If you have never worked in the AP department, you may not be aware of just how much of that team’s average day is spent getting invoices to the right person. Not to mention trying to figure out the status of those invoices and whose desk they’re sitting on, literally or figuratively, at any given time.
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It looks something like this...an invoice arrives via physical mail/email/EDI. Hopefully it is logged somewhere – on a spreadsheet perhaps or entered into your ERP – then routed out to an approver. If it is a paper invoice, it may be scanned or a copy made to send via office mail. Or the original may instead be sent on to land on someone’s desk. If it is electronic, then it is likely, but not necessarily, forwarded electronically.
At this point, the invoice can easily fall off the AP radar and possibly get buried on the approver’s end depending on their workload. Although it has been assigned to someone for the next stage of the process, there is no accountability for certain because there is no tracking. No alarms will go off before the invoice becomes delinquent or you miss the opportunity to take advantage of early pay discounts. There is no clear trail of where the invoice is in your process or whose hands it is in.
If the vendor calls with a question about the status of the invoice, or if someone in your financial department has a question about the invoice, then someone must check a spreadsheet, make a call, send an email, or walk into someone’s office to track down the answer. More than that, if the invoice was passed on from the original approver to someone else, they may spend time and energy and still not get the information requested.
Without automation, the controls you have in place are people-driven. They’re dependent on people understanding the process, following the process, communicating promptly and clearly, and holding themselves accountable for moving invoices through the system in a timely manner. More than that, those controls are dependent on the people who own the process being available and on top of their game.
AP automation, on the other hand, never takes a vacation, never has a bad day, and never retires. It never misplaces a document, or fails to remind you to resolve an exception or pay an invoice before the day it’s due. It is, by nature, dependable.
But is it really effortless? Like any other training process, it takes time and effort to “train” the system on the appropriate decision tree. But once it is set up, the assignment, tracking, and accountability requires no effort on your part.
If you partner with a SaaS provider, your AP automation process could look something like this:
- An invoice comes in via physical mail/email/EDI.
- It goes through a single stream intake process (like Digital Mailroom) that includes a rigorous QA process.
- At this point it is indexed and triggers for escalation based on due dates or early pay discount deadlines that have been set.
- Using artificial intelligence, the system matches it to any other documents such as purchase orders and receipts.
- Then it gets automatically processed touchlessly (AutoVouch™) or is assigned and routed to the next person to move it through the process.
Not only does the invoice get automatically routed, but the next action is also recommended. For instance, you can specify routing rules based on type of exception the system encounters. If the receipt is missing, you can route to the warehouse; if the PO is missing, you can route to procurement. Automation allows you to put in controls at a higher level of the decision tree so that assignments are touchless and consistent. And, since the system also tracks reassignments, you know exactly who is accountable for keeping that invoice moving through the process.
So, does gaining effortless accountability require losing human judgment or control over your process?
Absolutely not. Automation doesn’t take your highly skilled, knowledgeable staff out of the decision-making process. It just keeps them from spending time and energy on things they shouldn’t have to think about, leaving more bandwidth for dealing with exceptions, correcting errors that might otherwise have gone unnoticed, and ensuring that due dates and deadlines are met consistently. You pay people to solve problems and automation makes it easier for your people to solve higher level problems which makes them even more effective.
And AP automation doesn’t cost you control of your process either. Automation doesn’t make the rules, it just standardizes the process so that your rules are followed dependably. Because you, and everyone in your organization, have better things to do than look things up in a spreadsheet or track things down on someone’s desk. Here are just a few of the rules you can control with the right SaaS provider:
- Approval matrix
- Data access levels
- Routing and workflow
- Tolerance for variances on exceptions
- Routing on various types of exceptions
- Default coding
- Confidential vendor records
- Escalation triggers and reminders
Automation, by its nature, provides dependability. It also provides visibility. You can’t depend on or improve something you can’t see. You need to have confidence that the work is being done and goals are being met and you need to be able to quickly zero in on any log jams that occur. If you choose a SaaS provider that offers dashboards, vendor portals, and reporting options, you can easily target areas of accountability that need intervention so that you can resolve problems at the source.