While the typical vision of going paperless involves eliminating filing cabinets and manila folders, the REAL focus of eliminating paper isn’t a function of eliminating the challenges of handling a physical document. It is the processes involved in transforming the information within that paper document to eliminate manual tasks and more effectively manage and control the process(es) that depend on that information.
Often, the challenge for AP departments is that they don’t always have complete control over the documents or media that vendors use to submit invoices for payment. While there are plenty of ways to incentivize vendors to submit invoices for payment electronically, the reality is that completely eliminating paper coming through the door remains a challenge.
The REAL solution to the problems associated with paper is to implement systems that can automate processes for information in ANY form, whether it is embedded in a Word document, PDF, RTF, spreadsheet, EDI file or physical document. The end result may be that paper invoices and other documents are handily digitized and removed from the equation. But the MORE IMPORTANT component is what happens next-how the manual/paper-based process changes and evolves to support better control and compliance.
The Hidden Cost of Manual Processes
The risks and hidden costs of trying to handle transactional processes like accounts payable, which are often heavily document-dependent are well documented.
According to a recent IDC survey, 75.9% of businesses surveyed have suffered serious business risk and compliance issues as a direct result of cumbersome, manual AP processes.
The consequences of manual (often paper-driven) processes, according to IDC survey respondents included:
Digitizing paper goes a long way towards creating efficiencies. But as IDC has expressed it, 82% of businesses say taking the friction out of back-office and front-office business processes is the key component for improving the experiences of their customers and partners. A majority (72%) said that improving their business processes would increase customer satisfaction and brand value.
Transforming Paper to Data, Automatically
The focus on going paperless often meant exploring enterprise content management systems to organize and manage digitized versions of paper documents, along with related data. Often, this process involved manually classifying documents, keying in related metadata and manually filing/organizing everything. In that sense, paper documents were converted to digital documents and stored in a system tailored to manage unstructured data.
Today, however, that step in the process can be leap-frogged, so that paper documents are transformed directly into digital information, with no coding, minimal configuration and no manual indexing, filing or data entry.
Over the years, intelligent capture solutions that can essentially “read” and extract information from scanned paper documents or digital files have become smarter and more flexible. As a result, paper is less of a problem than ever before. The time and money that was once spent scanning documents then manually indexing and filing them, followed by manually routing digitized documents for coding and approvals are a thing of a past for modern, automated AP departments and the organizations that support them.
From Paper to Data to Process
With the “paper problem” solved by intelligent capture solutions, these same systems have evolved into what is now termed Smart Process Platforms. Smart Process Platforms, as the name implies, focus less on paper and capturing data and instead take the next step-automating the process that can be informed by the data.
Now, we have come to the heart of the matter that was otherwise “papered over” by a 20th century problem. Twenty-first century problems are all defined by how we can eliminate the elements of human error and inefficiency from routine, repeatable processes, while continuing to involve human intelligence and insight to manage exceptions, solve problems and add greater value.
Speaking of value, automating repeatable, transaction-driven processes like AP have a well documented return on investment-often within a single year.
According to a 2015 AIIM study, 60% of surveyed businesses5 have seen positive ROI on paper-free projects within 12 months. 77% of businesses experienced a return on investment within 18 months.
For companies looking to achieve greater control and visibility over their processes, the goal is no longer to be “paperless,” but frictionless, with fewer bottlenecks and fewer manual steps, less customization and less coding.
Smart Process Platforms reflect the evolution we’re seeing in how companies approach automation and process improvement. It’s an evolution that is gaining momentum and producing exciting innovations, including things like robotic process automation and self-learning systems. But that’s a topic for another blog, on another day.
To learn more about Smart Process Platforms, intelligent capture and automating processes like account payable, contact your Artsyl representative. http://www.artsyltech.com