Accounts payable is one of the most mission-critical departments in any business. Responsible for ensuring that vendors receive payments on time while maintaining a healthy amount of cash on hand, AP teams face high expectations, heavy work volumes and little margin for error. While a small business may not have major challenges to handle in this space, on larger scales, problems that occur in this department can become dire.
AP automation is a direct way to address those concerns and improve business outcomes in multiple ways. It is not similar to other software that you can pick up off the shelf and immediately begin to use, however. A successful deployment of accounts payable automation technology requires additional steps, in-depth consideration and participation from multiple teams in your business. You can break down this process into six major steps.
In this blog, we'll cover the steps that an organization should take for accounts payable software implementation to enable robust automation. The six steps that we will cover:
- Acquire the Interest You Need to Begin a Project
- Choose a Platform for Your Automation Framework
- Start the Development Process
- Conduct Extensive Testing and Training
- Start Your Deployment
- Verify Successes and Make Improvements
1. Acquire the Interest You Need to Begin a Project
Changing your accounts payable software and overhauling invoice processing workflows are not tasks that you can complete on your own. In fact, you'll need to get multiple parties on board, whether that's the stakeholders who hold the purse strings or the individual AP workers whose jobs this process will impact directly. At this first step, what should you do to get the interest and buy-in that you need to proceed?
Explaining the Benefits of AP Automation
One of the easiest paths to achieving the buy-in that you need is preparing explanations of the benefits that automation brings to the table. Particularly if they are closely connected to fields that are impacted by automation, many professionals feel threatened by the idea that technology is going to replace them.
It's important to highlight that AP automation augments human capabilities rather than replacing them. Even with growing investments in the field of AI, no computer can yet exhibit the problem-solving and mental capabilities of a knowledge worker. With that in mind, you can highlight at least three key benefits to your teams:
- Reduced errors and more accurate reporting, leading to reduced instances of missed payments, double payments and other expensive problems.
- Faster and more accurate results for invoicing. Slash the time that it takes for one invoice to work its way through your business and ensure that it's ready for payment at the perfect moment.
- A more secure process with fewer opportunities for fraud. By moving some of the most basic elements of the process to a robotic accounts payable system, it's easier to perform key oversight tasks and identify potential discrepancies.
Beyond these benefits, you should demonstrate how your business will see tangible improvements and solve common problems post-integration.
Showcasing the Potential for Process Improvements
"What's wrong with the way that we do things right now?"
That's the number-one question that you should anticipate when you start developing your roadmap to accounts payable automation. There may be occasions when errors slip through, but if it isn't a consistent problem, why should your teams invest time, effort and cash into new technology?
At this stage, it's important to highlight what's not working, which could mean gathering data and speaking to individual employees about their process. Analyze this information to identify bottlenecks that represent clear losses of productivity. Connect these failures to the potential that automation holds, and you’ll be able to demonstrate how your teams can become even more effective than they are today.
Create a rough sketch of the automation process to demonstrate how it will work in the real world. Even a business with an AP team that is extraordinarily professional and on the ball can benefit from spending less time on menial and repetitive tasks.
2. Choose a Platform for Your Automation Framework
When choosing a platform for AP automation, don't choose the first option that you find. Engage in a discovery process that will let you weigh and balance multiple factors, including:
- Budget. The right solution will align with your company's financials. Don't forget to factor in the potential savings that you can realize through process improvements: consider how AP automation might pay for itself over time.
- Adaptability and scale. Can the solution that you choose scale appropriately? What if your business handles tens or even hundreds of thousands of invoices monthly? Your platform must be able to support results without becoming a bottleneck of its own.
- Suitability within your needs assessment. Compare a platform's features and capabilities with the needs that you identified during previous stages.
- Futureproofing. The future of automation lies not in piecemeal solutions but in integration—true intelligent automation and beyond. Is your platform ready for the future of process intelligence?
3. Start the Development Process
After choosing a platform, you and a team of automation experts can begin the process of adapting and integrating solutions into your business. Set clear milestones and goals and check on progress regularly. Compare your results to the plans that you made in earlier stages. Determine how to connect systems together in the most logical way and verify that those connections work. Ensure that you loop in your general IT team fully for insights into the impact that automation may have on other systems.
Simultaneously during this stage, you should engage with the next phase: training your staff to work in a more automated environment.
4. Conduct Extensive Testing and Training
You cannot immediately enter the production phase by transferring your processes to the automation platform. That is a recipe for chaos, poor user experiences and the potential negative financial impacts of migrating before your teams are ready. Instead, engage in an extensive testing phase during which automation developers check edge cases and hunt for bugs. Testing is critical for invoice processing, for example, which can be a stumbling block if invoice formats change frequently.
Now is the ideal time to begin re-training AP clerks on the new system. Don't wait for the platform to go live before you provide the opportunities and resources to address key staff questions. By the time your deployment launches, every team member should be automation ready. As process improvements translate into time saved, develop a sense of how to re-direct knowledge workers into even more valuable work efforts.
5. Start Your Deployment
Begin rolling out live automation services. Anticipate hiccups but be ready to hit the ground running. The difference should be clear immediately—however, you aren't done yet: there may be other portions of the process to automate as well.
For example, incorporating document intelligence into your workflow could make it easier to manage the high volume of data-capturing work performed by AP teams. Assess the performance of the deployment at the start and use the initial information to determine where additional work may be necessary. Sometimes, this data can help you recognize additional portions of the process that are strong candidates for automation.
6. Verify Successes and Make Improvements
At this stage, you should have a maturing automated AP setup in place. Follow up on all the work that your teams have performed to ensure that you are realizing anticipated improvements and gains. Automation software solutions generate a large volume of data about the work that they perform; analyze it to determine where the system works and where it may need additional improvement.
Ultimately, the process will become self-sustaining—but you can’t forget about it. The process of implementing AP automation is a continuous effort. Collaborate with your teams to ensure that workflows are as efficient as possible while looking for opportunities to expand and improve your system. By automating today, you can prepare to scale up tomorrow.
With appropriate planning and support from the teams that automation will impact the most, accounts payable automation tools can transform and modernize this business-critical process. Partnering with industry leaders in automation software such as Kofax opens doors for a long-term improvement in AP. Whether it's intelligently realizing early payment discounts and building better vendor relationships or eliminating costly double-payment errors, automation paves the way to the future of work.
Explore these opportunities to discover how re-working your AP processes can lead to holistic and intelligent automation for your entire business.