While the traditional mantra of “going paperless” has typically focuses on eliminating filing cabinets and manila folders, today’s visions for digital transformation go beyond eliminating the challenges of handling a physical document. Today, companies focus more on transforming paper documents into actionable information to eliminate manual tasks and more effectively control the process(es) that depend on that information, rather than on saving office space and storage fees.
Often, the challenge AP departments face when it comes to digital transformation is that they don’t 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, ETF, spreadsheet 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 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 ISD 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.
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, minimal configuration and no manual coding, filing or data entry.
Over the years, Intelligent capture solutions that can essentially “read” documents 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 spend 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.
With the “paper problem” solved by intelligent capture solutions, these same systems have evolved into what is now termed Digital Transformation Platforms. These systems 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 document 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, self-learning systems. But that’s a topic for another blog, on another day.
To learn more about Digital Transformation Platforms, intelligent capture and automating processes like account payable, contact your Artsyl representative.