Why Automate Accounts Payable Processes?

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2 Why Automate Accounts Payable Processes? In many organizations Accounts Payable is one of the most paper and labor intensive processes, offering the most potential for cost savings within an organization. A/P processes are often labor intensive, error-prone, and fraught with security issues. Accounts Payable automation offers significant financial benefits while providing increased security, improved visibility, and more efficient operations. This whitepaper explains many of the compelling reasons for automating your accounts payable processes, the components of an end-to-end A/P automation solution, and common challenges organizations face. Innovation and Automation Since the birth of the industrial revolution in the mid-1700's, automation efforts have proven to be one of the key catalysts of successful business growth and innovation. Of course, one of the most celebrated models of automation and business success was Henry Ford s car company. His implementation of the assembly line is seen as the automation success model of his century 1. Of course, the advent and proliferation of advanced IT systems have automated nearly every aspect of a business. Surprisingly, despite the tangible and rapid ROI of automated accounts payable (A/P) processes, a majority of companies have not taken advantage of the available technologies. Barriers to A/P Processes Adoption While there are many use cases demonstrating the substantial costs savings of automating A/P processes, not all organizations are quick to implement a solution. In fact reports show 52% of organizations surveyed have yet to adopt any kind of automated A/P system. 6 In a 2007 Institute of Financial Management IOFM's 2 A/P Department Benchmarks & Analysis, only one-third of companies surveyed have implemented automated document capture and only 25% use some form of e-invoicing. This indicates that many companies are still tied up in manual paper processing. The same study notes that those companies that have implemented automation systems are twice as productive. Part of the reason a surprisingly large number of companies still manually process their A/P transactions is they are often not aware of the factors that are sucking time from staff and costing the company money. One of the more costly elements of getting an invoice paid is the gathering all of the necessary approvals and associated paperwork, as well as the time it takes for all of this to occur. Page 1

3 The required workflow for approval processes typically runs across multiple departments and requires the attention of busy decision-makers. By automating the A/P workflow, most of the waiting periods are shortened as the system simplifies, automates and secures approvals and decisions. But saving money by saving time is just the start of the benefits of A/P automation. Other significant benefits include improved efficiency, improved protection from fraud, reduced errors, reduced need for storage space, strengthened internal controls, and better analysis, planning and forecasting capabilities. Typical Manual Payment Process To set the context for the benefits that A/P automation processes can bring to companies, consider this example of a typical manual payment process: The McDuck Widget Company gets an average of 100 invoices each day from its various vendors that supply its production plants. The mailroom receives these invoices, stamps the received date on each, then stacks them together for delivery to the Accounts Payables department. An A/P clerk then starts the work of matching each invoice to a purchase order or some other pre-approval form to document which department manager made the purchase request. Once that s done, the appropriate transactions are entered in the ERP/Accounting software. If no matching approval form is found, the invoice is copied, filed, and then a copy is sent to the department manager for justification of the expense via the completion and return of the required purchase approval forms. The A/P department then reattempts to process the invoice. Page 2

4 After the invoice has been recorded, it is then sent to a senior accounting manager or executive for check-run approval. Typically, each invoice is reviewed and checked against the budgets and then approved or disapproved for the check run. Once each day the check run is executed and checks are printed, bundled and sent to the mail room to be folded, stuffed into envelopes, sealed, stamped, and sorted for delivery to the post office. As you look into this scenario, you can see that although the process of manually managing the payment of vendor invoices is well organized and can be completed within a few days, real life situations occur and things don't always work as planned. Mailroom clerks typically have multiple responsibilities and when the workload gets to be too much, invoice routing can get delayed or otherwise fouled up. A/P clerks are often spread thin adding to delays and errors. Department managers are always covering multiple bases making it difficult for them to sit down and work through their stack of invoices. Senior executives have many heavy responsibilities and because of demanding travel schedules can find it a challenge to consistently review and sign the stack of waiting Page 3

5 documents. In short, the above scenario is not unusual and given the imperative of many companies to do more with less, manual processes put an increasing burden on all participants. In the case of A/P processes, there are inevitable delays and errors, and worst of all, and the compromised accuracy and speed of the process means critical decisions get made on compromised information. And yet this is still not the whole problem. The cost that could result from the opportunities for security, privacy and financial fraud in manual A/P processes, stand to well eclipse the costs resulting from A/P delays and errors. With this introduction, let's now look at the four basic components of A/P automation solutions in the context of how these are used to streamline A/P processes Four Core Components of A/P Automation Page 4

6 1. Document scanning and data extraction When the mailroom receives invoices from suppliers, they are scanned into the document management system and the image is automatically date stamped. The scanned invoice is passed through an automated optical character recognition (OCR) process that extracts the invoice number, vendor name and address, and associated PO number. The paper invoice is stacked by batch date and stored for 30 days before being shredded. In an ideal world, a vendor has electronic document processing systems of its own so it simply sends electronic versions of invoices to customers, which can automatically be received and processed by the customer s A/P automation system. 2. Archive/Retrieval in Content Management Systems In fact, some document scanning systems can index any information that s on the invoice for electronic archive and retrieval capabilities. Because the invoice is scanned, images are indexed and archived by date, invoice number, PO number, vendor name, or just about any other information on the invoice for quick future retrieval by any department needing access. 3. Matching and Workflow Within seconds of being scanned and OCR-captured, the electronic data from invoices is automatically brought into the accounting systems and matched against outstanding purchase orders. If there is no PO match, the transaction is put in a separate queue for review by an A/P clerk, or if required, a department manager who receives instant notification by that an invoice is waiting to be reviewed for approval/denial. For the bulk of the invoices with a positive match, A/P clerks are notified via that the batch is ready for processing and the successfully matched invoice information is automatically forwarded to senior management to review prior to the initiation of the check-run. Because of these automated electronic systems, even if a manager is out of the office, the information can be easily and quickly accessed online so that delays are minimized. A scheduled daily check run triggers bank-to-bank electronic payments where possible, and for the rest, a file is automatically created which goes to the A/P group (or even a designated third party via secure FTP) where the checks are printed and mailed. An electronic image of the check is automatically associated with the invoice and archived in the content management system. Because of these automation steps, invoices are often turned into checks or electronic payments the same day and very little human intervention is required during the process. 4. Reporting and Analysis Reports are generated and automatically routed to managers showing the status of all incoming invoices, unmatched PO's, outstanding approvals, and other information as Page 5

7 needed. Analysis reports on financial performance by department, turnaround times, discounts missed, etc. are also automatically generated and routed to management. Steps to Ensure A/P Automation Success In order to maximize success with an A/P automation project, you must understand the challenges you may face and be well prepared as you engage the process. Avoid unclear or unrealistic goals The first step in planning an automation project is to set your project goals. How will you measure success? When do you anticipate receiving your return on investment? Unclear or unrealistic goals can stall the implementation or lead to an unfavorable and unexpected outcome. Fully understand your current A/P processes Understanding the entire Accounts Payable process is crucial for a successful implementation. In this phase, it s important to cross your t s and dot your i s so that you re not surprised by an unknown hurdle half way through the project. - How does the A/P process work today from beginning to end? - What pieces of the A/P process can be improved? - What technologies are involved, including all associated applications and hardware? - What users would be affected by A/P automation? Involve all stakeholders This goes back to understanding the entire Accounts Payable process. Everyone who has their hand in the process should be involved in the project or at least be kept informed of the timeline, expectations, training needs and deliverables. As with any other technology initiative, clearly communicating all processes and getting the buy-in of all stakeholders will reduce resistance. Carefully evaluate vendors Choosing the right vendor for your automation process is as important as any other step in the process. Cutting costs, limiting functionality or limiting the scope of the project could cost you more in the long run. For IBM i customers, finding the wrong vendor (for example, a solution provider outside of the IBM i space) could mean headaches involving support of your current platform and solutions. Find a reputable company who understands your technology and your accounts payable process. inform Decisions years of experience providing automation solutions to the IBM i market gives them a unique perspective into customer s accounts payable processes. Learn more >> Getting the right help when needed In some cases it may be necessary to involve outside professional resources to help evaluate processes and solutions, and oversee the implementation of new technologies. Not having the right resources, experience and perspectives involved in an A/P automation initiative could stall the project and cause an Page 6

8 issue at any point in the implementation. If you feel that you may need extra resources, account for this when budgeting for the project. Rapid ROI and More It s not difficult to see that these components of A/P automation significantly impact the efficiency, security, accuracy and speed of payment processing in an organization. Directly and indirectly an organization can clearly save a lot of money which quickly pays for the necessary A/P automation technology. The Aberdeen Group recently released a study 3 that calculated the average cost of invoice processing in A/P departments at $16.33 per invoice for companies that don t automate payment processing systems. On the other hand, those which have A/P automation processes in place can bring the cost down to around $4.80 each. Based on this, if a company processes 100 invoices a month, they will realize $13,836 in saving each year that an A/P automation system is in place. In addition, A/P errors are costly in dollars, productivity, and reputation. Paper-based processing is known to have higher error rates, which in-turn affects quality of service. The wasted time caused by errors ripples down through other processes multiplying the cost factor. By re-visiting and improving the current manual workflow process in conjunction with A/P automation technologies, this will drive costs down and improve quality of service. Some of the other obvious benefits of A/P automation: Increased Visibility by all Stakeholders Visibility entails the ability to see and understand all current and outstanding invoice transactions online and realtime. Paper trail processes limit visibility as invoices and PO requests sit on various management desks waiting for approval or for forwarding to appropriate channels. This can be addressed by A/P automation systems giving decision makers instant, secure access to invoice images and status notifications wherever they may be traveling. Strengthen Internal Controls; Eliminate Fraud Increased visibility means decreased fraud. A Price Waterhouse Coopers crime survey5 found that 45% of companies worldwide deal with the issues of fraud, and many fraud issues are A/P related 4. By applying A/P automation technologies, internal controls are simplified and centralized, and additional layers of security access controls are put in place. All of this decreases the exposure to fraudulent activities. Page 7

9 Speed up closing of accounting periods and give managers better decision making information Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) regulations mandate that companies now close their books more quickly and accurately. In addition, speeding up period closing allows management to make more timely tactical decisions. A/P automation systems provide the standardization and infrastructure for more rapid closings. Of course, the more quickly accounting periods close, the more accurate the financial information that executives have. This results in faster and better decision making, which on its own has huge benefits in terms of saving money and being more nimble to seize opportunities. Reduce storage space One small health insurance provider implemented technology to scan invoices (claims), turn the scanned invoices into readable data (OCR) and interface with their claims accounting system. This saved them $50,000 a year simply in the costs of storage space for all their paper claims 5. Centralize and standardize Large companies can centralize all branches on one system to implement best practices, streamline financial services and have necessary oversight controls. Such systems force companies to implement standardized vendor records and approval processes throughout the company, which can have a large benefit on its own. Making Henry Ford Proud The challenges of competing in today s business climate market requires the ongoing application of automation technologies in all aspects of an organization. Because of advanced IT systems and the falling costs of buying and implementing technologies, A/P automation for many organizations is among the low hanging fruit when it comes to realizing quick, attractive ROI. Certainly this would make Henry Ford proud, but the benefits to an organization reach well beyond just simply being able to quickly recover the cost of the technology. To learn more about how you can automate your accounts payable processes, contact inform Decisions at or us. Visit us online at Sources: 1. Henry Ford; Page 8

10 3. Aberdeen Group; E-Payables 2010: The Strategic Value of Accounts Payable Automation 4. PriceWaterhouseCoopers; Global Economic Crime Survey Kofax; The Top 10 Reasons to Automate Your AP Processes Whitepaper. 6. AIIM, 10 Excuses For Not Considering Document Management This Year. About inform Decisions inform Decisions provides end-to-end payment automation solutions designed to automate the entire Accounts Payable process. The solutions feature secure check printing, web based archive-retrieval and automated electronic payment (ACH, epayment and Positive Pay). In addition, inform s Document Automation Solutions range from simple laser form design and output to document delivery. Committed to the protection of our environment and conservation of our increasingly scarce resources with their paperless solutions, inform Decisions has planted thousands of trees in their customers names through their partnership with Arbor Day Society s plant a tree program. About the Author Dan Forster is president of inform Decisions, a company he founded in 1994 after working 20 years with producers of other leading electronic document management solutions. Dan was part of a team that introduced IBM midrange users to the first implementations of AS/400 laser form, check, and printer connectivity solutions in the mid-1980s. His company, inform Decisions, was one of the first to implement a comprehensive iseries host-based e-document distribution system powered by intelligent routing capabilities for fax, , archive-retrieve, and laser forms. The company's current solutions include software and hardware to support a wide variety of applications in document and banking automation. Dan can be reached at or x102. Page 9

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