5 Easy Steps To Automate Accounts Payable

easy steps to automate accounts payable

Are You Still Processing Paper Invoices?

If so, you are not alone. A number of studies have shown that a large percentage of invoices are still being processed on paper. As you know this is time-consuming and expensive.

The ability to process and pay invoices in a timely manner is crucial to business continuity—and yet with all the technology that most companies own, they have not invested in automating this critical function.

Here are some of the reasons that you should consider going paperless and automating your accounts payable process:

  • reduce costs
  • decrease number of invoice that gets lost
  • reduce data entry errors 
  • increased visibility, control, and accountability
  • allow workers to work remotely
  • avoid late payment fees
  • capitalize or early payment discounts
  • prevent fraud
  • make it easier to project cash flow
  • improve security
  • better facilitate invoice approvals
  • reduce office clutter
  • decrease invoice approval time
  • prevent duplicate payments
  • reduce storage costs
  • allow key staff to work on higher valued tasks
  • reduce storage

 

 

INTRODUCTION
No organization is an island. Every day, organizations around the world interact
with customers and vendors to keep business moving. The ability to process and
pay invoices in a timely manner are crucial to business continuity—and yet, a 2013 Institute of Financial Operations study on accounts payable (A/P) automation found that 71% of organizations still rely on paper to store and process invoices.

Manual A/P processes increase chances for mistakes, delinquency, and
non-compliance. A study by The Aberdeen Group found that a single invoice can
require up to 41 days for processing in a manual, paper-based environment.
Instead of focusing on revenue-generating activities, accountants have to track
down paper invoices, physically submit documents for approval, and compile time-consuming reports . . . and all this effort still isn’t enough to ensure timely payments!
An automated, digital A/P process reduces processing time, streamlines reporting, and increases oversight through immediate access to information. In fact, a recent Institute of Management & Administration (IOMA) study found that A/P staffers with a high level of automation at their disposal can process more than twice the invoices than those with fewer automation tools.

To achieve these time-saving benefits, organizations integrate enterprise
content management (ECM) software into their existing infrastructure. However,
employees aren’t always excited to adopt new, unfamiliar technology. Effective
change management ensures that the transition to an automated A/P process
won’t be an uphill battle.

Here are five essential steps that will encourage organization-wide adoption of an automated A/P system.

FIVE STEPS TO ACCOUNTS PAYABLE AUTOMATION


Step 1: Establish Ownership of the Project

Identifying a project owner and project champion is the first critical step toward
successful A/P automation. While the project owner handles daily operations,
the project champion shares the vision of automation with stakeholders and
gathers support. 

Both project leaders should be able to:
Effectively communicate with all involved departments, including IT.
Understand the needs of end-users who will be using the new system daily.
Express the value of automation to different departments, employees, and stakeholders.

Identify early advocates of automation and enlist their help in gaining support.
Along with these criteria, the project leaders must understand that the
biggest challenge to implementing ECM software is user resistance. Jennett
Mays, the Communications Coordinator at the Township of Springwater, Canada,
emphasizes the importance of approaching automation initiatives as strategic
business opportunities with clearly expressed benefits. “We can train people, we
can give them the software, but they need to be on board with using it or you’re
going to have more problems,” says Mays.

By addressing user concerns before diving into the technical details of the project, Mays has overseen the rapid adoption of ECM across the municipality.

Step 2: Secure Buy-In

The project champion should obtain support from all involved departments, not
just the A/P department, to realize the full-time- and cost-savings of automation.
For example, A/P can design a standard, electronic purchase order to speed up
the approval process—but if only a fraction of departments uses this form, then the benefits will be minimal.

Bill McIntyre, Division Manager of Enterprise IT, took a strategic approach to
secure buy-in across Loudoun County, VA. “ We targeted departments that were very paper-based and that would see the benefits of digitizing the paper right away,” says McIntyre. With this approach, McIntyre was able to demonstrate the immediate value of the system—and create project advocates along the way.

The A/P automation project owner can achieve buy-in unit-by-unit, moving from
the A/P department to the departments with the most paper—and therefore the
biggest opportunity for improvement.

Step 3: Gather Requirements
Once department leaders are on board, the project owner should begin obtaining information about the A/P process from end-users, stakeholders, and any other involved parties. In particular, identifying pain points helps the project owner separate the essential steps of the process from the non-essential ones.

The project owner should identify:

  • How employees are trained on the A/P process.
  • How employees actually perform their A/P-related tasks.
  • Bottlenecks and redundancies in the A/P process.

In fact, when the Town of Marana, AZ, begins any new technology project, it
devotes the most time to gather requirements.

It does this by:

  • Asking questions.
  • Gathering sample documents.
  • Identifying who does what when, where, and why.
  • Identifying and analyzing the current folder structure and business process.
  • Taking an inventory of software applications already in use.

After all, without a comprehensive view of the process, the town’s project
owners cannot knowingly improve it. Due to its systematic implementations and
widespread use of ECM software, the Town of Marana won a Top Digital City
Award from the Center for Digital Government in both 2012 and 2013.

Step 4: Map the Process
During this phase, the project owner should work with IT to diagram the A/P
process. The Florida League of Cities, a government agency that provides financial and insurance services, refined its A/P process diagram with the following steps:

  • Mapped out a diagram of the existing process.
  • Met with Accounting to highlight the manual steps in the process.
  • The two departments agreed upon the steps that could be automated and then removed unnecessary manual steps.

The Florida League of Cities also made sure to gather input from end-users
and revise its diagrams accordingly. As a result, the organization automated
and expedited the A/P process without losing essential components or ignoring
departmental requirements.

We wanted to eliminate duplication of work,” says Chris Noyes, Business Process
Analyst for the Florida League of Cities. “Before, it took five steps to add an account number into our various systems at various times within the process. Now we only have to insert this number once and the change will be reflected everywhere.”

The Importance of Integration
As an organization maps out its new process, it must take the integration of new
software with the organization’s previous software investments into account. The project leaders should select an ECM system with the ability to integrate with as many pre-existing applications as possible or face greater pushback when employees have difficulty learning an entirely new system.

A key benefit of using ECM as the integrative “heart” of an automated A/P process is that it enables organizations to standardize the central system while customizing the delivery of information based on departmental needs, providing consistency, security and transparency to users through familiar applications they use every day.

How does this work? When an employee is looking at a record in a primary
application such as PeopleSoft, she can click on a hyperlink that will automatically open additional content stored in the ECM system.
Oftentimes, employees are unaware of using an ECM solution. For them, ECM is an invisible extension of the primary system. They don’t need training on how to use a new software system, nor do they have to waste time retrieving paper copies of important records.

Step 5: Train Staff

Switching from a manual to an automated A/P process requires a significant
change in employee behavior, but thorough and engaging training can help
facilitate the transition. Ramsey County, MN, successfully automated processes in
several departments with the help of its extensive training program.
Ramsey County’s training initiatives include:

  • In-person, department-tailored training classes.
  • Online instructional videos (featuring the cast of The Flintstones).
  • User group meetings in which local ECM users exchange knowledge and
    best practices.

The entertaining quality of Ramsey County’s training helped increase ECM
adoption and awareness. Rochelle Waldoch, Compliance and Records Manager
at Ramsey County, says, “Just because something is technical doesn’t mean you
can’t have fun with it. If people are laughing, they’re paying attention.”

CONCLUSION

Business process automation simplifies and expedites the capture, processing,
review, and approval of A/P documents. To ensure stakeholder, department leader, and end-user adoption of ECM, the A/P department should incorporate each of these five steps into its change management strategy.

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