Key Challenges Faced Within Accounts Payable Teams

Accounts Payable (AP) Automation is not a new concept. Following the advent of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in the 1990s, many organizations embarked on a journey of standardizing and automating their discrete back-office processes and re-engineering end-to-end processes.

With the birth of Shared Service Centers (SSCs) and Global Business Services (GBS) leveraging economies of scale in back office processing, the need for automation across the entire back office function, including Accounts Payable gained prevalence. An industry developed around paperless solutions addressing the drive of organizations seeing to reduce costs and increase productivity.

A recent report by Ardent Partners provides an excellent summary of the state of AP Automation today and highlights many of the key challenges holding AP back. The top four barriers identified in this report include:

Even with many companies adopting a ‘No-PO, No-Pay’ policy, the bottleneck in the process is having to manually deal with a high percentage of exceptions, adding inefficiency and costs in the AP process.

The time to approve an invoice is still a challenge in many organizations. In many cases, the delays in invoice approvals will be directly linked to the higher number of invoice exceptions that need additional manual interventions.

According to the report, this is the first time that electronic invoicing has outweighed paper invoices. However, paper invoices sent manually still represents 49.7% of the respondent’s invoice volumes.

AP teams spend nearly a quarter of their time handling supplier queries. This should not be surprising, with a high level of exceptions and increased approval times, creating a knock on effect from suppliers inquiring about the status of their invoice.

Addressing Fundamental AP Automation Objectives

Accounts Payable is the bridge between procurement and payment, and an AP department is a busy place and is typically awash in manual processes, whether that’s cash management, paper invoices, data entry, or double-checking due dates. However, significant efficiencies can be attained by focusing on the the two core processes of Invoice Ingestion and the subsequent Processing of these invoices, and the subsequent reporting of performance.

1. Invoice Ingestion

The capture and pre-processing of incoming invoices is the cornerstone of AP Automation, whether streamlining legacy channels or exchanging invoices electronically with your supplier, fully compliant with both the relevant regulation and contract terms. 

2. Invoice Processing

The processing of invoices in a consistent manner across the whole organisation is often made more challenging by the need to support different AP systems across different platforms. The ability to delegate invoice resolution-related tasks directly to the business is key to driving efficiency.

3. KPI’s and Reporting

KPI’s need to be aligned with the underlying reporting and AP Managers need access to accurate P2P performance data to prioritize workload across their teams. Reporting also needs to drive Continuous Improvement and a forensic analysis approach to problem resolution.

Achieving both Invoice Ingestion and Invoice Processing with as little human intervention as possible is the No1 challenge. This is always a balance between compliance and efficiency. If we want to ensure 100% compliance then we can have AP experts eyeball and manually process every invoice. To achieve 100% efficiency then we could simply pay every invoice that is received. Neither is realistic or advisable, so we need to consider and adopt some Guiding Principles to achieve the optimum balance.

The Guiding Principles of an Effective AP Strategy

What can be achieved with true Automation?

The business case for driving AP automation include both hard and soft benefits to business. By adopting best-in-class invoice ingestion and processing capability, organizations can achieve significant financial and efficiency savings.

Achieving Touchless Invoices through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (AL)

         100% Invoice            Capture

Invoice ingestion already benefits greatly from the application of AI and ML, particularly for improving invoice capture from legacy channels, i.e., OCR and readable PDF. However, extending this when capturing unstructured (scanned PFDF) or semi-structured (readable PDF) could see 100% capture rates in the future.

Automated Matching for PO-Based Spend

Using any combination of the invoice, POs, external POs, goods receipts, quality checks, contracts, etc. at the line level and header level, AI can significantly improve straight through processing rates. And when information is missing, recognition methods can review the available data and calculate the best matching scenario for you.

Automated Coding for Non-PO Spend

Using any combination of the invoice, POs, external POs, goods receipts, quality checks, contracts, etc. at the line level and header level, AI can significantly improve straight through processing rates. And when information is missing, recognition methods can review the available data and calculate the best matching scenario for you.

Automated Exception Handling

For all invoice types, the opportunity is also there to improve exception handling. Traditionally, exception handling has been addressed with pre-configured scenarios and routing to actors based on initial design blueprinting, however AI and ML present the opportunity to make this much more dynamic and adaptable to changing business scenarios and new vendors etc.

Intelligent Routing for Speedy Processing

For any remaining portion of invoice exceptions, AI led intelligent routing functionality ensures that invoices are automatically sent to the appointed approval workflow, without the need for any manual effort. Based on the data on the invoice, the system automatically determines the recipient and sends the invoice along for coding and processing.

Key Performance Indicator Reporting

This also an area that can benefit greatly from AI and ML, particularly in identifying trends and patterns in invoice processing and forecasting future performance, as well as generating actionable insight based on statistical data analysis, which is invaluable when driving continuous improvement.

Align Your AP Solution to Your Business Requirements

There are a number of top-tier AP Automation solutions, each with its own set of advantages and considerations. To gain the most from your investment in technology, you need to align your requirments to the soltions that are available. From SAP’s diverse offerings to best-in-breed AP solutions, we compare and contract the options that are available, to allow you to find the perfect fit for your needs. Delve deeper on our dedicated page for an in-depth review.

excelerateds2p’s Accounts Payable (AP) Diagnostic

Unlock insights into your accounts payable processes with excelerateds2p’s AP Diagnostic. Our thorough analysis identifies inefficiencies and provides actionable recommendations for improvement. Learn how our service can streamline your operations and drive success. Click below to discover more.

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