SUBMITTED BY DataServ

By Kristin Parshay, Brown Smith Wallace, and Christopher Gaia, DataServ

We have enjoyed working with the consultants at Brown Smith Wallace the past several months. One of the topics we have been discussing with them is the difficulty many companies have in launching successful accounts payable automation projects. We can all identify companies that talked about (and in several cases even started) automation projects many years ago but still have not launched one.

We think we can help, so today we are kicking off a series of blog posts, co-authored by DataServ and Brown Smith Wallace (BSW), with a simple goal in mind – to provide ideas and guidance for taking the best possible approach, based on our years of experience, which will help organizations overcome the obstacles and hesitancy to take full advantage of the benefits of automation.

The topics we will cover include:

  • Putting the right team together
  • Understanding your current situation
  • Identifying where you want to be
  • Evaluating various options and vendors
  • Picking the right approach
  • Tips for successful automation projects

Let’s start with “putting the right team together.” Many organizations have experienced success by following a model that establishes an internal core team to provide leadership of the automation project and manage such activities as overall project direction, budget development, tracking and reporting, project reporting and control, and ROI or business case development, to name just a few. Core team representatives should include the following:

  • Individuals with insight and experience in current business operations and your technology environment (typically AP and IT staff)
  • Users that will be impacted by the process (approvers, auditors, supplier representatives)
  • Executive sponsor
  • Workflow/business process consultants (internal or external)

This group is then supplemented with an extended internal team that offers specialized talents that may not be required throughout the entire process. Examples include certain technical resources (data security) or business users that interact with the process. In addition to internal resources, many organizations may add outside resources or experts with insight into various solution alternatives and vendors. These resources include:

  • Third-party reviews from analyst firms - Some organizations have found that these reviews from firms like Gartner and Forrester help them understand the various alternative solutions available in the market in addition to providing vendor reviews. While useful, their advice will focus on high-level capabilities and may not provide sufficient insight into how the capabilities of individual vendors align with the needs of your organization. Additionally, these resources will not be able to assist you with broader project management or implementation support.
     
  • Consultants (if not originally included in your core team) - Business process and/or technology consulting firms can provide service to your team in a number of ways, including:
    • Structuring your project team process, roles, and responsibilities
    • Helping articulate a clear project scope, plan, and budget
    • Serving as an independent source of information
    • Providing more in-depth analysis and guidance regarding individual solutions and vendor capabilities based on your unique business culture and needs
  • Other helpful resources and information sources - There are several additional information sources that can be used by your team to provide background and information to assist you in your project. Three sources that are routinely used by organizations include:
    • Industry associations - Annual trade shows can be a great source of information and vendor capabilities. The most advantageous offer educational sessions that rely on heavy participation by representatives from companies that have completed or are in the midst of completing similar automation projects. Their perspectives on the challenges they faced and “lessons learned” can provide valuable insight into shaping your decision, and many are happy to discuss your situation and offer advice after the session.
    • Vendor representatives - It is difficult for any third party to stay current with all of the capabilities available from vendors. If you find client speakers at trade association meetings or attend a particularly well done educational session conducted by a vendor, it may be helpful to seek their advice and information about industry trends, client case studies, white papers or blog posts that can be used to help educate yourself and members of your team. The challenge with this source is to make sure the information presented is informational and not just promotional.
    • LinkedIn or professional groups - Referrals from other associates or professionals can prove to be very valuable as a source of “lessons learned” and knowledge. While we would not recommend this as the only source of input, their insight can prove beneficial when seeking an additional perspective.

Many companies have successfully integrated these resources into their core team and business case/business project. These various resources usually bring a depth of knowledge about the subject greater than what you will gain using only internal resources. These resources represent tradeoffs regarding cost, independence, and ability/willingness to build a solution tailored to your situation.

Guide to external resources for accounts payable automation

Resource

Independence

Cost

Advice tailored to your situation

Third-party analysts

High to Medium

High to Medium

Low

Industry associations

High to Medium

Medium to Low

Low

Consultants

High

High to Medium

High to Medium

Vendor reps

Medium to Low

Low

Medium to Low

Scale: High, Medium, Low

Finding the right mix of talent for your team is important to not only help you make a good decision on what needs to be done, but also to assist in picking the right solution and ensuring a successful project. After you have assembled your team, set a time for a kickoff meeting to further discuss the:

  • Importance of the project
  • The goals you are hoping to achieve
  • The timeframe
  • The scope and charter of your team, with particular emphasis on what is “inside scope” for the project and what areas are “outside of scope”

Assembling the right team is an important first step towards a successful project. In the next part of this series, we will discuss ways for assessing your current business state and we will offer tips on how to translate those findings into more formal business and technical requirements.

 

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