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

Part 3 of our five-part blog series “Building the Right Approach to Paperless AP – 5 Steps to Success” addresses how organizations articulate a vison for their future business process, support technology and engage their team for success. Part 2 discussed how you build a competent understanding of your current situation and use that understanding to propose realistic solutions. Here’s how you translate “understanding” into “action.”

We have found it useful to visualize this stage as similar to a DNA strand. As you know, parents contribute their own characteristics to their offspring, and the “parents” in this case are business process and technology. Determining the necessary interaction between the two determines the characteristics and performance of your future vision for accounts payable automation.

Identifying a vison for the future - Understanding the current state of your business process through stakeholder interviews and "value stream mapping" (Part 2 discusses "value stream mapping" in greater detail) will inevitably lead to stakeholders identifying potential fixes and ideas for improvement. Welcome these ideas for improvement and problem identification during the preceding analysis stage.

At this stage of the process, the team should focus on:

  • Proposing process and technology solutions to the issues identified.
  • Preparing and gaining approval of the business case/investment.
  • Establishing an “ownership mentality” among the project team and stakeholders.

Proposing and documenting process and technology solutions - We suggest the recommendations be made according to the categories identified during the value stream analysis and accomplish the following:

Activity Category

Recommended Action


Value added

Leverage/improve contribution

Expand focus, seek additional value from activity

Control focused


Look for processing efficiencies

Non-value added


Just stop doing it!

The team should create and document the future state value stream map with only the activities and steps that are value added and control focused.  Review this future state map with the appropriate stakeholders and technology representatives to allow for a clear and concise communication of what the new process vision is and how the technology would ideally function to enable the new design. This is when the DNA strand begins to connect. Often, there will be a give and take between the ideal future state design of the process and the related functionality of the technology. By beginning with the ideal process, you are able to have a much more informed discussion about the functionality of your technology solution to ensure, in the end, you have the characteristics and performance that best fits the viewpoints of your customers and stakeholders.

Preparing and gaining approval of the business case/investment – Many organizations will require the development of a business case to ensure the returns promised from the automation investment are worth the time and money. The performance measures you have established, along with your assessment of your current (baseline) performance, versus the performance envisioned from your proposed process can serve as an excellent source for this analysis.

In addition to providing a quantification of the benefits of automation, you may also include “softer” performance improvements. Examples include improved controls, decreased audit risk, and improved supplier relations – all are areas where automation can contribute business value not reflected in the more quantified measures.

Building organizational engagement for a successful launch – We have spent a considerable amount of time discussing the various tools, techniques, and technologies that are at your disposal for determining the right AP automation solution for your business. Let’s now shift the focus and talk about how you create the right conditions for success. Expanding on Part 1 of this series about assembling the right team, successful automation projects rely on bringing together the tools and team in ways that create excitement, a sense of mission, and a clearly defined path to success.

While automation projects live within an existing corporate culture, it is important that you capture the “hearts and minds” of your team members and stakeholders as they will play an important role in not only defining the vision but, equally as important, a method for working through change management issues and challenges.

Our collective experience participating in successful AP automation projects has demonstrated several key “truths”:

  • Identify and implement some early wins – All projects must evolve through a point of inflection; that is, when the team must stop talking about “what it is going to do” and transition to “doing it.” Make sure there are a few fixes and improvements that can be quickly demonstrated. It will excite the team, build senior leadership confidence, and provide momentum for future performance.
  • Each organization has a distinct culture and approach for decision making and how it organizes itself around important initiatives - You must ensure your project abides by these requirements and rules.
  • There are many paths to success – We do not propose a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Some organizations find that having an outside consultant assist in process mapping works best for them; some prefer to do it themselves. Some want to follow “best practices” workflow, while others prefer a more custom/tailored approach. We have seen all these approaches work.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – Every project should have a thoughtful communication plan developed and executed to make sure that all of the stakeholders that have power and influence over the success of the project are kept informed and become champions of its success.

While we have witnessed effective projects using a variety of approaches, we do find most that are successful have the following common characteristics:

  • They follow a process essentially similar to what we have outlined
  • They engage a wide range of stakeholders throughout the process to:
    • Define the problems
    • Develop performance measures and success criteria
    • Propose solutions
    • Participate in the decision-making process to pick the correct solution
    • Define the resources and timing for implementation
    • Meaningfully participate in implementation activities

Creating an approach that recognizes and leverages your business’ culture while demonstrating that the team members and stakeholders in the project have their opinions and experiences valued and acted upon cultivates an environment in which people believe and trust that you are putting them in the best position to win. And who doesn’t want to be on a winning team?

Part 4 of this series will be available in December and will address how you are going to get where you need to be in your AP automation process.

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