6 Steps to Painless Accounts Payable Automation

Automation no longer is a matter of why, but a question of when for most payables departments.

Digital technologies such as intelligent data capture, workflow automation and seamless ERP application integration, such as JD Edwards, is significantly cheaper, more accurate, faster, more transparent and less vulnerable to compliance risks than manual and semi-automated processes.

But many accounts payable departments perceive automation projects as being painful.

Automating accounts payable doesn’t need to be a painful process if you follow the six steps below.

STEP #1: Analyze.

Diagnosing your pain points is the first step towards painless accounts payable automation. This information will ensure your business case presents a sound problem- and solution-based premise.

For instance, Ardent Partners reports that accounts payable departments are challenged by:

  • Poor information access
  • High costs
  • Too many exceptions
  • Lost invoices
  • Missed early payment discounts

Uncover your department’s invoice processing pain points by identifying and documenting the workflows that are now in place, and the challenges and hidden costs that are tied to each one.

STEP #2: Engage.

There are many reasons that accounts payable departments automate.

Achieving real-time visibility into accounts payable data, better aligning accounts payable with procurement, and capturing more early payment discounts are three priorities, Ardent Partners finds.

Setting clear objectives early-on helps ensure that a project stays on track.

Form a project management team that includes stakeholders from departments such as information technology, finance and accounting, procurement, human resources and sales and marketing. Create a prioritized list of objectives based on the business needs of these stakeholders. Be sure to solicit feedback on the objectives from front-line users such as travelers, managers and accountants.

Defining objectives will help you measure results, galvanize user support and avoid confusion later.

STEP #3: Evaluate.

Confusion about technologies is a big reason many payables departments haven’t automated.

While payables leaders don’t need to become an expert in each technology that they deploy, they need to make sure that prospective partners will meet their objectives from a technical standpoint.

Here are some attributes you should evaluate:

  • Functionality
  • Ease-of-use
  • Flexibility
  • Reliability
  • Scalability
  • Interoperability
  • Security
  • Compliance
  • Auditability

Prospective technology vendors should be able to provide a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to well-defined business requirements, or a brief explanation for ‘areas of grey.’ And never take a “canned” product demonstration at face value; ask solutions providers to demonstrate how their product will handle your approval workflows or business requirements.

Finally, always validate vendor claims through third-party references.

STEP #4: Justify.

Building a strong business case is the linchpin of any automation project.

A business case for automation should include:

  • Hard savings: labor costs and physical document storage and retrieval
  • Soft savings: faster cycle times, efficiency improvements and better staff morale
  • Risk mitigation: fewer lost receipts, less fraud and streamlined reporting

The hard and soft savings should include conservative, moderate and aggressive estimates.

Once you have built your business case, create a summary page highlighting the hard and soft savings, risk mitigation and the assumptions used to create them. When all these elements are well-defined and properly articulated in a business case, it accelerates senior management approval.

STEP #5: Embrace.

The next step to automating accounts payable is to embrace change management.

Resistance to change is a big challenge in accounts payable departments, where most managers “come up through the ranks” and front-line staff undergo less turnover than other finance functions.

Proactive communications reduce the risk of poor user adoption.

Executive sponsorship also is critical to getting buy-in from frontline users. The sponsor must make it clear to users that the effort is important. The sponsor should understand the challenges that created the need for adopting new technology and the details to justify the technology.

STEP #6: Measure.

Finally, monitor and measure the performance of your new technology on an ongoing basis.

Periodically update stakeholders and senior management on the post-adoption results.

Following the implementation, begin monitoring how the new process is flowing, track the savings in supply costs, and log the reduced number of hours spent by employees, managers and accountants.

By gathering and reporting this data, you can begin to demonstrate the actual return on investment as the new technology is adopted by a greater number of users across your organization.

Automation is a top priority for accounts payable leaders.

The six steps described in this article will help make your automation project painless.

This guest post is brought to you by our Partner Canon Information & Imaging Solutions. Interested in learning more? Download our infographic “9 Reasons AP Needs Intelligent Invoice Capture”.
Looking for resources or assistance in building your business case or evaluating your potential return on investment? Reach out to us to schedule a ROI session or to request a business case template.

About EPIQ

EPIQ is a NetSuite Solution Provider, Oracle JD Edwards and Oracle Middleware service provider. We offer a depth of experience and a range of skills not found at generalist consulting companies. Whether you are implementing your first ERP or CRM, or you need specialist skills to augment an already experienced team, EPIQ is the right supply chain partner. Our specialists not only understand technology, they understand business. With office in Los Angeles, CA and Pune, India, we have the global outreach to be able to support today’s global supply chains. A nimble team to accommodate today’s evolving business, we have management consultants with business experience, which helps us understand client needs and address them best. For more information visit: www.epiqinfo.com.

About Canon Information and Imaging Solutions, Inc.

Canon Information and Imaging Solutions, Inc. (CIIS), a wholly owned subsidiary of Canon U.S.A., Inc., brings together Canon’s world-class imaging technologies and information management expertise to assist organizations in achieving their digital transformation objectives. With a focus on innovation, CIIS’s software development and solutions delivery capabilities scale across several practice areas: Business Process Automation – including Procure-to-Pay & Order-to-Cash automation, Document Solutions, Information Management Services with a focus on content capture, management and collaboration, and Security and Infrastructure Management. With expertise in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data analytics, CIIS deploys its solutions in partnership with leading technology providers and offers comprehensive consulting and professional services that are trusted by organizations of all sizes. Additional information about the company, its programs and mission can be found at ciis.canon.com.