Accounts Payable Automation: Top 9 Reasons to Automate: The Essential Guide to Why Your Business Needs to Automate its Invoice Processing.

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1 Whitepaper Accounts Payable Automation: Top 9 Reasons to Automate: The Essential Guide to Why Your Business Needs to Automate its Invoice Processing. June 2014

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3 Overview Reducing costs, improving performance, achieving regulatory compliance, increasing visibility and enabling strategic performance are all tasks every organisation needs to complete. A company should focus on how these goals can be accomplished. A transformation of processes which achieves these goals whilst cutting operational costs and minimising financial risks requires serious consideration. This whitepaper examines the relevant issues and benefits of Accounts Payable (AP) transformation in detail as well as best practices around such initiatives. Evidence suggests that the core solution to the finance challenge lies in optimising workflow processes to improve overall speed, efficiency, control and visibility of operations. Finely choreographed automation and best practice workflows applied to a set of processes leads to optimisation. Automation meets the Accounts Payable challenges of management, lack of transparency, process inefficiencies, delayed closing times, poor productivity and threats to compliance posed by fraud and errors. Being able to improve optimisation allows for finance organisations to turn their attention to the more strategic challenges facing the corporation.

4 1: Complete and Clear Visibility Visibility is a critical issue in most AP departments, many of which are still paper based. Aberdeen Group s 2006 Procure-to-Pay Study found that 80% of invoices are still paper, leading to a multitude of visibility issues. Lack of clear visibility starts with the invoice receipt process. Invoices tend to be sent to numerous field offices rather to an Accounts Payable designate. These pre-approved invoices are then manually forwarded to Accounts Payable and entered into the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, providing zero visibility on the front end. Delays can arise from invoices sitting on managers desks for days which can also lead to unnecessary rush invoices when line-of-business managers demand quick payment to maintain supplier satisfaction. When Accounts Payable departments are chronically backed up at the end of periods, there is a risk of not recognising liabilities. Incomplete accruals can understate expenses and overstate income. This can lead a company susceptible to financial statement cut off fraud occurring as companies get desperate to show earnings or reduce losses. Lost paper invoices can also obscure a company s visibility into liabilities. These consequences of a paper based system argue against continued reliance on this outdated model. To gain complete and clear visibility throughout the entire Accounts Payable flow, organisations must reduce paper and integrate Accounts Payable processes with their ERP systems. This automation including data capture and workflow within an ERP system allows for complete and clear visibility.

5 2: Accelerate Period End Close with Greater Accuracy Companies are being forced to close their books more quickly and more accurately. While there are benefits such as delivering meaningful information to management in a timely fashion enables faster and more tactical decisions, closing the Accounts Payable books can become very difficult. A faster, more accurate Accounts Payable close can be achieved by Leveraging Accounts Payable automation Performing earlier account reconciliation Accurately accruing liabilities. The right Accounts Payable automation in place can lead to more accurate closings. Invoices and all backup information are automatically entered into the ERP and workflow leverage the ERP s account codes and approval framework to create a permanent record of every transaction. Every step of the close simplifies, allowing for organisations to perform this activity more quickly and accurately. 3: Turbo Charge Productivity Accounts Payable department is hindered with paper, resulting in loss of productivity due to filing, retrieving, and faxing, copying, mailing or looking for papers that have been misplaced, misfiled or lost. Further comprising productivity is that Accounts Payable processes are too complex. The number of manual internal controls and little standardisation as well as Accounts Payable department interruptions leads to increasing loss of productivity. Three steps which can help turbo charge productivity include; automation, improve business processes and track productivity.

6 4: Leverage Your ERP Investment ERP platforms, despite having powerful capabilities, have struggled to meet expectations or deliver on their value proposition. According to a 2006 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, only 36% of finance executives are confident their technology spending is yielding an optimum return. The lack of value in ERP implementations is due to the use of old, manually intensive processes that hamper the system s potential. The ERP is an excellent repository for all financial data, it is not designed to support the processes around each of those transactions. The original invoice being stored in the ERP provides access to that document, but has no impact on how it got approved, whether it received the required signatures or whether proper policies were followed. The key to unlocking the value in an organisation s ERP investment is to develop simplified and standardised process for repetitive tasks such as invoice receipt, review and approval. Companies have invested in sophisticated ERP implementations, but old pre-erp processes are simply transferred to work with the new system, leading to inefficiencies and expensive communications and collaboration. Through simplifying and standardising processes, removing unnecessary steps and improving overall efficiency. All captured information needs to be tightly integrated with a consistent set of processes to be able to maximise efficiency, speed, visibility, cost reduction and controls. A streamlined process also requires all participants, regardless of position or experience, to have access to all appropriate information while interacting intuitively and intelligent with the transaction. 5: Improve Quality Errors can be costly through departmental productivity and corporate reputation. Companies need to understand where and why errors occur and to systematically address and eliminate them to improve quality and reduce costs. Each step of the AP process is time consuming, and the cost of one error can be significant. Paper based processes are known to have higher error rates keying errors, matching errors, lost and/or misfiled documents etc. Errors can also impact quality of service since they irritate vendors and frustrate internal clients. A quality program is the cornerstone of any effort to develop a continuous improvement culture. Having a baseline understanding of the time and resources required to perform a function and tracking progress as quality initiatives are implemented. Quality programs pay direct dividends.

7 Each step of the Accounts Payable process is time consuming and the cost of one error can be significant. Paper based processes are known to have higher error rates. rates

8 6: Facilitate Spend Analysis, Planning and Forecasting Organisations must accurately budget, plan and forecast to maximise business performance. If corporations can t accurately analyse previous or current spending trends, their ability to plan and forecast is severely affected. A major impediment to accurate budgeting, planning and forecasting is the inability to analyse costs at the appropriate level of detail. The lack of transparency makes it impossible to perform the proper level of analysis that informs future planning activities and realises cost savings. Proper invoice coding is also essential. Coding frequently introduces complexities into budgeting, planning and forecasting cycles because it is error prone. Resolving and rekeying coding errors can be time consuming and inefficient, but if not done properly, the errors are prolonged and create enormous gaps in an organisation s ability to analyse previous spending. An average Accounts Payable organisation makes 19 copies of each document, loses 1 out of every 20 and spends 25 hours recreating each lost document.

9 7: Embrace Best Practices Accounts Payable departments are not able to implement best practices without clarity in corporate policies and procedures. Lack of a standard codified approach to the disbursement process creates a multitude of problems for AP: Costs of ensuring compliance and risks of noncompliance Inefficiencies and sloppiness resulting in late payments and lost discounts Greater susceptibility to fraud Errors The most effective path to AP best practices is the automated enforcement of policies and procedures via workflows that incorporate best practice policies. Automated workflows that enforce AP business rules can ensure that all transactions Adhere to a standard process Follow the established approval and authorisation policies and have necessary backup attached A single set of standard consistent processes Document capture and workflow technologies A strong approval framework with automated approval routing that leverages the ERP and a clear line of sight for the approver Enforcement of controls 8: Strengthen Internal Controls All finance professionals are aware of the fraud risks their organisations face. The PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Economic Crime Survey 2005 found that 45% of companies worldwide are victims of fraud. In addition to revenue loss, significant collateral damage includes loss of reputation, decreased staff motivation and declining business relations. There are three main categories of fraud faced by AP departments include Corruption, Asset Misappropriation and Fraudulent Statements. The way to gain control is with best practices that create the foundation for a strong controls environment. Through simplifying processes and centralisation, automated and preventative controls and technology leverage.

10 9: Optimise the Company s Biggest Asset: Cash Accounts Payable is about getting the bills paid, but the process can be costly, paper intensive and time consuming. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study states that an average AP organisation makes 19 copies for each document, loses 1 out of every 20 documents and spends 25 hours recreating each lost document. Other paper based costs include storage, document transportation, supplier dispute resolution, internal and external audits, duplicate payments, late payments, penalties and errors. Best practice workflows ensure simple, standardised processes where documents are brought online at the outset are fully integrated with the ERP and are then routed to all participants in a given business process including non-erp users. Automating Accounts Payable through document capture and workflow encourages timely and accurate approvals. When automated approvals are put in place, people realise that the process is systematic, controlled and tracked.

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