What all is needed for AP Automation?

When it Comes to Automating and Improving Accounts Payable Processes

When it comes to automating and improving accounts payable processes, the first two hurdles faced by most companies is clearly defining existing processes, and establishing measurable goals and expectations for the results to be achieved.

It’s easy enough to agree that a process should be faster, easier and cheaper. But how do you measure “faster?” And how cheap enough is “cheaper”? And who decides what is easier?

More to the point: can you achieve faster, cheaper and easier by simply automating the steps in an existing process, or do you need to start from scratch when mapping out your process flows?

In this multi-part Blog Series, we’ve looked at how companies can identify process pain points and communicate them to executives in terms that reflect corporate goals to secure buy-in. Those first steps establish a foundation for translating process pains and potential automation benefits into a clearly-defined plan. In this blog, we’ll explore gathering requirements and mapping out processes to take you’re AP automation initiative to the next level.

Start with What You Know

Often trying to envision and map out a process from scratch can be intimidating for process owners. At the same time, one of the biggest hurdles to initiating ANY business process automation project is understanding the existing process in clear enough detail that anyone outside of the process can grasp it.

  • Get input from ALL stakeholder: When mapping out existing processes, make sure to get input from ALL stakeholders in the process. Don’t assume that one person knows all of the nuances, even if it’s a minor step.
  • Identify any and all exceptions: When it comes to process automation, the devil is in the details and all those things that fall outside the lines.
  • Picture it: Whether you rely on sophisticated process mapping tools, basic flowchart tools like Visio or Post-it notes, document your process in a way that are easy to visualize and easy to modify.

With a fundamental understanding of the process as it works today, the next step should be quantifying that process in a way that allows you to establish goals for improvement that can be measured and optimized.

Let’s take accounts payable as an example. When looking at your existing AP process and benchmark automation improvements, here are some metrics to consider:

  • Amount of time taken to receive and approve invoices
  • Amount of time required from AP and IT to manage the system and processes
  • Percentage of invoices ready to be paid on time
  • Number of suppliers on-boarded
  • Number of invoices received electronically
  • Amount of time required to resolve invoice disputes
  • Amount of time required for exception handling
Look for Bottlenecks, Redundancies and New Opportunities for Improvement

Going BEYOND what your team knows and understand about processes as they exist to re-defining processes may require several iterations. It’s possible that step one may be reproducing your process as it exists, with some automation, then continuing to refine that process, removing and re-engineering different steps.

It’s ALSO possible that by clearly mapping out the existing process, looking at it visually and in terms of performance, you can identify bottlenecks and redundancies that can be eliminated.

A great example of this when it comes to accounts payable, is purchase order invoice matching. Surprisingly, many firms choose to manually route matched PO invoices for approval, even after there has been an approval process for the quote and the order. Routing the matched invoice for approval is often just a safety net to try to mitigate flaws in a manual process.

With automatic data validation and automatic 2- or 3-way matching in place, many companies create a straight-through process for these invoices, so they flow through to the creation of an ERP transaction once all the documents have been mapped.

Continue Your Journey

With clear goals in mind and a clear understanding of the process, your team can continue on a journey from the way things used to be to the way they should be, with confidence.

In our next Blog, we’ll discuss how to go from defining processes to documenting requirements and choosing vendors to support your initiative.


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