White paper: Automating the accounts payable process

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1 White paper: Automating the accounts payable process Leading the transformation to a strategic value-added function Paper continues to be a fact of life in business, and the accounts payable (AP) process is one of the most paper-intensive areas of all. The prevalence of paper makes for a timeconsuming, high-cost process characterised by routine, repetitive tasks. AP professionals recognise the need to transform to a more automated process that increases opportunities to add tangible value to the business, and raises job satisfaction levels among their teams. Armed with a clear understanding of the organisation-wide benefits of AP automation, they ll be well placed to make the business case for change to C-level executives. The challenges of a paper-intensive AP process A study 2 carried out among people working in NHS Trusts to explore attitudes to the challenge to go paperless by 2018 shows very high awareness of the initiative. This awareness permeates all the groups surveyed heads of Trust, healthcare professionals and IT decision-makers all of whom are generally enthusiastic about it and recognise the broad range of benefits for their Trusts of going paperless, or at least paper light. This enthusiasm is more than just theoretical NHS Trusts are already rolling out digitalisation programmes. The study shows that Trusts already have an average of 55% of patient records digitalised; and that the majority (almost 70%) have established a plan of action to realise the paperless initiative, with almost 80% saying they ve budgeted for the implementation. Trusts whose share of NHS England s 500m Safer Hospitals, Safer Wards Technology Fund for developing integrated digital care records has been approved are well placed to start or continue their journey from paper-based to digital record-keeping. Figure 1. Top invoice processing problems (Source: IFO 2012 Data Capture Study) Paying invoice twice 20,0 % Manual keying 35,2 % 4,8 % Don t take discounts Can t answer management s questions without lengthy research 10,5 % 24,8 % Line item matching Approvals Time-consuming 2,9 % 1,9 % Organisational benefits of paperless AP processing AP professionals know that increasing the efficiency of the process depends on removing as much paper from it as possible and increasing automation. Even if completely eliminating paper from the AP process is a long-term future goal, organisations that set out on that journey will see many benefits along the way. The higher the level of automation, the less it will cost to process each invoice, which will contribute to an organisation s cost-saving or revenue-improvement targets. 1 1 Institute of Financial Operations (IFO): 2013 AP Automation Study

2 Processing will be much faster and less prone to error as the need for manual transcription of invoice data reduces, leading to fewer delays and less risk of late payment penalties. Organisations may even be in a position to negotiate early payment discounts with some suppliers. Accelerating processing also means that even if invoice volumes grow perhaps because of an acquisition AP teams will find it easier to deal with those larger workloads, as their productivity levels will be much higher. And with team members spending less time on routine data entry, they ll be able to switch their focus to exceptions and other invoice issues and resolve them more quickly. Automating invoice processing will additionally give organisations much more control over the AP process. They ll have better visibility of expenditure and cash flow with improved reporting capabilities, the ability to retrieve an invoice at any stage of the process, and an electronic audit trail that improves control over invoice approvals. What s more, the risk of being reliant on an individual s knowledge of any stage in the process will go away as the workflow becomes more automated. Automation also opens up opportunities for centralising invoice processing on a national or international basis, as any type of invoice can be received and processed from any source. For larger organisations, this may form part of a shared services centre (SSC) or global business services (GBS) strategy based on harmonised processes and platforms, and tight integration with ERP and other systems. Figure 2. Improving invoice processing efficiency through automation (Source: Aberdeen Group) 50,00$ 22 Cost to process 37,50$ 25,00$ 12,50$ 38,77$ 15,61$ 3,09$ 3,8 16,5 11 5,5 Time (days) to process 0$ Laggard Average Best in Class 0 Cost to process an invoice Time in days to process an invoice EPD increase per $1,000 spend The benefits to AP professionals of a paperless process Reducing the amount of paper involved in the AP process provides team members with significant opportunities for personal development. As the volume of routine data entry tasks reduces, higher-value activities can take their place, leading to improved job satisfaction levels. There will be more time to devote to problem-solving handling exceptions, discrepancies and disputes and to building relationships with key suppliers and negotiating early payment discounts. There will be opportunities to acquire and use new skills in areas such as forecasting and cost analyses. The manual labour of collecting data for ad-hoc reporting will become a thing of the past with the ability to produce more regular and sophisticated reporting based on electronically held data. More efficient and cost-effective AP processing by a more productive team can even lead to the potential for bonuses or performance-related pay, in line with improvements delivered to the company s bottom line. 2

3 The capabilities of an AP automation solution An AP automation solution will enable an organisation to capture, access, manage and route any type of invoice or other relevant document alongside any business application and process. As a minimum, it will allow invoices to be scanned, routed and keyed into existing financial applications. The invoice image will be automatically indexed and linked to the related business transaction in the financial application. More advanced solutions will automatically collect data from invoices and other sources in order to, for example, validate totals or assign GL codes to non-po invoices. Advanced solutions will provide single-click access to all invoice-related documents, and streamline PO matching, invoice approval and payment. This higher level of automation and workflow acceleration is achieved by incorporating functionality such as electronic forms, and by synchronising documents and data with ERP systems and financial applications. Figure 3. The automated supplier invoice processing workflow Electronic documents ERP Document sorting Scanning of invoices Capture/ Extraction Matching against PO/DN Approval Export/ Payement Exception handling Paper documents Disputes Image-enabled workflow or intelligent data capture? An image-enabled AP process, where incoming invoices are scanned or arrive as PDFs, helps to speed up the workflow and offers other advantages too, such as savings on physical storage space. But most date capture systems using optical character recognition (OCR) can t automatically capture enough data from a scanned invoice to post it straight into an organisation s financial systems. So the level of manual intervention remains high. An intelligent data capture solution, on the other hand, can extract intelligence from unstructured documents like invoices. It sorts documents based on their content, lifts critical information based on its context, validates it, then passes it to core business applications. Because it uses advanced pattern-recognition techniques that work like the human mind, an intelligent data capture solution does not need to take a template- or rules-based approach to data capture: instead, it learns from a small sample set of documents. In AP, an intelligent data capture solution will extract critical data and line-item detail from invoices and export it to financial management systems. It can look up supplementary information, such as PO numbers or tax codes, in other backend systems, and combine it with the invoice information in order to pass a full dataset downstream. Using an intelligent data capture solution can speed up invoice processing to such an extent that the organisation will have near real-time visibility into the status of its revenues and costs, enabling more informed financial decision-making. 3

4 Building the business case for transformation With a clear understanding of their organisation s AP process and the benefits of automating it, the next step for AP professionals is to present the business case for technology investment to C-level executives. Because there will always be financial constraints, and because customer-facing projects often take precedence over those that address an administrative function, this C-level audience will need to be convinced that the automation solution offers tangible ROI, and fits with corporate objectives and strategic growth initiatives. AP professionals will therefore need to look beyond the benefits that touch their own departments and focus on those that will have a strong appeal to the review committee. For example: Faster financial audits, lower auditing fees and easier compliance with regulations on financial transparency, by having a documented workflow, supplier information and invoice images to hand Improved supply chain financing through greater visibility of available rebates and discounts, leading to better decision-making in support of supply-chain financing goals, improved purchasing policies and optimised cash flow Case study: Her Majesty s Prison Service (HMPS) As part of a programme to optimise its purchase-to-pay process, HMPS Shared Services aimed to halve the cost of processing a supplier invoice from around 5 to around 2. Most of its suppliers were submitting paper-based invoices. Aware that reducing reliance on paper was key to lowering processing costs, HMPS considered implementing an EDI solution, but found that many suppliers were reluctant to make the required changes to their own processes. We therefore decided that the automation of paper, rather than the elimination of paper, was the way that we would go initially, says Steve Hodgson, Head of HMPS Shared Services. HMPS chose Brainware Distiller, part of Perceptive Software s Capture product family, for its ability to handle large volumes of unstructured documents. Given that HMPS has over 10,000 suppliers, Brainware s ability to process invoices without needing a template for each supplier is a major advantage. We transact three-quarters of a million invoices a year for the Prison Service. The implementation of the software has delivered a quarter of a million pounds in cost reduction, reports Hodgson. In addition, implementing Brainware Distiller has increased employee empowerment, as Hodgson explains: We have moved some of our people from data entry to process improvement, where they can really add some value to the end-to-end process. A quarter of AP organisations say that over 90% of their invoices arrive as paper (Source: IFO s 2013 AP Automation Study) 71% of AP organisations say that at least half their invoices arrive as paper (Source: IFO s 2013 AP Automation Study) Almost 16% of AP organisations say they spend $6 $10 processing an invoice (Source: IFO s 2013 AP Automation Study) More than 43% of respondents say they take less than 10% of available discounts for early invoice payment (Source: IFO s 2012 AP Automation Study) 60% of organisations met or exceeded ROI on their scanning and capture investments (Source: AIIM, 2012) 4

5 Conclusion Removing paper from the AP process delivers clear benefits to an organisations in terms of improved cash management and lower supplier costs; and to AP teams who enjoy greater job satisfaction and increased personal development opportunities. To maximise those benefits, organisations should choose an experienced provider of automation solutions, like Perceptive Software, that combines automation solutions and AP process expertise with a track record of successful delivery of automation projects. Perceptive Software engages with organisations to understand their AP process and what stage they have reached in removing paper from it. Many organisations are already scanning some incoming invoices or receiving a proportion as PDFs. Others have made great strides towards a paperless state using e-invoicing, ECM and automated approval workflows, but find they are still wrestling with a stubborn paper tail that continues to be costly and time consuming to manage. Perceptive Software s automation solutions span content management, business process management and data capture and extraction, and include advanced e-forms and intelligent data capture capabilities. They integrate smoothly with existing ERP and financial systems, and are built on a scalable platform that can also process other transaction types, such as accounts receivable and goods received notes making them ideal for deployment in centralised SSC and GBS functions. With a wealth of consultancy expertise to back up its solutions, Perceptive Software can help an organisation start the journey to a paperless AP process, or build on the steps it has already taken towards automation, and realise the full range of benefits that can be delivered. Next steps Talk to Perceptive Software to find out more about how our solutions can help you remove paper from your AP process. We ll help you build the business case for transformation from a tactical, transaction-based environment towards a strategic value-added function that will deliver tangible benefits throughout your organisation. Download the 2012 Data Capture Study, published by the Institute of Financial Operations (IFO), that analyses the results of a survey among financial operations professionals on automation adoption. Lexmark International Ltd Highfield House Foundation Business Park 8 Roxborough Way Maidenhead Berkshire SL6 3UD United Kingdom Tel: Perceptive Software, LLC. All rights reserved. PS_White_Paper_AutomatingAP_1402 5

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