The IOFM Conference is one event we look forward to every year, not only for the chance to connect with our industry colleagues, clients, and potential clients, but also for the learning opportunities. We are constantly evolving our offerings to meet changing demands and being able to hear from the people most directly impacted by what we do is priceless.
I asked our Senior Account Executives to share their takeaways with the rest of the DataServ team and I’d like to share them here as well. I hope you’ll let us know your insights and how accounts payable automation will and should develop to meet the needs of your organization and industry.
Shareholder Buy-in, Phased Solutions, and Visibility
We heard a lot about the decision making process and how one of the primary keys to selecting an automation partner was gaining stakeholder buy-in and building the case around how those requirements add value. We’re in total alignment with that because we know what happens to Initialization and implementation if buy in isn’t there before the decision is made. We’d much rather invest with you to get buy in from your stakeholders before the decision is made because that makes the relationship and everyone’s work so much easier going forward.
In that same vein, it’s clear that a lot of companies are digging in their heels at having to purchase the “whole enchilada” and implement throughout all departments and divisions to see any return. We’ve never believed that it should be necessary to invest time and money in tools you don’t need right now, which is why we take the “bite sized chunks” approach to phasing in our P2P Automation Solution.
Of course we already knew the importance of visibility in the Accounts Payable process and there is a great article from our CFO, Kathi Haller, that details it very well. But our experience at IOFM really brought it home how far short most market solutions fall and how important our Digital Mailroom with upfront capture really is to our client’s success.
Also tied to visibility is the missed opportunity of negotiating and taking advantage of discounts for early pay. We are always surprised to learn that a company of any size, but especially a large company with volume purchasing requirements, isn’t negotiating a better price for paying invoices before the due date. But of course, if you don’t have total visibility you can’t easily anticipate the cash requirements or track the invoices with discounts available. The same is true of avoiding late fees for paying after the due date.
We also heard a lot of frustration about not getting the negotiated discounts from vendors, even from those using Supplier Networks (read what Jeff Haller says about Supplier Networks here.) Staying on top of vendor pricing and discounts is one thing we believe your AP staff could and should be doing instead of dealing with invoices that can easily be handled by a good AP Automation partner. A little attention plus visibility and highly customizable reporting can make those frustrations a thing of the past.
Finally, we observed an evolution to a Delegation of Authority process based on the initial manual routing of invoices. This is something our Digital Mailroom has always supported, but it’s becoming more recognized by organizations as they retool for greater levels of automation and work to meet the demand for accuracy and efficiency.
Intelligent Invoice Capture, Cloud and Mobile Access and Online Collaboration
There were 181 APP2P Conference attendees who took part in a survey regarding the Future of AP. Responses were fairly evenly distributed across all industries and sizes. Almost all responses were from AP Leaders. Here is what they came up with related to the most critical technologies for the future:
- Intelligent Invoice Capture — capture data from any format (paper/email/etc.) on a single platform
- Cloud & Mobile — they believe in 5 years the majority of invoices will be approved on a mobile device
- Artificial Intelligence & Robotics — automates interpreting patterns in datasets, maybe looking at patterns in workflow
- Business Analytics
- Online Collaboration (41% of AP departments cite resolving exceptions as top pain point)
- Fraud Alerts (fraud losses cost US businesses an average of 5% of their total annual revenue---median loss of $100K per incident)
These responses told us that DataServ is ahead of the curve in many ways, but this survey also shows us what our next development steps must be. Our ability to capture from any format via our Digital Mailroom has been a key market advantage for us from the beginning and this suggests it will be even more important moving forward. This is why we have invested so much in our SaaS OCR Capture technologies, our Single Stream processing capabilities, our mailroom teams, and in our on-site staff—including a Document Imaging Architect.
DataServ offers mobile capabilities, but we know greater integration and ease of use with mobile devices is on our list of enhancements. The same is true of AI and robotics—our AutoVouch™ and Workflow solutions are forms of AI, but we’ll be developing even more sophistication in the future.
One rave we hear consistently from clients is how our platform not only increases visibility for individuals and roles, but how access to that interface facilitates collaboration regardless of department or location. This makes decision making and exception management much more effective and much less painful.
It’s no surprise that fraud is a concern, it should be. It’s one of the advantages of having a seasoned CPA like Kathi Haller as our co-founder and CFO, we’ve built checks and balances into our process from the beginning. She shared some of her insights about risk and compliance in this article.
It was validating to know that AP Leaders have the same concerns and expectations of the future of AP that we do and that we are already meeting most of those challenges in our current solution and are preparing to meet them even more effectively in the future.
Smooth Conversion of Paper to Automation and Artificial Intelligence
It was interesting to learn that most AP departments are still mired in manual, paper-based processes. At DataServ we manage a lot of transitions from paper-based process to our P2P Automation platform, but it seems that the paper tiger is still running the show for a lot of AP professionals. When we hear the trials and frustrations from people who went through a less-than-ideal experience of moving from paper to automation we can certainly sympathize with the reluctance to make the move, but a well-prepared and well-managed Initialization and implementation doesn’t have to be a nightmare.
While there are more organizations still using paper than we might have projected, we learned that the bulk of those organizations are anticipating an automation project in the next 18 months as companies can no longer manage their finances without increased visibility and control.
Artificial Intelligence is top of mind for many Finance Leaders, but most say they are still confused about how it applies to their business. If we simplify the concept of AI it’s easy to see how a predetermined decision making chain (such as our AutoVouch™ or Workflow products) can streamline your process and leave time for you and your team to focus on high value tasks.