Designing an Optimal Technology Landscape For Accounts Payable Transformation

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1 perspective Designing an Optimal Technology Landscape For Accounts Payable Transformation - Rajagopal NVS Abstract Companies that leverage technology to automate their Accounts Payable (AP) function can achieve sustainable, long-term benefits by aligning cost optimization objectives to their long-term vision and strategy.

2 The prevailing global slowdown, uncertainty and disruptions in large / traditional markets are forcing board members and management to ask some fundamental questions like - are we sweating our assets enough, do our internal processes leverage the technology advancements to serve our customers faster and in a cost effective manner etc. Finance & Accounting operations is right now being under the lens of CFOs who are keen to transform this function to truly support the organization s goals cost effective and compliant operations across the globe. Accounts Payable (AP) is one of the most focused upon functions within F&A for any process improvements / cost optimization projects. The reasons are not too hard to seek: In-spite of multiple technological and ERP advancements, even today an overwhelming majority of invoices are paper/image based. By very nature paper based processing introduces challenges around approval tracking, document management, exceptions handling and paper flow management. Vendor interactions voluminous interactions, follow ups and query resolution consumes approximately 20% bandwidth of AP operations team. Working capital optimization eliminate duplicate payments, leverage discounts, avoid delayed payments etc. Given that manual processing of supplier invoices costs anywhere up to US $20 per invoice, companies are increasingly looking at technology to drive down costs and improve efficiencies in their AP processes. Best-in-Class organizations have transformed and streamlined Finance more specifically AP operations and reap the following benefits: High levels of straight though, touchless processing. Minimal escalations on account of non-processing, non-payment or compliance misses. Heightened controls and compliance. Real time intelligence around AP, volumes, and ability to handle situations faster. Avoid cash leakage and generate cash through Dynamic Discounting. Traditional approaches to technology involve understanding of immediate concern areas and gaps, and investing in software solutions to address those short-term concerns. The sections below, however, advocate an approach where the gap analysis is done against a Technology Maturity Roadmap and the long-term strategic vision of the company. We believe that companies that embark on transformation through technology enablement should do a two way assessment on before designing the optimal technology landscape for its AP function. The assessments involve a detailed review of the following: Existing processes and technology the company currently has; Profiling and segmentation of their supplier base and evaluation of suppliers capabilities and fitment into the overall technology solution. BPO service providers play a major role in helping companies tailor technology solutions to meet their needs and requirements, and more importantly, in translating their long-term vision into action. The sections below describe the approach to be followed for the initial assessment phase. Technology Maturity Framework and Gap Analysis Technology maturity refers to a company s ability to leverage technology to automate its manual, non-value added tasks and provide real-time information to enhance decision making capabilities. The technology maturity framework is intended to help companies assess their current level of maturity vis-à-vis an evolution roadmap. There are 4 levels defined in the maturity model. Level 1 : is primarily targeted at controlling paper workflow of the company. Level 2 : involves integrating the imaging and workflow solution with ERP and sets the foundation for simplified invoice processing. Level 3 : involving integration between invoice processing software and the ERP system also includes an electronic workflow. This integration can empower decision making process by providing real-time visibility of invoice status, informative dashboards, automated escalations and alerts. This level requires investment in ERP(for enabling ERS, EDI), Supplier Data Management Solutions, E-invoicing, Supplier Portal etc. Level 4 : this is to transform your process into a next generation AP process and this level requires high degree of standardization and adoption of latest technologies in robotics, cloud computing & artificial intelligence etc.

3 Low complexity High complexity Level - 0 Level - 1 Level - 2 Level - 3 Level - 4 Manual Processing No workflow Manual Implement scanning system Implement workflow No Paper Flow Implement scanning system (OCR integrated) Implement ERP integrated workflow Implement ERP integrated PO system Implement ERP integrated PO system Automated Data Flow Implement approval via ERP integrated system ERP EDI E-Invoicing Supplier Self service portal Real time environment Extreme Automation using AI & Robotics Higher leverage of cloud technologies, Mobility & Business insights using Analytics Introduce payment factory Next-Gen AP Table 1: AP Technology Maturity Model The tools and technology solutions currently used and their capabilities thereof will need to be mapped against the maturity framework. This will help a company in identifying its current state of technology maturity and benchmark its capabilities against best-in-class (Level 4). This benchmarking exercise can help companies identify investments and capabilities required to transform its AP function. As companies aspire to move up the maturity model, there would be varying levels of investments required at each level. Any investment in technology should be planned in such a way that it acts as a business efficiency enabler and provides tangible business benefits. The high technology investment required to automate some of the manual, non-value added activities in the AP process is one of the major reasons for outsourcing the AP function to BPO service providers. Supplier Profiling and Segmentation Another important evaluation involves a detailed study of the supplier database to understand the profiles of the suppliers the company deals with and their historical behavior pattern. Companies with insights and understanding about their suppliers are better placed to collaborate with suppliers to innovate their products and service offerings. Technology acts as a key enabler that facilitates this collaboration with the extended enterprises. Data analysis can help in identifying distinct supplier segments and understanding the characteristics and constraints that define each of the segments. The questions to be considered while identifying the supplier segments include: Are the suppliers regular or seasonal suppliers? Do the suppliers supply goods or services? Are the suppliers high-volume or low volume suppliers? Are the transactions with the suppliers of high- value or low value? Are the purchases from the suppliers against a PO or are they non-po supplies? Are the transactions with the suppliers simple or complex in nature (attributes to be considered include language capabilities, invoice formats, geographies, tax related issues etc.)? More often than not, companies will have to deal with suppliers with varying degrees of technology maturity. The supplier profiling and segmentation exercise can provide pointers about the type of technology investment required to optimize ROI. The company should consider investing in ERS and EDI / e-invoicing for high-value and highvolume suppliers. Though the company has to make upfront investment in setting up the technology platform and process for reconciliation, long-term benefits (by way of improved working capital predictability, improved on time payment capabilities and significant reduction in processing costs) can be quite significant. For the suppliers, the benefits would include prompt payment, better cash forecasting, lower bad debts etc.

4 On the other hand, for low-value, highvolume suppliers, P-card implementation might be the optimal solution. Similarly for suppliers who are in the mid-segment, a company may decide to implement image scanning integrated with workflow as it requires no investment from suppliers but can yield significant benefits to the company. The diagram below is an illustrative list of technology solutions that companies could consider for their supplier segments: Therefore a thorough understanding of the supplier segments and their characteristics can go a long way in engaging with the suppliers and designing the most appropriate technology interventions for each of the supplier segments that can provide win-win situations for suppliers and companies. Supplier Characteristics Solution Benefits Suppliers with established mutual trust relationship # of invoices and invoice value are large Manual goods receipts against POs ERS Supplier invoicing and invoice entry process eliminated No delays in payment, pay only for what you receive. Pre-determined invoice cycle time resulting in improved working capital predictability Processing cost per invoice will be in the range of $ 0.80 to $ 2.50 Non-ERS suppliers # of invoices and invoice value are large Manual goods receipts against POs EDI or Electronic Invoicing No manual intervention required to process invoices Improved invoice cycle time and visibility through invoice life cycle Reduced Processing cost per invoice Improved ability to avail early payment discount Low value purchases Prepayment P-Card / Self Service Portal Minimize the manual efforts through P-Card, Self Service Vendor portal, PO flip etc., Dynamic Discounting Simplified process # of invoices and invoice value is medium or low Paper invoices for suppliers with no e-invoice capability Paper- Based Invoices Centralized sorting and OCR scanning resulting in improved process efficiency Workflow enabled with integration with ERP to reduce cycle time and improved visibility through invoice life cycle Approval Workflow for non-po to ensure compliance and visibility Table 2: Technology Solutions for Supplier Segments Designing an Optimal Technology Landscape Evolution of technology is not a linear process and a single approach to technology should not be uniformly applied to companies. Rather a One Size Fits All approach to automation needs to be replaced by a strategy that is customized to fit a company s overall strategic vision, needs and expectations from technology solutions. The optimal technology landscape should be finalized after taking into consideration the following factors:- current technology capabilities, relationship maturity of the supplier segments, tangible and intangible benefits expected from automation and strategic long-term vision of the company. Identification of the desired state in maturity model will help in identifying gaps, prioritizing resources, focus areas and will, more importantly, aid in chalking out an action plan to get to the desired state. It should also enable the company to cope with the immediate constraints and challenges while making it agile enough to adapt to the changes that the business might undergo in future. Companies do not have to go through the various levels of technology maturity in sequence and can adopt a multi-pronged approach to realize optimal benefits from the automation process. There are tangible benefits to be reaped in each of the levels of the maturity model and based on priorities, pain areas and resource constraints, companies can, with the help of BPO providers, move up the evolution chart either in a fairly short time-frame or over a longer period of time. For example, companies that are at Level 0 (of the technology maturity model) can leverage outsourcing and technology expertise of their BPO partners to move to Level 3 in the short-run.

5 However not all of its suppliers would be ready or willing to invest in technology for several reasons including ROI, strategic importance of the supplier, value of business transacted between the company and the suppliers etc. It is, therefore, imperative to adapt to other alternatives to accommodate suppliers unwilling to invest and overhaul their existing processes. In the process of automating functions, it is important to align process improvements with technology solutions and create a synergistic value to companies. Only then can the benefits be truly enduring. BPO providers have the requisite capabilities to combine expertise in process outsourcing and technology in a synergistic way within the AP framework to provide integrated value benefits to companies. Proven technology and optimization expertise of BPO service providers can enable companies to scale up the automation of their AP functions at reduced cost and in a relatively short period of time. BPO providers will work with companies not just in automating and harmonizing their internal AP processes but also in analyzing and working with the various suppliers to design optimal technology solutions for each of the supplier segments depending on their relationship maturity levels (Refer Table 2). The benefits that BPO companies provide are mentioned below: Offerings of the BPO Service Provider Benefits to Clients Working Capital Effciency Procurement and Payables Analytics Predictability of working capital requirements Improved Discount Capture % High Visibility on Payables outstanding Unlock cash flows Prevent late payments (& penalties) Cost Optimization Outsourcing Workflow tools, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Special Handling of discount eligible invoices Help in converting Paper based invoicing Supplier to electronic based (ERS, EDI or E-Invoicing) ~30% Cost savings, Labor arbitrage & shift in focusing controls, Macro Management Productivity and Cost Reduction From Cost Center to Self serving model. Reduction of Manual invoice processing and cost of the same Operational Effciency Workflow tools, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence ERP Integration Automation - OCR Operational Analytics Improved Paid on Time (PoT) capability Productivity Escalation and tracking Well informed policy decisions Continuous Improvements Drive Standardization and harmonization Improved Accuracy Innovation Best Practices Sharing Consolidation - One process for all geography/entity Leveraging the best talent across industries Year on year reduction in TCO Eliminate waste and non-value added activities End User Satisfaction Supplier Portal (Self Help tool for suppliers) Minimal time spent on answering Invoice status and payment queries High visibility of supplier queries and higher supplier satisfaction on account of accurate and predictable payments Controls & Compliance Audit Trail Transactional Analytics (Duplicate Audit, Discount Capture, Spend compliance etc.) Automated Approval flow Electronic Audit Trails Revenue leak avoidance Better enforcement of business and SOx controls

6 Conclusion Companies all over the world suffer from an over-reliance on manual processes. The inefficiencies of the manual processes are often overlooked during times of high growth but become prime candidates of focus during times of recession. New tools, technology and platform solutions have matured in the last few years that can automate the manual, non-value added tasks inherent to AP function and provide transformational benefits to companies. About the Author Rajagopal NVS Practice Lead - F&A key Solution, Infosys BPO Rajagopal he has rich experience in P2P domain - managing operations / designing and implementing transformational solutions. Raj has worked with global corporations - across industries like manufacturing, dot com, Capital and healthcare. He is a commerce graduate.

7

8 About Infosys Infosys is a global leader in consulting, technology, outsourcing and next-generation services. We enable clients, in more than 50 countries, to stay a step ahead of emerging business trends and outperform the competition. We help them transform and thrive in a changing world by co-creating breakthrough solutions that combine strategic insights and execution excellence. Visit to see how Infosys (NYSE: INFY), with US$8.25 B in annual revenues and 165,000+ employees, is helping enterprises renew themselves while also creating new avenues to generate value. Infosys BPO, the business process management subsidiary of Infosys, provides a broad range of enterprise and industry-specific services. We deliver transformational benefits to clients through our proprietary Process Progression Model TM (PPM). These benefits include cost reduction, ongoing productivity improvements and process reengineering. For more information, contact Infosys Limited, Bangalore, India. All Rights Reserved. Infosys believes the information in this document is accurate as of its publication date; such information is subject to change without notice. Infosys acknowledges the proprietary rights of other companies to the trademarks, product names and such other intellectual property rights mentioned in this document. Except as expressly permitted, neither this documentation nor any part of it may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, printing, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of Infosys Limited and/ or any named intellectual property rights holders under this document.

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