The AP Automation Dating Game: Choosing the Right Technology and the Right Partner

In this multi-part Blog Series, we’ve looked at how companies can identify process pain points, communicate them to executives to secure buy-in and map their processes to eliminate bottlenecks.

In this multi-part Blog Series, we’ve looked at how companies can identify process pain points, communicate them to executives to secure buy-in and map their processes to eliminate bottlenecks. In this blog, we’ll look at tips for evaluating and selecting a vendor for your AP process initiative.

“The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Often Go Awry” – Robert Burns

Once your team has secured approval for an AP automation initiative, defined your goals and mapped your processes, the next step is to choose the right technology solutions and to select the right partner or partners to turn your plans into a reality.

Often, this can be the scariest part of the process. When it isn’t executed properly, it can be the step that contains the most “unknowns.”

As with the prior steps we’ve discussed in our Blog series, the process of selecting a vendor starts by clearly communicating your goals and your process to your prospective partners. If you’ve done a good job internally with those initial steps, your selection process will go that much more smoothly.

With that in mind, here are some additional tips when looking for technology solutions and vendors to support AP automation projects.

Start with the numbers

When evaluating technologies to automate and streamline your processes, start by discussing your goals in concrete, measurable terms. Rather than talking about budgets and what you have to spend initially, explore how you’d like to improve cycle times, reduce errors and reduce costs—and how quickly you’d like to achieve an ROI. If you’ve already made a business case internally, this part should be easy. Beware of vendors that overpromise or obscure technology costs with added development or professional services. If your requirements are clear, you should get clear, easy to understand answers about costs and timelines.

Explore the Process

Review your process maps with your vendors in detail. Make sure they fully understand your process flow. Do they have questions or suggestions to further optimize or simplify your process? Do they understand the exceptions in your processes and how you want to handle them?

Looks for Vendors that Ask Questions before Giving Answers

Speaking of asking questions, how many questions does your vendor ask before diving into a canned demo or asking about your decision timeline and budget? Look for vendors who focus on your goals and objectives before selling you on product, or on their experience and expertise.

Get Technical

At some point, you’re going to want your tech team to talk to their tech tech and take a deeper dive with the proposed solutions and underlying technology. Your evaluation team should be confident that the system will meet critical technical capabilities for your AP automation project, including invoice validation, data extraction, matching, electronic approval and exceptions routing, and integration with existing ERP and ECM systems.

Beware of vendors that turn every conversation about product into a discussion about added services and customization. While you may have a truly unique requirement based on the specific requirements of you market, or a need to integrate with proprietary, in-house systems, the reality is that AP automation is well established enough that you can often find mature, well-developed solutions that deliver what you need (or most of it) out of the box.

In that same vein, what version is the company’s core platform on? Your ideal “goldilocks” platform is one that isn’t too new or too old - and one that benefits from frequent updates. Speaking of updates, ask what kind of new features the company has delivered in its recent service packs. Do they continue to innovate, or are they busy fixing bugs?

Vendors should demonstrate that their solution meets your corporate standards for audit, compliance, reporting and security.

Who are Your Partner’s Partners?

Is your vendor part of the broader community of solutions in your technology ecosystem? Do they truly partner with your ERP or ECM solution provider? AP automation is a mature enough market that an established process automation provider should have strong, working relationships with the other technology providers you depend on.

Who are Their Customers?

It goes without saying that you’ll want customer referrals. When you speak to those firms, probe to see what you can find out about phases of their implementations that might have been improved. Ask for specific advice about things they learned during their implementation that you might benefit from. Specifically ask about their plans over the next 6 to 12 months as it relates to the solution their have implemented. Ask how much they changed or modified their original implementation. And ask if the solution was delivered on time and within budget.

Making the Call

Whether hiring an employee or choosing a technology vendor, there are always risks and unknowns. Luckily, there are MANY well-established vendors with excellent track records in terms of technology, service and support in the industry today.

With the right due diligence, you’ll find a stable vendor with a great track record, who can deliver the right solution and drive the results you’re looking for.

In the next part of our AP Automation Blog Series, we’ll look at tips to ensure your implementation stays on time, on budget and delivers the results you’re looking for.


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