In recent years, many organizations have been reviewing remote work options or rolling it out slowly to see how it can be beneficial. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated this new way of working. According to a 2021 Gartner report on human resources trends, 48% of employees continue to work remotely post-pandemic. But merely issuing new laptops and granting staff online access is not enough to make remote work successful. Companies need to actively integrate remote procedures with strategic automation to benefit from this new way of working. One department that is well-positioned to get substantial benefit is the Accounts Payable (AP) team.
NOTE: This posts extends our article from the March '22 issue of PAYTECH Magazine from the American Payroll Association.
The first step for many companies getting started with automation is the digitization of paper-based items like invoices. While this is an essential first step, to get the most benefit AP automation should also incorporate all receiving, validating, and processing workflows as well as reporting and compliance features. The intelligent integration of documents, processes, and workflows is the fuel that drives the digital transformation success stories and dramatic predictions we see in the market every day.
The Acceleration of AP Automation Usage
In July 2019, Gartner published a report that made these two predictions.
- By 2025, 50% of business-to-business invoices worldwide will be processed and paid without manual intervention.
- By 2030, 80% of business-to-business invoices worldwide will be transmitted digitally.
To make these predictions possible and provide more benefits and truly serve a remote team, companies need a centralized AP system that can:
- Reduce human touchpoints via invoice processing
- Increase payment cycle times
- Reduce redundant costs like duplicate payments
- Improve compliance with automated data and content controls
- Enable real-time collaboration from anywhere
AP Automation Improves Efficiency with Centralized Data
An immediate benefit of AP automation solutions is always-available centralized data–a single source of truth that contains the current state and information of every AP document and process. Distributed teams using AP automation solutions can immediately access the same data, inboxes, and organization structure required to complete their tasks. Delays caused by missing information, lost or misplaced documents, and even pipeline bottlenecks can be quickly addressed because all relevant information is assembled and managed throughout the workflow. A team member working at their desk at the office can coordinate with a remote processor, approver, or supervisor anywhere in the world as easily as if they were all together in the same room. Current tasks are brought to the top of the queue, and completed tasks are automatically archived and managed in line with company-defined compliance guidelines and requirements.
In comparison, in a non-centralized environment users are locked down to desks with individual PCs, paper-stack inboxes, single-user email boxes, and usually file share servers with confusing directory hierarchies. These factors increase risk duplicate files, paperwork, and effort, causing confusion over the correct version of any document, uncertainty of which tasks are most important or completed, and a tangled jungle of phone, email, and faxes (yes, many companies still fax invoices) that are intended to validate, track and confirm processes.
Of course, these traditional processes have been used successfully for many years, but they are hardly efficient. With a centralized AP automation environment efficiently aligned with company workflows and requirements, the manual work and delays caused by traditional AP process are dramatically reduced or eliminated, allowing your team to focus on tasks that contribute directly to achieving your business goals.
AP Automation Means Even More
Organizations that digitize their paper-based AP operations also benefit from multiple channels of ingestion, reduced risk of compliance issues, and flexibility to resolve discrepancies from anywhere at any time.
Serves Multiple Channels
Instead of files going through an inbox manually and handled one at a time, powerful automation with sophisticated AI and machine learning functionality can perform instant analysis and route each invoice using smart workflows. Modern automation solutions can integrate easily with:
- Supplier Network solutions
In addition, the same tools can be applied to any existing documentation processes between internal departments, business partners, or suppliers, including:
- Purchase order confirmations
- Delivery notes
- Vendor invoices
- Sales orders
- Remittance advices (cash application)
With automation integrated across multiple departments, additional staff can be empowered to complete their tasks whether in the main office, a downsized satellite location, or home office without interruption or confusion.
Enable Flexibility and Mobility
Centralized AP automation solutions not only streamline your entire accounts payable operation but also empower those who work on them. Your staff will be able to work on any device and in any location that works best for them. With properly configured smartphone applications and portals, AP teams are no longer tied to their computer during working hours and can complete tasks from virtually anywhere, including:
- Reviewing and resolving discrepancies
- Approving invoices
- Coordinating shipping and receiving
This flexibility empowers your team to complete their required tasks regardless of the challenges that our modern world can provide. From the extreme case of a global pandemic to more common issues like sick family members or doctor appointments, centralized automation solutions allow you to provide the level of flexibility that allows your team to achieve your business goals while balancing other life requirements.
AP Automation Facilitates Efficient Team Coordination, Outsourcing, and Growth
Whether teams are working across the globe from their offices or just from their homes, AP automation systems can enable teams to be more efficient and effective by:
Eliminating Time Consuming Tasks
Many tasks in a modern invoice pipeline are simple pass-through steps that can be easily automated. For example, consolidating documents, routing copies, and basic communications tracking can all be automated efficiently to eliminate manual effort.
Allowing Reallocation of Resources
With less time spent on minor tasks, staff resources can be reallocated to value-adding projects that benefit your business goals. In addition, departments with efficient automation can often increase their total capacity several times, allowing the same team to handle a much larger number of invoices and orders.
During busy seasonal periods of with a high volume of transactions many companies take advantage of AP support outsourcing. Having a remote enabled, efficient solution and system means that these resources can easily slide in and out with minimal training. The AP automation processes will handle the majority of exceptions and intricacies, so there is no need for a temporary resource to have to learn a complex multiplatform system.
Allowing Growth – Anywhere
The same applies to teams’ expansion and growth or opening new markets and locations. Your users will work in conjunction with their peers regardless of their location and all locations will be able to work together using the same system, workflows and processes.
The growth of AP automated solutions was expected to grow pre-COVID lockdowns, but their benefits to the bottom line and a new remote workforce are now more necessary than ever. If your organization needs to support remote office workers flexibly and efficiently, a centralized automation solution can provide you with the capability you need and provide much more. Companies can take advantage of the strengths of automation to protect staff health and improve job satisfaction, while at the same time maintaining security, improving compliance challenges, and increasing system ROI.
Stay tuned for our next article highlighting additional benefits of AP Automation, including how the remote workforce can use the technology to benefit vendor relationships, cash flow and working capital.
How Optima ECM Can Help
Optima ECM Consulting team understands how to maximize the value of invoice and document management processes within enterprise SAP environments. We are an SAP Gold Partner focused on implementing best-in-class solutions like SAP Invoice Management by OpenText (VIM). In fact, we have implemented the most successful SAP Invoice Management projects in North America, and apply our unique experience to a diverse range of organizations and industries.
To help clients get the most from their system, we developed a unique VIM Health Check as part of our proprietary Optima Accelerate™ methodology. This initiative is specifically designed to evaluate your VIM implementation's unique configuration, integration, usage, and storage health. We then deliver a comprehensive report outlining current risks, required maintenance, and system improvements to boost short- and long-term ROI. Finally, we can help you prioritize your needs and establish effective timelines and budgets to align your system with your business goals.
This detailed analysis will provide essential insights into your current solution and ensure the long-term success of your company's intelligent infrastructure. Download the program overview or contact us for more details.
Through digital transformation and expert enterprise information management, Optima ECM can help consolidate your payables platform and create automated processing to streamline and accelerate your business.