bot pops up to say, oh, “Hey, I'm gizmo” or whatever. My name is, what's your support query. And I'll try and divert you to this, knowledge article or whatever it is. And I'm also pretty sure that a lot of the, and conversations you have, if you're comparing your insurance or whatever, I'm pretty sure the starts of those conversations nowadays are generally with a bot before it either lets you know it's handing you over to a person, or is actually automatically making that switch without you knowing about it.

But what you do is it is a lot deeper than that. We're not just talking about bots interacting with people. We're talking about a whole new level of automation. So when we look at bots for that and your work, can you just give people an overview of what types of different types of bots there could be, and what their general applications are?

[Daniel] Absolutely. So I think one of the most compelling reasons and advantages for our bots is that they work, in some respects, what makes people comfortable, is that they work very similarly to people, but at the same time, they worked very differently.

So I’ll explain that because that's probably confusing. So firstly, the bots can work in the same way that you and I would with say, a Xero accounting system, because they work at the UI, the user interface level. So they can navigate through screens, menus, key tabs, shortcuts, you know, the mouse controls just the same way that we would so they can see and understand screens, desktops and images in our world the way that we do, which is brilliant, because not all systems have connectivity capabilities like APIs, which means that we can automate even when you've got less developed, less involved system technology.

But the advantage is that bots can also work in the same way that a computer does through the backend. They can use codes and connections like APIs, for example, and they can do the two simultaneously switching seamlessly from one to the other and back without blinking, which is something that we certainly can't do, for sure.

So bots can be programmed to do a vast number of different things. They can be rule and logic bound. So perform certain calculations and do specific actions, but it just at a massive, incredibly fast speed. But they can also be AI powered, smart bots or cognitive bots, which means they can be probabilistic, based on determined outcomes. And they can learn from the experience and the data that they process to change and improve how they work on different datasets the next time around, so they can improve the outcomes that they achieve.

Bots can also do things like reading and understanding documents. So you can look at invoices and purchase orders and you can read and understand, and then you can extract data from those. And whether that be structured or unstructured, it can do both. And it can also engage in conversations with other computers or with other people in order to provide instructions or receive instructions and give insights and answers and give information beyond the obvious.

So from a finance perspective, that means that bots can be used in a huge amount of ways. So if you take the typical finance department, for example, take accounts payable, you could achieve near straight through fully automated processes from PO to pay for instance, and even parts of sourcing could be included and automated. Things like supplier setup and maintenance and updates and things like that.

You could, for example, if a new supplier filled out a web form, bots could go onto a company's house to verify the company number, the directors and addresses. There's lots of things that bots can do. And of course they do at a breakneck speed. So it not only frees up the work, but it actually delivers the outcomes much faster.

If you consider something like accounts receivable from order to cash, much of the processes and the activities, they can also be automated too.

You can, with bots, take, say a closed won opportunity from your CRM system, whether it's like a HubSpot or Zoho or Salesforce, you can handle the contracts using a DocuSign, for example, you can create the invoices, trigger the supply chain, the deliverables and then it can post, send chase invoices, supply cash, make sure that there's no exceptions, and true exceptions can then be put out and handled by person. So a phenomenal amount within that area.

And then next you've got, say your general ledger. We actually have built bots that do things like standard chart of accounts maintenance, so that they're in sync across all your different entities. We can do things like creating and posting journals. We've got some bots that have done exactly that, where they take information from other systems combine them, bring them into Xero, create a journal, get it all ready for posting or review.

So all of those types of things, and you can incorporate rules and logic int a bot sequence effectively. So if you wanted to have, say tolerances to flag, you know, certain things, or you wanted to introduce some sort of pattern technology or pattern recognition into certain things like the numbers or anything like that. There's so many things that you can incorporate into an automated flow using bots.

And then it's, it's a similar story within tax, treasury, FP and a planning analysis, payroll. There's few areas that we haven't looked at or deployed bots within finance and accounting.

And it's it's really great because it frees up people from all the stuff that they don't really enjoy. They don't get value from in itself. It's all about the outcome. So they get to the outcomes much faster. It frees people up. It makes them happier people you know, happier accountants, whatever that is, but it definitely makes a huge difference.

[Adam] Very good. I'm very much over-simplifying this. But it's made me remember when I first got a Mac, and it might not have even been my Mac, I can't remember, but that was when, when computers were finally becoming cool, and you could get laptops and all that sort of stuff.

And of course, the first thing you do is you go into utilities and you think, what cool stuff can I do with, with this?

And I think it was just called automator or something like that, on Mac. And I remember it blowing my mind because you can essentially just hit record and you can have the computer move your mouse for you and click through those routines. So as I say, I know I'm oversimplifying, what we're not talking about here is having a bot move your mouse to go in and empty your recycle bin or copy and paste the file, even though you could do in a simple sense.

What you're saying is if you had a routine whereby you wanted to clear something out or move something, you take the manual intervention out that.

It is years since I've have obviously revisited those memories, I guess. So it made me smile when you started talking about it, but again, it's sometimes a little bit scary thinking, well actually. How big can you think? Essentially what you're saying though, is you could program some sort of automation to do anything. But you've got to have the idea of how that's going to work beforehand.

But that's what you're here for. You're, you're providing strategic guidance on how to fill the gaps.

[Daniel] Yes, and to almost rethink, re-imagine, what does the future of the finance workplace look like? That's the key thing.

[Adam] So, I mentioned it can be a bit scary and, and you know what question's coming up because you've had a look at the questions before this session, but of course, we're talking about AI, we're talking about machine learning, we're talking about machines and bots instead of people, and going back to what we initially said about people only seeing things from their world, how do we get around the, ‘I'm going to be replaced’ or ‘pretty soon everybody's going to turn into a robot and we're not going to need to do anything anymore.’

What is your view on that? Do you think we will ever get to a world where we are literally just sitting on a beach somewhere and we're programming the bots and they do the rest, or? Just talk around that, how much do you see that fear element and, and what do you generally say?

[Daniel] Yeah, it's, a common - I think probably less so than it used to be - but it is a common knee-jerk response is that people automatically think job risk and job loss. And what I've found so far with regards to job impacts is two things. Firstly, that, I guess, bots for the most part are not used to automate end to end fully, tasks, or processes. So they don't replace jobs, or don't not entirely anyway. And I think that if there, for example, if I took any role in finance, and you can pretty much, I would say automate twenty-five percent of most jobs today, but you know, there's the remaining 75% that's left. You can, re-imagine what that is, and then add on a new 25%. Most of those times, when you do change your role significantly you do remove parts of it.

There's lots of things that I find, if I ever spoke to anyone finance, I've never heard anyone say we're a hundred percent happy with everything we do. Everything's perfect. And we don't want to do any more, because that's never the truth. That's never the fact. So there's always things, there's always demands that the business has, or other regulatory requirements, and there's so many other things that we never even get time to get to or do properly.

So what we find actually is that what we're doing is freeing up people because the stuff that most people do that takes time, that's mundane, repetitive. It doesn't really add any value. It certainly doesn't motivate people. It's not exciting. It's not rewarding work. So generally speaking, what we found I found is with every client we've ever worked with, is that they're always quite relieved to get rid of that work because there's a pile of stuff that they don't get to anyway.

So that's what we find in practice, and what it what one thing we do see with our customers is that when they do automate certain roles, generally speaking, it’s the CFOs that we've supported, there's, there's probably two impacts.

One is that they're automating a task because they're growing and they rather that than bring in more people and hire more people just to do these manual jobs. If they bring in a bot, all they’ve done is they've avoided hiring more people into jobs, which are not that rewarding anyway. So there's an avoidance cost they are saving there.

And then I guess in terms of the jobs that are left, that's where people get to get into the business partnering, the things that actually are interesting things that ritually, you know, actually drive the business forward and support in the business. This thing, the business partnering aspects of the finance, and accounting, is far more interesting, is far more rewarding, in that it actually supports the business and what they need to be successful.

So that's generally what I find. And I think in reality, although it hasn't happened yet, jobs can and always will be impacted by many things. Automation is just one of them I’d say.

So when when we got business computers, you just mentioned that your first laptop, when we got computers for the first time, that got rid of loads of paperwork that we would do, and remember we used to process payroll, we used to have to print off reams of massive sheets and go in a room and one person would call out the payroll, the other person would tick it off to make sure we'd done it properly. So all of these things, computers, then spreadsheets, what we consider now as our common place tools in finance and accounting. You know, Lotus 1,2,3 and Excel, all of these things. When they came out, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is going to replace pen and the paper, and the computer, and the calculator and all these things, then cloud comes along. And now bots. So there's always going to be something I suppose, that displaces activities within the professional environment, and I think generally speaking, that's a good thing.

We're not good bots as people. We make mistakes, we get fed up, we get tired and we get bored. So there are things that naturally will suit bots far better. There are things that we are brilliant at as people, and they're the things that we should be freed up to do more of, because I would say the balance, you know, there's probably 25, 75, it was probably 90 10 in my day, that balance is shifting and shifting. So it should get to the point where actually we're spending 80, 90% of our time on the things that really add value or all of it really.

And that is effectively the future of work and the future of work for finance, and what we should be looking at.

[Adam] Absolutely. And, and what, what keeps coming back to me is this concept of work satisfaction and enjoyment. Because you do need to have a reason to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. If you love crunching the numbers, if you love doing that strategic thought, if you love doing that business partnering, then you're absolutely right, you want to focus on that. What you don't want to do is be chained to the desk, working on stuff that, that doesn't add value.

But in that same breath it's quite timely, because we have recently faced and I believe are still facing this concept of the, the great resignation, where employees have no allegiances anymore, especially younger employees. They want to know that they're, they're working in a business that's modern, that’s got, I don’t know, a posh coffee machine, coworking areas, whatever it happens to be, but they also want to make sure that they've got the tools in place that enable them to have fun at what they're doing.

So you present to a new employee, that's really enthusiastic about getting started, and then tell them them that actually, you know, we have this process, that's going to take up 50% of your time using these dated technologies, that’s just part of the job I'm afraid.

And I'm not obviously saying technology is the only reason why somebody would want to move job, but if you are using these systems day to day, you want to make sure that you've got the the right tech stack, I guess, in place to support your objectives.

[Daniel] Right. You do, you do. And I would draw a parallel here with the legal profession. This is a really good example.

I might be jumping ahead slightly in terms of the future work for finance, but the legal profession is going through somewhat of a transformation.

So the, the old fashioned sort of hierarchical partner structure where you put in 20 years of work, you don't make partner, and then you start changing and then you start to work your way through, and you work your way up, and you become senior, that sort of stuff. That model is very much at risk. And I guess this might make its way into the accounting profession as well at some point. But the model they've got now, and that's becoming more popular, more prevalent, is this distributed model.

So you start up with a law firm and you've got maybe three or four partners. They own the business, and what you effectively have is then a thousand lawyers that are all on contract.

So you have everything from employee lawyers through to commercial, trademarks. You've got this thousand, maybe 2000 deep pocket that you can dip into, depending on what requests you're getting from your clients. It's transforming the legal industry.

It's, it's challenging the status quo. It's going to break down these traditional models where, if you're a lawyer, now you can be sitting on a, on a beach in Hawaii in a hut. You can get that email coming in saying here's a piece of work. You sit there and you work through it, you contact the client, you deliver it, you go back to the beach.

And what we're doing, also with legal is building bots that do things. So we've got bots that can do contract drafting, for example. We've got bots that do source of funds checks to onboard, to check backgrounds on clients, things like that.

And it's by enabling these changes, that these fundamental shifts in business model are happening. And I think finance and accounting could well see more of that type of thing in future where maybe we've got a thousand finance professionals at our disposal from transactional, up to FP and a tax specialists. But you only outsource the work as, and when you need it based on what you have in front of you.

[Adam] Very good. Now, I don't want to put you on the spot. And I suppose this question is made up of two parts.

But the first question is, for people like me, that are just genuinely curious and, and want to hear about the cool stuff. The first part of the question is what is the coolest bot you have, that when you talk to people about it, they think, that's awesome.

But then the second part of that question is, Rome wasn't built in a day, right? You can't go from zero to having everything automated. So in your view, what would be an entry level starter, that's a very basic entry point so that people might start applying some thought here.

[Daniel] That's a great question. So actually I'll answer the second part first, because the way that we approach what we do, is one task at a time. So that's the thing. We want to make work better for, for everyone people, profit planet, but we want to do it one task at a time.

So we don't want to boil the ocean. We just start small. And you scale from there basically. And a great one for finance and accounting, which is also one of our best bots, I would say as well, is called the accelerator.

So you might guess what it does by what it's called, but we built this bot as everyone works with spreadsheets, clients, accounting, everyone does things slightly differently in a different way, at a different time.

Everyone's skill varies from incredibly basic up to very advanced. So what we built with the accelerator is called a short code bot and, and what it does, it's, it's a bot that's built and pre-configured, and what we give the users or the people who are the operators the access to do, as as an entry point, they define the variables of the Excel process that they want to do. So very easily, they copy and paste things like the network address, file folder address and location. And, and there's a number of variables where they select whether they want, formatting, texts, numbers, currencies, there’s a number of things that they can define.

So we've got a few levels of it, but effectively define the sources and the outputs and the outcomes, and they do this without having to have knowledge of bots, some without having to have knowledge of Excel. So it's a very user-friendly approach. And when they hit the button to go, the bot goes off and does all the complex things in the background and delivers the outcome pretty much immediately.

And we've been able to deploy that, not just in finance and accounting, but also to people in other areas of the business too, like HR or procurement, people who necessarily aren't as skilled with Excel, what you get is the outcome of having loads of experienced Excel people without having them.

And that's, that's the beauty of it. And I think that's probably one of our most popular finance accounting bots, but also probably extends into other areas of the business as well.

[Adam] Very good. Thanks for that. So I'm conscious of time, and some of the questions I had, we've actually been answering, you know, as, as we've gone anyway. You touched on the legal profession and obviously we did touch it a little bit on the concern that bots may be replacing people. But going to the question, ‘what the future looks like in this space’, we've said that we want to have people prioritising productive work and work that excites them.

Are we saying that’s what you think the future is? Do you think that the perfect future is people knowing a hundred percent, that whatever they get stuck into is adding value? Or do you think it's more than that?

[Daniel] So, as a CEO, I I'm really focused on three things. One is the vision for the company.

The second one is the people that are going to deliver it. The third one, the numbers that come out of the back.

So when I ever, I sit down with my team and go through what's the priority, I do challenge, and one of the things I challenge them on, is if you could only do one thing for the rest of the year, what's the one thing. Of course, everyone looks baffled by this, ‘I can't do one thing’. And it's the same sort of question where they'll send us a response like you generally get from accountants.

‘I can never just do one thing because I've got a million things to do’. But if you challenge them on that one thing, you imagine all the things that you'd have to give up. So I'm just going to do excellent insights and metrics analysis. I'm going to give those key insights to the business to get better decision-making so that we can make our 10 X revenue target that we've got.

If you could only do one thing, you'd have to let go of everything else. But what bots effectively can allow you to do is to change everything, but change nothing at the same time. So you can still do all those things, but you don't have to do them. And I think that's the most compelling thing which bots can offer.

You know, the technologies themselves will always evolve. They'll always get smarter. They'll always be combined with things like AI and other things that we can do to expand the capabilities of them, and I think that's only a good thing

If I think about my background, if I think think back to where I was. My view of the future smart finance office of the future, and think about the technologies that I would need, I would envision a very different world for finance than it is.

Because if you think about the pace and that our home and our personal individual technologies are taken over the past decade, it's is still fairly shocking. When you look at what we have to deal with in a professional sense, when you look at work, you know, we go home, we've got Alexa, we ask Alexa or Siri to look at the weather, play music, or do something from online. There's all these things that we can do, and yet in the workplace, we're lagging significantly behind.

So I had this conversation with a CFO client fast, not that long ago, actually. I said, we were again, thinking about what does the future look like? How how can we roadmap? What will change in terms of what we do if we incorporate an automation first mindset.

So if you just say, we’re in 2022 now, let's say 10 years. You say by the year 2032, just 10 short years - and they will go by faster than you think - the norm could be for companies to have access, to say smaller offices in more locations, more difficult locations to support that fully flexible hybrid workforce, working in a flexible working days, job rotation, more fluid roles, sharing and rotation roles so that people are happy, motivated. They love what they do. They've got balance, a more balanced work life. More like that legal distributed model as talking about. People moving away from that traditional employment model. Then suddenly you've got people that are enabled by great - that need to be enabled, I should say - by greater levels of automation.

So that can actually happen because you've got all that stuff that needs to be done. All that the machinery, it needs to churn to create these numbers and can produce work. That'll go over to the bots, which leaves much more human centric, more value adding activities for people to do so financial transactions will flow seamlessly, automatically. The robot workforce might make up 70, 80% or more of that part of the workforce, that today is mostly event based. You know, the books will be getting closed in real time, you know, constant close readiness effectively. That's a better balance between safe backward, and forward-looking focusing on performance as well. So you've got your leading and your lagging KPIs, and you look more forward than we are backward because we have a tendency to do that in finance and accounting. So you've got a much, much more forward-looking focus, which then helps steer the business.

I think, the modern finance organization is much more forward-thinking, it's much more ingrained into the business now than it ever was. I think business partnering was a new concept back in my days, and we were still figuring out what that actually meant, but I think now it's one of those things where it becomes ingrained and it's almost just, you know, for the finance business partners, the role, the job title completely changed, because I think they're just going to become part of the management team. Then providing different sets of data, different insights, but they're then helping to drive the business, so that could be completely changed, and days of spreadsheets and pouring through those things, and late nights reconciling data, could all be a thing of the past. Hopefully I would like to think.

[Adam] Yeah, yeah, fingers crossed. We will get there. And I totally appreciate your point about level of office automation being less than you might find in your personal life. Because there is an app for that. And I’ll come back to that a little bit later.

A slight tangent, you mentioned that the one thing. Is that based off the book? Have you read the book?

[Daniel] Which one?

[Adam] The one thing. I can't remember the author, I'm literally reading it at the moment it's called it's called ‘The One Thing’.

[Daniel] I haven't actually,

[Adam] Yeah, that's it. So, essentially you summed it up anyway….

[Daniel] I'll read that next.

[Adam] Yeah, absolutely. Well, you don't need to because you know already. So the question you asked your team about what's the one thing that you can do to, to make a difference or whatever it is.That's the concept of the book. What is the one thing that I can do that in doing it makes everything else easier or eliminate it altogether. And that goes back to what you're saying about your ESSA, eliminate, simplify, automate, so what is that? But it also ties in with another book that I've been reading again, still at tangent. ‘Good to Great; by Jim Collins, which is…

[Daniel] Yep, read that one

[Adam] t's from a while ago now, right. But the concepts apply and, and I love it. There's a chapter in the book. You might remember it, called the hedgehog concept. And again, I'm going off tangent here, but, but the theory is, a hedgehog is trying to get from A to B. That's all that it does. I need to nest, I need to eat, and in order to do that, I need to leave my nest or hole or whatever it's referred to in hedgehog world, to go out. Then you've got the Fox, who's trying to get the hedgehog that’s darting about, changing its strategy. I'm going to get the hedgehog this time. It finds the hedgehog and then all the hedgehog does is roll up in a ball.

So it’s the hedgehog concept because it is that concept that is simple, effective and achievable over time. So essentially, don't be a fox, don't change your strategy every 30 seconds, be more like a hedgehog and be consistent in what you do. But that's made up of three pillars, which is we need to focus on what we can be best in the world at. It needs to be something that we are passionate about. And then we also need to be a hundred percent certain on what our key basic financial profitability metric is. And all of those three pillars together make that hedgehog concept, which, when you look at the good to great companies, that's what they're focused on. They literally stripped away everything else. What can we be the best in the world at? And they went from there.

So we’ve converted to a book discussion. Have you got any others that you've read recently.

[Daniel] Oh yeah. I mean, I guess I'm always reading yeah. I'm always reading. I'm trying to think what the last one was.. ‘The three rules’. That's the last one I read on paper which is, I think the three rules is it’s, better before cheaper, revenue before cost, and third rule is there's no other rules. Rules to live by and to apply to your business.

But you mentioned strategy there, which is brilliant because I love this. There's so many things. If you go online, if you search where you look for books, there's so much out there about strategy, but the one thing I believe strongly, and this is always been, again, throughout my career. The best strategy is the one that you execute regardless. You can think all day long, you can bring the consultancy and you can strategise it. The best strategy is that when you execute end of story.

You can execute, and that's what finance has always been about. It's always been about execution with finance. You know, they are a very much a tactical operation. They're the doers of the world.

So for me finance accounting is, is execution. So if we can find ways that we can execute better, more effectively, cheaper, faster, then we're not only going to transform our world, but we're going to transform the world in the business that live in and support.

And do you know, the great thing is all of this technology. We need to make that a reality. It already exists. It's already been invented. We’ve just got to combine and bring it together. We've got to be open minded and we've got to embrace it and we can literally change the future of work for ourselves, and our internal customers in the business that we work with.

[Adam] Fabulous. Fabulous. And it reminds me, just talking about the getting on and doing the doing there. So it was a couple of things. First was because I had a habit, as I'm sure you have as well, of being a perfectionist. Analysing and going through things to the nth degree, to the point where you spend more time thinking than you do doing.

I can't remember whether It's the 80% or the 83% rule, or something, I can’t remember the stat, but basically if it's 80% good enough, then just get on with it. Don't focus too much. It's contrary to what some people believe, but I found that quite useful because sometimes actually it’s more than good enough at your 80%, it’s just you being hyper-critical that's getting in the way.

And the other piece, I'll look it up and I'll put it in the show notes as well, but it comes back to putting it into practice. It’s something like, knowledge is knowing something, and wisdom is applying that knowledge. I think it's something to that effect. I can't remember the exact quote, but I will dig it out from somewhere. Let's just crawled out from the back of my mind.

[Daniel] Oh yeah, that sounds familiar. So that might be, I don't know, if that's atomic habits. That's another great book to read if you haven't. For the listeners, atomic habits is, is brilliant.

It's all about beliefs becoming thoughts and thoughts becoming words. It's a fantastic book if you get a chance to read that.

[Adam] Okay. Very good. All right. I'm noting all of these down. It's great. So one last question before you can tell people where to find you. Obviously we're talking about tech and finance teams but myself, I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to, as I said earlier, is there an app for that? What's a cool desktop app application that’s going to allow me to be more productive.

I appreciate too much is too much. You can only have so many productivity apps, you know? So I am also in favour of simplicity. Limit your tech stack to the point where you're just focusing on the best tools. But taking your phone or your desktop or whatever, can you give us a couple of example apps that you use as part of what you do every day?

It can literally be anything. It doesn't even have to relate to our conversations today.

[Daniel] That's an easy one for me. Actually the one app I couldn't live without would be audible.

[Adam] Audible.

[Daniel] Yeah, absolutely. If I have no other apps on my phone, I would have audible without a shadow of a doubt. There's only so much you can read. But Audible makes it a lot easier? You can consume books and knowledge a lot faster that way. And you lose yourself too. I luckily now, after 47 years, for the first time, I actually get to walk to work since I moved house.

So I I'm about 30, 35 minute walk to work. So I've got an hour, an hour and 10 minutes of walking a day, and that hour and 10 minutes I spend on Audible too. So I'm not only exercising the body I’m exercising the brain. So without that, hands down, that is the most important app I possess.

[Adam] So that would be your one thing, right? But very good. How'd you find, because there is Audible unlimited isn't there? Where you can consume as much as you like from a select set of titles. Do you find you listen to those? Or do you just tend to find do you use credits or?

[Daniel] I do both. I do both. So I've got a, I don't even know, I honestly couldn't tell you what membership is. I've only got the sort of prime membership type of thing, and then there's different membership levels. So you can buy like a one-off for as many titles or in a year or that sort of stuff. So I listen to both. There's ones that are included on your membership, and there's ones that you would need credits for, and you get your monthly allowance of credits, which you can increase. But I find I do both.

And I think one of my favourite non-business non-professional reads at the moment is Billy Conley, which is ‘Windswept and ‘Interesting’. If you like a bit of Billy Connolly, he’s an incredible man, very funny and incredible person to listen to.

[Adam] I used to watch on repeat the the tour he did of Scotland. Yeah.

[Daniel] Yea, That was, that was very good stuff.

[Adam] Okay. Well, it's been an absolute pleasure, Daniel, so really appreciate your time. But if you want to go ahead and tell people where they can find more about you and Bots for That, we can, we can finish there.

[Daniel] Yeah, absolutely. So the best place is probably the LinkedIn page for the company, which is I think it's which is my private one. And then it's for the main company page. And then the website is

[Adam] Okay, cool. I'll include links in the show notes for that as well. So as I say, it's been a really interesting conversation and I'm sure anybody who listens to this will see a different perspective.

[Daniel] That's that's for sure.

[Adam] So now, we'll leave it there and once again, Daniel, thanks for your time.

[Daniel] My pleasure. Thank you, Adam. Appreciate it.


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©2022 by Adam Shilton. Privacy Policy - Terms of Use