Remember those early days of the pandemic when just about every part of your business operations had to be done remotely, almost overnight? Naturally, there was an urgent push to automate as much as possible, from the mailroom to employee onboarding and even where and how documents got printed.
In the back office, accounts payable (AP) hogged a lot of the automation spotlight, and for good reason. Inefficient AP processes are almost instantly noticeable to vendors and suppliers, and these are relationships no organization wants to upset.
While the drive towards AP automation was most certainly a good thing, many companies turned to point solutions or quick fixes, thinking they would suffice until things got back to “normal.” Of course, now we all know things will never be the same, as organizations face near-constant disruption from supply chain issues, the Great Resignation, geopolitical unrest, and a pandemic that just won’t quit.
A quick-fix approach doesn’t deliver the agility and resiliency required to survive and remain relevant. On the contrary, it can lock your organization into a state of stagnancy, holding it back from evolving and adapting.
So how can you unlock the full potential of AP automation? The answer lies in a platform approach that delivers complementary intelligent automation technologies. There are four capabilities that, when used together, act like a master key that opens the door to true digital transformation, turning your AP department from a cost center into a resilient source of strategic value.
There’s no doubt business leaders see the value in AP automation. In fact, 85% of enterprise executives plan on focusing automation efforts on AP, according to a 2022 study by Kofax Inc. Despite these good intentions, however, there’s still quite a bit of work to do. Almost one-fifth (17%) of respondents are still relying on manual AP processes, and another 28% are using partially manual AP processes.
Failure to achieve end-to-end AP automation can result in two big disadvantages:
The combination of these two drawbacks leaves organizations unable to respond quickly to constantly changing internal and external conditions. But this is the unfortunate outcome with partially automated solutions and piecemeal approaches that don’t support end-to-end automation and scalability.
Four Key Automation Capabilities
For scalable, end-to-end automation that’ll unlock the full value of AP digital transformation and build a foundation of resilience, there are four key capabilities required:
AP document intelligence. The automation solution must be able to process financial documents in any format or language, from any source. Multi-channel invoice capture allows suppliers to use their preferred channel, whether it be scanned, paper-based, XML or PDF. Artificial intelligence technologies can understand invoice layout and identify the right information, regardless of format.
Electronic invoicing and self-service portal. The ability to send and receive XML invoices isn’t only convenient but is quickly becoming critical as mandates to adopt electronic invoicing continue to gain ground globally. A self-service portal adds to the supplier experience by allowing them to track the progress of invoices and payments.
Dynamic workflows. The ability to manage simple and complex approval and exception workflows within your AP process is another key element for success. When you can easily create and modify customized workflows for processing invoices, calculating invoice due dates and discount due dates, and reprioritizing and processing exceptions, duplicates and cancellations, your AP team can maximize productivity, save money and reduce errors.
ERP integration and a cloud platform. A resilient digital AP foundation is built on the ability to connect your AP automation solution with any financial management system using pre-built connectors. Out-of-the-box integration makes it easy to route validated data into your existing ERP without having to waste time or money on custom integrations. A cloud platform further enhances cost savings and ROI with a faster implementation, lower cost to entry, reduced dependence on IT, and around-the-clock access and support.
When these capabilities are available in one platform from one provider, organizations can manage AP workflows more effectively and quickly respond and adapt as requirements and market conditions change. Sounds a lot like resiliency, doesn’t it?
Successful AP automation provides substantial advantages, according to 2021 research by Ardent Partners:
Additional benefits include:
Don’t keep your AP department locked in a room watching other companies pass them by. An intelligent AP automation platform is the master key that will unlock AP’s true potential with a future-proofed and resilient digital foundation.
David Sentongo is product strategy leader at Kofax.
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