Data is at the core of any business and is usually required to initiate a process. Data is generated whenever a company interacts with its internal and external stakeholders. For instance, interaction with a vendor for securing supplies results in the creation of a Purchase Order (PO) in the procurement department of a company, among other documents, and subsequently closes with a final invoice from the vendor, post the delivery of goods to the company.
The transactions that a company conducts with its various stakeholders generates a lot of data and documents — these are called source documents. Apart from invoices and purchase orders, typical examples of source documents include bills of lading, credit memos, sales orders, receipts, bank statements, packing slips, checks, and even such things as an employee timesheet, which becomes useful for dispensing payroll.
As is evident, source documents are a critical aspect of sound business management and become very important to conduct business as per regulations.
“...to manage business operations efficiently, source documents must be managed proactively. This requires a great deal of visibility along the paper trail that is generated during any business transaction. Visibility can best be brought about by automation or intelligent automation, to be specific...”
But capturing these documents at the source is difficult — among the hundreds and thousands of business transactions conducted every week, month, or year, getting source documents from the point where they originate to a central management system or internal department is time-consuming and laborious.
The important thing to note here is that source documents contain critical business data that must be accessed and consumed at the right time in order for businesses to succeed in their goals.
Take the case of customer service, for example. If notification of a new sales order that is generated does not reach the warehouse staff or the supply chain management on time, there could be a gross delay in fulfillment, meaning a delay in the timely delivery of goods and services to the customer. This bodes negatively for the company with the possibility that the customer could take his/her business to a competitor. A delay in customer service due to the unavailability of timely source data can impact an entire company negatively.
Lack of a proper mechanism to capture, process, and dispense source data can dramatically lower a company’s chances to succeed and operate in a fiercely competitive marketplace.
In another scenario, say, in the accounting department, mismanagement of source documents could lead to financial fraud and liquidity issues. Say, a purchase has been made on credit, and the accounts payable department is yet to process the corresponding invoice from the vendor. Not cataloguing the invoice in the company’s accounting system on time could delay its processing and also delay the payments to be made to the vendor. Not to mention, if the invoice is misplaced or entered wrongly in the accounting system, it could result in the company overpaying the vendor. Delayed payments could also mean fines and late payment fees, which can prove costly. Overtime, mismanagement of critical payments data can not just lower a company’s reputation with vendors but also lead to gross mismanagement of funds and cash issues.
All these inefficiencies are typical of manual paperwork. In order to manage business operations efficiently, source documents must be managed proactively. This requires a great deal of visibility along the paper trail that is generated during any business transaction.
Visibility can best be brought about by automation or intelligent automation, to be specific. Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) takes over all the manual tasks needed to process source documents, but without the associated inefficiencies and costs of manual paperwork. A single digital transformation platform is needed to open up visibility of the document flows from the source to its final destination in an accounting system or related business application. Intelligent process automation provides that visibility, along with the speed and agility needed to accelerate the capture and processing of source documents for timely business implementation and decision-making.
Source documents are generated in almost every department in a typical company, and these documents can come from multiple channels including fax, scan, email, file shares, MFPs, etc. Manual handling of source documents means constantly accessing data from different departments on a regular basis. This is not only time-consuming and laborious but highly complex as a majority of the source documents come in unstructured and semi-structured form.
There is also the case of purchases and sales made by a company going unaccounted for. This happens when a company fails to capture a source document after a transaction or deliberately chooses to dismiss a transaction and the accompanying document, which leads to fraud. Manual handling of source documents opens the doors to a lot of inefficient processes and also becomes a breeding ground for inconsistent reporting and potential corporate fraud.
The best way to lower the burden of inefficient processes and poor business outcomes is to lower instances of mismanagement of source data. Intelligent process automation takes over manual paperwork and performs all the tasks needed to acquire, process, and export source data to a suitable business application. The platform employs digital transformation technologies like AI, machine learning, robotic process automation, intelligent data capture, and recognition software like OCR and OMR to automate manual paperwork.
IPA bots apply built-in logic as well as self-learning to learn, understand, and capture source documents right at the source — leaving little scope for ‘missing’ or ‘unaccounted for’ paperwork. Advanced capture automation makes it possible to upload documents from any number of incoming channels like emails, scan, etc. into the IPA workflows. Once the documents have been captured, powerful data extraction features made possible with machine learning and OCR/ICR technology help extract relevant details from source documents including the metadata. This metadata is used for automatic indexing as well as GL coding.
Extracted data is assigned a workflow to perform automatic data validation, which is necessary to foolproof the documents for authenticity and validity. Data validation may involve any number of workflow automation steps including database lookups, mathematical checks, 2-way and 3-way matching in the case of AP vendor invoice documents, and also validation against defined business rules.
Workflow automation helps remove the inconsistencies and inefficiencies brought about by manual validation, and accelerates data and document processing. Validated source documents are automatically routed to a verification manager for approval, either because it is a part of the workflow automation steps or because there is an exception that needs to be resolved. Post dispute resolution, if any, and approval by a verification manager, the source documents and data are automatically exported in the preferred file format to a business application like QuickBooks accounting software or Acumatica Cloud ERP for further business use.
The best part is, intelligent process automation removes manual data entry, and progressively reduces the need for manual intervention when processing new source documents.
Digitizing source documents and setting up document workflow automation for streamlining the processing of source documents helps eliminate the many challenges that come with manual document processing.
Steady Audit Trail: regulatory compliance is at the heart of corporate excellence and standing in the marketplace, and good document management practices help achieve that. With intelligent process automation, the possibility to create a steady audit trail of source documents and data that can be managed and accessed centrally becomes real.
Data Governance: maintaining a central platform for accessing and managing source documents through intelligent automation yields a lot of benefits including the fact that businesses can instill document management best practices and stringent data governance standards.
Accelerated & Accurate Data Availability: timely data availability to business applications is vital to ensure uninterrupted operations. Intelligent process automation accelerates source document processing and data entry to a connected business application like Sage ERP. Elimination of manual data entry and document processing means businesses are assured of accurate data entering a connected business application.
Removal of Data & Functional Silos: Integrating an intelligent process automation platform that processes unstructured and semi-structured source documents with a business application like NetSuite Cloud ERP provides an end-to-end chain for data and document flows. This eliminates instances of ‘unaccounted for’ or ‘missing data’, creating a steady document flow between departments, divisions, and across an entire organization. Consistent data flows across an organization also removes a lot of the functional silos.