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In AP automation - one size does not fit all

Accounts Payable automation solutions come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from raw technology (capture, workflow) to purpose-built solutions, applied to sub-processes or the end-to-end process, including purchasing. During the adoption process, companies typically identify the focus of their automation initiative (what is slow and cumbersome, error-prone, or costly), research vendors of proven technologies, including delivery and support. Once the solution is selected, next is the implementation process, deployed according to organisation’s specifications. Beyond insuring that the solution is appropriate for a modest increase in the volume of invoices processed, there is little focus on how the solution will need to evolve in the future.

 

But businesses don’t stand still. The pace varies, but change is a constant. A key criteria for the evaluation, selection and implementation of AP automation solutions should be their ability to respond to change. It would be an unfortunate AP manager who discovers their AP automation investment underperforms in its ability to respond to a change in corporate strategy.

Change can come in many forms.

Organisational
Companies grow organically and through acquisitions. At other times, they downsize. Organisations need to ask: how easy is it to extend the solution to integrate other financial systems? To add additional operating units? To expand into new geographies? To accommodate low cost labour centres?

Onboarding
People, regulations, trading partners, bankers, and competitors change over time. Is it easy to learn the solution? Can new trading partners “on-board” themselves without technical or human support? How is the solution impacted by changes to invoice delivery from supplier networks or the addition of the mobile transmission of invoices?

Flexible product extension
Technology continually moves forward - upgrading the infrastructure, adding new capabilities (such as mobile invoice capture). Can the solution survive a switch to a new ERP system or content management system? How is the solution impacted by upgrades to connected systems, including ERP and procurement?

Beyond AP, there are many other processes to be automated. Can the organisational knowledge and skills that have been developed for the AP initiative be harnessed to provide a best-in-class solution built on the same technologies? There are certain economies of scale, ranging from the cost of software and the partners and employees who have created, deployed, and are now operating and supporting the solution.

So what are the most likely opportunities?

  • Capture technologies can be extended to other document processes, including Accounts Receivable (intelligent interpretation of annotations sent with payments), contract management, and forms processing.
  • Workflow is needed to automate all processes, including mailrooms, general ledger, fixed assets, travel authorization and expense management, and customer support. Innovative workflow technologies also support case management, where the user (or case manager) determines the criteria for advancing a case to its next step, as well as who owns the next step.

And let’s not forget about the holy grail of real time process analytics. These should position you to optimise the AP process. How effectively can they be leveraged to optimise other processes?

Companies should do their homework on the extendibility of their AP Automation solution, and ensure that it can be extended to address the evolution of their business, and the optimisation of additional processes, and avoid being shocked by the future.

 

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