SUBMITTED BY Jeff Haller

When we bring up the term “best practices,” we almost always elicit a cringe, or wince, or at the very least an eye twitch. Because it’s not necessarily as entertaining a topic as say “control” or “visibility” right?

Seriously, we understand why it sets folks on edge. It implies a my-way-or-the-highway attitude that pushes you into a box labeled “right” or a box labeled “wrong.”

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The reality is that “best practices” is less like a box and more like a continuum that goes from please-don’t-ever-do-it-that-way all the way to as-good-as-it-gets. Here are a few of my core beliefs about how that continuum works in real life:

A Business Process that Involves People Requires Flexibility

People aren’t plug and play, and every business creates exceptions. So, no matter how logical and streamlined your process, you will always have to accommodate the human factor and you will always have situations and events that don’t fit in your pre-defined boxes. A process that is too rigid inevitably, if not immediately, invokes the law of diminishing returns.

We believe that the ideal software has both flexibility and checks and balances built in. We designed our accounts payable automation solutions to be tailored to match your business practices while keeping you within the parameters of best practices in risk reduction, liability prevention, visibility, efficiency, and cost management.

We recently met with a prospect who brought their Business Process Improvement team and their IT team to the meeting. They each had their own ideas about the ideal workflow, security measures, and visibility. We demonstrated to them how information was instantly available, from desktop or mobile, to anyone who needed to view or update the information, without violating best practices of security or risk reduction. And they discovered they really weren’t in conflict after all, they could have the flexibility to fully use their people power and manage exceptions with no dropped balls and the information management and security controls required for the IT department’s peace of mind.

Best practices not only should allow some flexibility, they MUST allow flexibility. Because anything with a zero tolerance for bending will eventually break.

Evolution is Better than Revolution

There is an idea that seems to be held by most AP clerks, if not their managers and directors, that implementing best practices will involve a long and painful overhaul of everything they do. I believe that kind of revolution is a great way to set a project up for failure!

Not only is the revolution approach costly and painful, it’s seldom practical. We’re running a business too and we know that a wide range of business conditions like propensity to change, IT architecture, physical location(s), people skills, work demands, and budget all dictate what is possible today and your priorities for the future.

This is where that continuum comes in. Rather than providing a hard and fast template or leaving you to figure it out for yourself, we partner with our clients to create a plan for consistent evolution away from the please-don’t-ever-do-it-that-way end of the spectrum and toward the as-good-as-it-gets end.

That partnership isn’t something that ends with initialization either. Your business keeps evolving and that means your best practices will have to evolve as well. We just had a meeting with a client who has been with us for over eight years to discuss their opportunities for improvement.

I recommend designing a prioritized, strategic plan for your best practices evolution and reevaluating it regularly. It’s certainly a better option than designing a revolution that’s so overwhelming that it never gets started or fails before it’s complete.

Relationships Rule

This is a philosophy that applies to every aspect of our business. But how does it apply to best practices? Simply put, people dictate your success.

Your relationships within the AP department, with other departments, and with vendors are vital to everything from compliance to getting the best pricing for goods. We’ve seen many cases where companies became so focused on software solutions and best practices that they fell into people-related pitfalls which is why our focus is never only on a software solution but on everything and everyone who is affected by your process. Software will not solve anything if people still work around it.

We believe that you can have a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship with your solution provider – I know that sounds impossible to many of you – but we are living this every day.

If you've got questions about AP best practices, contact us.

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