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Accounts Payable and Intelligent Process Automation

December 05, 2018

Intelligent process automation (IPA) combines the benefit of reduced operational costs with more timely access to business data and process control, empowering organizations to more effectively plan and execute strategically. The potential is huge, particularly when it comes to high-volume, data- or document-intensive processes, but IPA isn’t a magic bullet and there are potential pitfalls that can be avoided.

One key to success is to walk before you run. That means looking for quick wins that can be delivered by streamlining processes with obvious and well-understood deficiencies. For many organizations, accounts payable invoice process represents the poster child for the kind of process that has stubborn deficiencies tied to how vendors submit information (in the form of digital or paper invoices). At the same time, accounts payable presents a well-defined transactional process that is common across industries, meaning that there are well-established use cases and metrics to benchmark the success and ROI of an initiative.

The keys to success when it comes to AP automation lie in how well they leverage existing resources and eliminate process bottlenecks in a way that is flexible enough to adapt as systems and processes change over time.

9 Tips to Deliver Quick Wins
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Nine Keys to Success

With that in mind, here are nine keys to implementation success for that apply to processes vendor invoice handling, customer sales orders and any other back office process where routine tasks like data validation, transaction entry, coding and approval can be effectively streamlined through automation.

  1. Understand the process—top to bottom, inside and out. Leveraging intelligent process automation often means that it isn’t necessary to define every single rule and exception to get started. That said, ensuring that every stakeholder has agreed to a vision for the success of the project depends on everyone being on the same page in terms of the process itself. Measuring success means establishing metrics for things like staffing and effort related to routine tasks, transaction volume, payment cycle times and error/exception rates. Establishing and agreeing on targets for improvements to these KPIs up front sets the stage for success downstream for your initial project and for future IPA projects downstream.
  2. Assess the capabilities and limitations of existing platforms and applications for managing data, documents and decisions. How well equipped is your existing ERP or accounting system to support your processes? Do you rely on a document management/enterprise content management system? How well-integrated are those systems? In some cases, companies have some fundamental tools and technologies they can rely on, often with overlapping functionality like workflow routing. AP automation solutions can cover a broad range of capabilities, often priced according to the functionality you require. Defining what you need (and what you don’t) up front in terms of functionality and inter-operability will prevent you from over-scoping and over-spending.
  3. Look at all the channels for invoice receipt. How does your firm receive invoices today and what’s required to keep track of them all? Having multiple channels and formats in which invoices can be received presents its own challenges, even IF everything is digitized. Automated AP solutions can monitor invoice email inboxes, fax inboxes, FTP sites and Web portals and help to streamline batch scanning and processing of physical invoices. They key is making sure that all channels are accounted for and factored into the solution.
  4. Identify the information you need to capture from documents and the trusted sources for data validation. AP automation solutions that rely in intelligent data capture can extract the information you need from documents and then validate the data either based on business rules and algorithms, or by cross-referencing ERP/ECM/other data systems. They can also automatically match quotes/POs/invoices/receipts and check for duplicates.
  5. Partner with your solution vendor to create a clear implementation plan. Does your plan account for interruptions to day to day operations? Can your AP team still handle their responsibilities, even during the transition? There may be some trade-offs early on that pay off in the long run. Ask the question and get the team’s buy-in.
  6. Measure what you manage. Monitor performance before, during and ever after against your KPIs to track progress and measure ROI. As performance improves, continue to look for new opportunities to optimize and improve. The success you demonstrate with one project can set the stage for other processes and other departments.
  7. Start small, think big. When done properly, what starts as a small pilot project or an initiative to streamline one simple process can ignite a revolution within your organization.

For more information about Intelligent Process Automation, data capture and business transformation, visit Artsyl Technologies online.

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