With the UK economy still struggling its way out of recession, it’s no surprise that more than 50% of finance professionals have highlighted difficulties in achieving their targets - pointing to a lack of time or resources available to deliver them. For many “doing more with less” presents itself as a tough reality with a very precise impact on daily activities and results. Yet, despite broad variations in industry and organisation size, many of the teams who were winners and finalists in the APN 2013 AP awards were able to achieve success by following a similar set of processes. Here are some of their top tips:
Raise your profile and collaborate
Despite recent advances, many organisations still struggle to appreciate the level of value the AP department can deliver to the business. However, by using metrics to produce key reports to C-level executives, successful AP departments can raise their profile considerably, some also using collaborative reporting methods produced and shared across departments.
Of course if you’re sitting in AP or Procurement today - you may feel that not a lot has changed in terms of collaboration, and in some cases that’s likely to be right. However, many organisations are waking up to the power of combined financial strength - brought about in part by the centralisation of processes, the growth of shared services, automation and cloud technology.
Develop your team
Take the time to speak to all stakeholders about changes and challenges facing the team. Make time to listen and find solutions to problems. Involve key players in the team in the early stages of any new technology implementation programmes. Once you have the buy-in of the team, they’re more likely to want to achieve a positive result.
Create a number of “super users” who have experience of working on several of the processes to a high level. Look at developing a “tag team” where one takes calls in the morning for example and the other in the afternoon. Develop a “buddying” scheme where two users focus on the same core activities, meaning that when one is away, the transition of workload is seamless.
No AP department is an island however. Organisations need to know how their performance compares to others.
And yet many organisations find it difficult to benchmark against much of the available published data. To a large extent, these reports are US orientated, and offer results which may not be relevant. Finding UK or European based reports, though possible, is notoriously difficult and although generic benchmarking results are a useful indicator, the only ones of any real value are where organisations compare like with like. Trying to benchmark an enterprise sized organisation based in London against an SME based in Latin America is not going to be a worthwhile exercise.
Many look at the cost-per-invoice calculation as an indication of the overall health of the AP function. But again, this is a statistic which is easily miscalculated, or calculated in wildly different ways. A rough figure can be drawn however by looking at the number of transactions and dividing by the number of staff – producing a “cost per desk” price which is easy to translate across the rest of the business.
Without at least some level of automation, AP teams will never be able to leverage the efficiencies and cost savings necessary. However, those in the best performing teams know that implementing an automation programme isn’t the best place to start. Otherwise, instead of producing savings – companies are at risk of actually hardwiring some of the problematic processes into the system – in other words – actually automating errors. Time spent at the beginning of the process leads to a smoother roll-out, with a more immediate ROI.
Errors in AP can be costly in terms of departmental productivity, corporate reputation and lost revenue. The challenge is to understand where and why errors occur and to address and eliminate them to improve quality and reduce costs.
Workflow automation tracks who did what, where and when for each step in the process, addressing quality improvement goals and enables finance managers to monitor and respond to the full array of activities relating to financial accounting and reporting, fraud detection and organisational performance.