5 Myths About Accounts Payable Automation Debunked
Achieve Best-in-Class Performance by Challenging Old Assumptions
The Accounts Payable Challenge
The economic downturn, tight credit, and declining margins have come together
like a perfect storm, forcing companies to scrutinize their internal business
processes as they seek ways to cut costs and bolster their bottom lines.
Accounts Payable is no exception.
For companies that carefully rethought the situation, cutting the costs typically
associated with Accounts Payable emerged as a no-brainer — automate the
process, and significant cost savings would follow. Surprisingly though, adoption
has lagged, and frequently among enterprises most likely to benefit from
automating the time-consuming and labor-intensive invoice matching and
It's a common misstep that begs the question —
why would an established,
experienced, and otherwise innovative organization forego an obvious and
easily implementable business advantage?
The answer has to do with a series of myths and misconceptions relating to
automation that often govern behavior. The reality is that CFOs, Controllers,
Procurement Directors, and Managers can improve their internal processes with
relative ease while contributing to the organization's overall mission to
If your company has been reluctant to embrace a service that could in fact
deliver significant - even spectacular - cost savings, perhaps it is time to revisit
the five myths that hold businesses back when they should be marching forward.
In the next few pages you'll not only learn why those myths are untrue, but
you'll also become apprised of facts that will help you improve your Accounts
5 Myths That Need Debunking
Myth 1: Automation is not really more efficient
Consider the inefficiencies that stem from you remaining
tethered to a non-automated, paper-based process:
- At the low end of the Accounts Payable spectrum,
a 2010 Aberdeen Group study found that it can take
anywhere from 3.5 to 2.3 days to process a single
invoice. (The industry average for 50% of companies
is 14.2 days to process a single invoice.)1
- The cost of processing can range from $5 to $25 for
a single invoice
- This includes the costs associated with manual
processing, shuffling invoices between individuals and
departments, exceptions processing, accrual delays,
failed audits, duplicate invoices, and late payments
By contrast, the efficiencies you gain by automating the
Accounts Payable process produce results that are
dramatic by any measure. These include a:
- 90-95% reduction in paperwork
- 25% improvement in labor productivity
Even with the benefit of an exceptionally dedicated data
entry and email-processing staff, you can only, on average,
manually process 1,000 invoices a month per full-time
employee or equivalent (FTE). By contrast, automated
and rules-based matching increases that number to
6,000-8,000 invoices a month per FTE.
Conclusion: Automation not only brings significant
efficiencies to your Accounts Payable process, it allows you
the headroom to support business growth while maintaining
existing staffing levels. In other words, you can do more
Myth 2: We'd lose control over our process
Automation actually gives you greater control over and
increased visibility into the process. Business rules automate
the routing, matching, and circulation of invoices and are
configured to your organization's specific needs. Not having
to look at each transaction individually means that you will
have the time to focus instead on the much smaller but
crucial set of exceptions that require attention. For example,
certain solutions offer rule-based, auto-approved features to
accelerate the processing of straightforward invoices. This
type of automation saves full-time employees time by
requiring them to review and handle only those invoices that
do not pass the pre-established system rules.
Automating the process also captures the document and
metadata at the point of receipt of the invoice — so you
have full visibility into the process. No more invoices
hiding on individual users' desks without Accounts Payable
knowing they exist. Accounts Payable and Finance now
have a real-time view of their outstanding liabilities at any
point in time.
Conclusion: Automation results in greater, not less, control
over your internal Accounts Payable process.
Myth 3: Automation is too expensive
Solutions that offer end-to-end Accounts Payable
automation using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and the
"cloud" require no upfront software or infrastructure
purchases or recurring license maintenance. Choosing an
Accounts Payable solution that is offered as a service
allows all the users that are part of the business process to
participate without having to pay expensive user-based
license fees. And with a true multi-tenant SaaS solution,
you should expect functionality upgrades periodically
based on best practices and input from your peers sharing
the same core application platforms. All of this implies that
you will reach your ROI significantly faster than otherwise.
Conclusion: Automating the Accounts Payable process is
more available to a wider range of budgets.
Myth 4: We're too small for automation
Cloud-based solutions coupled with a multi-tenant
approach equates to a very low marginal cost to serve.
With economies of scale and best practices, everyone
benefits from automation. And, as explained earlier,
automation enables your Accounts Payable staff to focus
on more strategic activities, such as, sourcing initiatives,
spend management, and supplier management.
Conclusion: You are never too small to save money.
Myth 5: We're too big for automation
Cloud-based Accounts Payable solutions that are delivered
as a service scale easily and can handle large volumes of
transactions. E-invoicing supplier networks enable direct
data integration to "skip paper" altogether. Supplier
portals allow vendors with smaller invoice volumes a
convenient avenue to create and submit electronic
invoices. These channels aggregate inbound invoices,
enable 2- and 3-way matching with business rules against
purchase orders (POs) and receipts, and facilitate "straight
through processing" with no human intervention.
Conclusion: The larger your enterprise, the more sense it
makes to seek out automation and gain a better handle on
your large transaction volumes.
5 major problems you will solve with automation
Now that those five myths are behind you, you can take steps
to implement (and reap the rewards of) automation.
If you need any further incentive to do so, just remember this —
today's global market is estimated to have 150 billion annual invoices.3
In other words, Accounts Payable departments are drowning in
paper, and all that paper equates to some major headaches.
They don't have to be your headaches, though.
The five most painful can be successfully removed by automating
the Accounts Payable process.
Problem 1: Lack of visibility and control
over the process
Paper invoices sit on individual employees' desks until
they are routed to Accounts Payable – there is no visibility
into the liabilities until it is data entered into an Enterprise
Resource Planning (ERP) system. Field management
requests result in rushed payments because Accounts
Payable can't provide adequate controls. Lost, missing, or
duplicate invoices are all major risks within a paper-based
process. Automation with front-end scan and capture, on
the other hand, provides immediate, real-time visibility into
the entire process.
Automation provides audit proofing and better controls.
All actions on documents are automatically logged and
tracked, and provide ready reporting on transactions to
satisfy compliance obligations.
Problem 2: Delays in processing — long
cycle times and period close delays
Manual process implies data entry and resultant delays.
Longer cycle times imply potential late fees. Paper-based
processes with poor visibility lead to longer and inaccurate
accruals, which in turn can lead to delays in period end
closing of the books. Reconciliations prior to close can
become a nightmare. Automation provides real-time,
accurate visibility into all transactions with up-front invoice
ingestion and digitization.
Problem 3: Low productivity; no resources
to address other key priorities
Filing, retrieving, and keying data into ERP systems is not
the best way to leverage your accounting and finance
talent. Manual processes are inefficient and time consuming.
Inter-departmental file requests, additional
copies, and obscure reporting can further complicate
matters. Vendor management and support to respond to,
"Where's my payment?" inquiries can be a time sink. How
then do you handle key priorities such as vendor risk
management, fraud prevention and proactive monitoring,
spend management, and sourcing initiatives support?
The answer: By automating your Accounts Payable
process. With automation you can eliminate the "non-value
added" tasks that your staff may have been mired in.
Through exception-based management of the Accounts
Payable process, you can free up your staff to focus on
your higher value strategic priorities. Capturing invoice
information in electronic format at the front of the process
enables reporting and data visibility to answer key
strategic questions around spend management.
Problem 4: Quality and errors
Manual processes have a tendency to produce "exceptions
are the norm" scenarios. When users are forced to touch
and process every transaction, it is difficult to filter out
and prioritize which need the most attention. Without clear
prioritization and focus, user errors creep in —
errors, matching errors, misfiled documents, and the like.
Automation flips this on its head, with a focus on the
exception and not the normal scenario. Robust business
rules allow the system to streamline the process. Best
practices-based workflows enable tighter process controls
and minimize errors. With the bulk of the straightforward
transactions handled automatically, a user can focus time
and effort on managing the true exceptions — which improves process performance and quality metrics.
Problem 5: No support for sourcing/procurement initiatives
Spending not captured by a standard PO process
is a challenge to manage due to the large number of
suppliers and items involved. Manual, paper-based
processes provide no support for sourcing initiatives.
While procurement can structure central contracts with
projected savings, these are not realized until Accounts
Payable can enforce the spend control. Accounts Payable
is the final gatekeeper to ensuring that what is
contracted is what is bought. Paper-based processes
provide poor visibility into overall spend on non-PO/
indirect items. Automation provides clear visibility into
these areas. "What gets measured, gets managed,"
and sourcing-led indirect spend control and savings can
be attributed directly to Accounts Payable automation.
Before And After
In weighing whether or not to move forward with a decision, particularly one with large implications, it
sometimes helps to size up the situation in terms of before and after.
Consider, for example, your
challenges before automation:
- Endless manual touches — date stamping,
copying, logging, data entry, check
- A sometimes painfully slow approval process
- An inefficient 3-way matching process
- Difficulties handling invoice exceptions
- Lost discount opportunities
- No payment status visibility
Then consider your benefits
- Labor savings across the enterprise
- A big jump in straight-through processing
- Reduced cycle time
- Process gap elimination
- Discounts you could take full advantage of
- Improved transparency and visibility
Once you've dismissed the myths and misconceptions
that have been holding you back from automating
your Accounts Payable process, you can implement
a comprehensive solution that will address your
main pain points.
When its architecture is cloud-based and delivered as
an SaaS model, the solution will move you closer to
your goal of becoming paperless. And with a paperless
conduit between Procurement, Accounts Payable,
Accounts Receivable, and Suppliers, you'll be able to
manage nearly 100% of your invoices electronically.
Automating and streamlining your invoice processing
will also provide you with a secure and serviceable
archive for invoice data. The fact that you will be
paying for it on a per-transaction basis makes it a
cost-effective solution. It also makes it one that can
be implemented quickly.
Finally, you will realize process improvements in days,
rather than months, resulting in a rapid return on
investment. You'll have an end-to-end Accounts Payable
solution that increases compliance, cuts costs, and
reduces cycle times.
3 Bruno Koch, E-Invoicing / E-Billing in Europe and Abroad (Billentis Market Report 2011): 7.