Finding Nirvana in AP Automation and Outsourcing

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1 WHITE PAPER Finding Nirvana in AP Automation and Outsourcing Gaining Control By Letting Go Nirvana: Joy, freedom from pain and worry an end to suffering. Suffering is something with which many Accounts Payable professionals, groaning under the burden of error-prone, manual processes, are all too familiar. Nirvana, in the form of AP automation and outsourced processing, awaits. The definition of insanity is doing something the same way, over and over, expecting different results. Many AP departments are still mired in decades-old, inefficient methods. Indeed, a majority of companies still receive and process more than 90 percent of their invoices and payments via paper, according to a 2013 PayStream Advisors survey. Most AP departments continue to receive the bulk of their invoices through conventional snail mail or in attachments to , and sometimes even by fax. They pay the majority of their vendors by paper check. A number of companies are moving toward automated processes, but only a small percentage consider themselves fully automated. This white paper will show how automation and outsourcing can relieve paper-based headaches and reduce human error, accelerate processing and return an organization s focus to bottom-line results.

2 Finding Nirvana Continued reliance on paper-based systems is inefficient and can result in lost productivity and delays in moving an invoice through the system sometimes days instead of hours or less. Full-time employees spend excessive time on manual data entry, customer calls and other unnecessary tasks, rather than dealing with critical issues, such as handling exceptions and discrepancies. This can lead to longer approval cycles and lost discount opportunities. What s more, most AP departments are processing an increasing volume of invoices, a trend that is expected to continue over the next five years. Unless processes change, AP departments are condemning themselves to a spiraling cycle of frustration. It s clear that, if true automation Nirvana is to be obtained, longstanding hurdles first must be removed. What stands in the way of a virtually paperless office? Source: PayStream Advisors Global Electronic Invoicing Survey 2013 T: E:

3 Obstacles to Automation Key obstacles to more efficient, automated AP processes include a lack of company resources resulting from inadequate support at the top. AP budgets for many companies have remained flat year-over-year. Without a top executive advocating for change, budget requests may hit a wall of C-suite resistance. To bring down such barriers, AP professionals need to educate their company s leaders about the benefits both operational and strategic of automation, and consider leveraging the time and talent of outside solutions. In some cases, savings generated through automation and outsourcing can be realized in the first year of operation. Another obstacle is the reluctance of suppliers to adopt electronic payments. Topline AP automation providers dedicate recruitment teams to show suppliers how an automated system can help them get paid sooner and deal with discrepancies more easily. Outsourcing the recruitment process allows experts to handle supplier signups and permits AP departments to concentrate on the tasks they do best. Leading Trends Software companies are developing and implementing solutions that enable organizations to automate the entire Procure-to-Pay (P2P) process. The top-of-the-line solutions enable suppliers to submit invoices electronically via a user-friendly portal. The systems can match the invoices to specific purchase order (PO) information and even approve payments if the invoice matches the criteria. Vendors can track their payment status through the portal without calling AP personnel directly. Exceptions and discrepancies can similarly be handled via or automatic text messages that alert vendors to issues and allows them to re-submit the invoices, if necessary. While portals allow for user-friendly, secure electronic access to the system to encourage e-invoicing and electronic payments, paper invoices can be scanned into most systems using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software that makes data entry easier and more accurate. The more a software solution can eliminate manual processing and human error, the faster and more accurate a solution can be for a buying organization.

4 Because less than 20 percent of companies are currently using OCR technology, early adopters are finding themselves at a competitive advantage. These AP departments are learning that outsourcing document scanning and data entry is a cost-effective way to take advantage of state-of-the-art software and hardware without the installation and maintenance costs associated with purchasing new equipment. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions also provide a streamlined approach to AP processes. SaaS lives in the cloud, allowing companies that have the expertise and resources in AP processes to take responsibility for maintenance and upgrades to automated systems. Because they are cloud-based, these solutions can be launched and operated by AP departments with only minimal involvement from internal IT departments. Affordable SaaS solutions enable busy AP departments with limited resources to enjoy the benefits of automation without the need to purchase new servers and hire personnel to maintain them. Such SaaS and other outsourced offerings should provide such features as: Automated data capture and document imaging Intelligent invoice recognition and matching for POs, invoices and receivables Online approvals with a full audit trail Content storage Workflow management and visibility User-friendly portals for suppliers, buyers and clients Customized reports and posting Queries and analyses Training and ongoing help for users These solutions provide CFOs, AP executives and other company leaders the ability to review every step of the P2P process. Transparency of transactions inherent in these solutions allows approvals to be made more quickly and provides executives the information they need to better manage the company s finances. It also can lower per-invoice processing costs and reduce or eliminate human error in manual entry. And the increased speed of processing can significantly reduce late payment fees to vendors, allowing companies to take advantage of Dynamic Discount Management (DDM) and its excellent return on investment (ROI). DDM features enable buyers to set multiple criteria for early payment beyond the traditional 2/10, net 30 discounts. The criteria can be customized by category, vendor and even invoice. Buyers can ask to receive a larger discount if they pay within a day of receipt, a smaller discount at 29 days, etc. Suppliers in the system can accept or offer to modify terms and propose terms of their own based on their cash-flow needs. Even the traditional 2 percent discount on every invoice yields a risk-free, 36.5 percent annualized return on an organization s cash. DDM can increase that rate of return even more. Want to see the future of automated payments? Look to Latin America, where government mandates require companies to use electronic P2P systems. Despite initial resistance both suppliers and buyers must participate AP automation in Latin America has quickly reached a critical mass and many companies claim to have more than recouped their initial investment via lower processing fees, faster approvals and the ROI from dynamic discounting. Does Your Organization Use OCR Technology to Capture Invoice Data? Source: Institute of Financial Operations AP Automation Study 2012 T: E:

5 Case Study: Leading Healthcare Company A company-wide focus on improving customer service and patient care led a leading healthcare company to begin evaluation of Accounts Payable solutions that would optimize their business process and provide increased visibility and workflow capabilities for employees and vendors. Challenge Bottom-line cost savings were not a key driver in the project; however, they were an important consideration, especially in light of the ever-increasing cost of providing superior patient care. The customer wanted to maintain superior quality, controls and customer service, while also doing more with less due to cost increases. Could a software system be found that would enable them to do this and position them for future growth? The company ordered an internal study and determined that it needed a solution that could: Eliminate or significantly reduce paper Reduce storage costs Enable electronic review and approval of invoices Provide visibility through the entire process Eliminate late payments Best Practice Solution BancTec s selection was based on its four decades of experience helping customers with their backroom processes. The company s system is based on understanding and optimizing a customer s process and aligning it with the right technology toward achieving efficiencies and bottom-line improvements for years to come. Upon a full evaluation of the health-care company s challenges, BancTec offered its AP software and enterprise-level Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) capabilities to build a solution that could meet their current needs and scale up as the business grew. The technical backbone of the solution was BancTec s AP Master workflow and approval software, which enables companies to manage each step in the AP process, from purchase to payment. BancTec also used its BPO service capabilities to eliminate much of the risk of lost documents. Rather than invoices going to the customer s various healthcare facilities, suppliers were instructed to mail invoices directly to one of BancTec s U.S. processing centers. There, the invoices would be prepped, scanned, classified and indexed according to the client s business rules. Once captured, the invoices would be routed for approval as configured by client requirements within the AP Master workflow. BancTec s BPO service enabled the healthcare company s AP department to focus on resolving discrepancies and problems rather than spending time on laborious data entry. This provided several positive outcomes. Results After transitioning to BancTec s outsourced Invoice Processing and AP Automation Service, the healthcare company reported: Improved customer service through more efficient and visible payments to vendors Reduction in overall processing costs New investments in other services and technologies made possible by overall cost savings from the solution Increased staff productivity Improved flexibility for the future

6 Benefits of Outsourcing Enabling tedious tasks to be completed through proven outsourced solutions allows in-house staff to focus on improved fiscal management. Outsourcing provides the benefits of state-of-the-art software and hardware without requiring a significant capital investment, or burden on in-house IT resources. Some of the significant benefits companies can realize include: Reduced Cost Per Invoice Automated systems reduce a company s cost per invoice by improving payment accuracy, cutting processing time, and increasing productivity. Full-time employees must get involved in the process only when human intervention is absolutely necessary. Cloud-Based Operation Employees can securely access AP information from anywhere and without costly server technology. Increased Visibility Top executives can easily access information about outstanding liabilities, invoice status and AP process performance. Tracking tools and metrics are customized to specific needs. Increased Efficiency Staff time spent on manual entry tasks can be re-dedicated to more strategic planning and reporting. Better Cash Management High, risk-free ROI on cash allocated to dynamic discounting. Supplier Recruitment The hassle of automating suppliers is shifted away from the AP department. Training Support is provided to employees via in- person sessions, phone and over the web. Conserve Company Resources The top-line AP outsourcing companies invest in state-of-the-art hardware and software systems so your company doesn t have to. Reduced IT Burden The outsourcing company maintains and develops its own systems. This means only minimal involvement from the client s IT department. Biggest benefit of cloud services or SaaS for AP Processing Source: Institute of Financial Operations AP Automation Study 2012 T: E:

7 Automation Pioneers Although many companies still process much of their AP work on paper, there are organizations pioneering the way to total automation, easing workloads and relieving staff stress. There is much to be learned from these trendsetters, who replaced manual data entry with systems that allow them to maximize the efficiency of their current staff, swiftly deal with supplier issues and take full advantage of all discounting opportunities. They report a less stressful work environment and smoother workflow. Other organizations can emulate this success by setting targets for their automation process. 1. Set SMART goals: Specific Increase straight-through processing of documents by 20 percent Measurable Quantify the desired result and how it will be measured Attainable Reduce purchase-order exception rate to under 10 percent, if possible Realistic Set as a goal a 35 percent reduction in approval cycle time Timely Set a timetable for reaching goals, for example, one year after going live on the system 2. Be Realistic. Be careful to guard against over-scoping, particularly when proposing the project internally. Don t make wild claims for the solution. Given the increasingly large volume of invoices, modest improvements in perinvoice processing costs still can result in significant overall savings. 3. Communicate. A solution will only be as successful as the people who use it. Make sure you start early in the process to let end-users, suppliers, AP staff and other stakeholders provide input and understand the whys, whens and impacts of the solution. Customize your communication to each group and let them know specifically how the system will make their job easier. 4. Don t Enshrine a Poor Process. Automating a weak process will only result in a bad process happening faster. The software solution should be customized to an organization s workflow and other business needs. Take time to document current workflow and make existing processes as efficient as possible before automating.

8 Conclusion When considering an AP automation solution, it is important to envision and create a strategy that fits immediate needs but also remains flexible to meet future goals. Keeping the end in mind, prioritize the steps you ll need to take and understand how each fits into your organization s evolving structure. Setting SMART goals and effectively communicating to all the important stakeholders during the process can lead to: Efficient, effective and accurate invoice processing Elimination of manual entry Increased productivity Improved ROI The right combination of a software solution and outsourcing can provide significant cost savings, more accurate data in the system and an accelerated payment cycle. Automation pioneers that implemented similar solutions report smoother workflow and a less stressful work environment where staff time is spent on activities that provide value to the company instead of on tedious, repetitive tasks. About BancTec BancTec helps clients around the world simplify the process of managing their information. Founded in 1972, the company provides financial transaction automation and document management services for organizations seeking to drive efficiency in their financial and back-office processes. Operating 21 BPO centers in the United States and worldwide, BancTec utilizes a common technology platform to deliver reliability, security, and consistently high levels of performance. For further details, visit

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