Seven Pitfalls to Avoid When Implementing AP Automation

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As we make our way through the beginning of 2020, many finance leaders have budgeted for standardizing processes and implementing automated invoice and payment processing solutions. Why? Improving staff productivity is the biggest catalyst of AP automation. Saving money and driving profits to the bottom line is another.

But you don’t want to make any mistakes when choosing your solution. Let’s explore seven pitfalls that can cause you to waste your AP budget and how to keep your business case on track.

ONE. Clunky integration with legacy finance systems: No matter how good an automated accounts payable solution is, if it doesn’t integrate with your legacy finance systems (ERP)—the financial nerve center of an organization—you will still experience the same pain points that led you to automating in the first place, like: enormous amounts of time spent manually rekeying information on approved invoices into the ERP, searching for or retrieving invoices, and error-prone audit processes across fragmented systems.

How to stay on track? Look for a solution that seamlessly integrates with your legacy finance systems.

TWO: Resistance to Change: Change management is often an afterthought when organizations decide to automate. But front-line staff can provide valuable insights into the current challenges with paper-based processes and are key to a smooth transition. If business leaders do not properly manage the technology’s impact on staff, it can cause:

  • Low morale
  • Delays in rolling out the system
  • Poor ROI
  • Loss of goodwill/trust with senior management
  • Potential impact on suppliers and internal stakeholders

How to stay on track? Start by identifying key stakeholders across functions who can help contribute to the success of the project and engage them early on.

Next, develop a comprehensive change management plan that includes a roll-out checklist, communications to users, and training activities.

Finally, address user concerns head-on to eliminate the possibility that they will fester.

THREE. Unclear business rules: There are countless conditions when processing invoices. For instance, certain invoices may have a higher processing priority than other invoices and need to be forwarded to the front of the queue, like those from suppliers that offer an early payment discount. Or, a portion of invoice line items may be matched against a P.O. while others are not.

Unfortunately, many organizations that are planning to automate their accounts payable processes never take the time upfront to document their business rules for processing invoices, which prevents setting proper customizations.

How to stay on track? Understand and rationalize the business rules early in your automation project to help ensure that the solution is configured correctly the first time, eliminating the possibility of exceptions later. Additionally, make sure your prospective technology providers are able to provide a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to well-defined business rules such as capture requirements, or a brief explanation for ‘areas of grey.’ 

FOUR. Confusion about how supplier invoices currently arrive: Supplier invoices increasingly arrive via multiple channels in a range of formats, including paper, e-mail, PDF, fax, electronic data interchange (EDI), XML, and web and mobile form. But many organizations still purchase automated accounts payable solutions that were built to handle only paper invoices. Why?

  • Essential information is not captured.
  • Data is poorly organized.
  • Information is not timely
  • Systems are not well-integrated.
  • Decision-makers do not have access to key variables.

How to stay on track: Understand how invoices arrive in your organization and purchase an automated AP solution that was designed to process all invoices, regardless of how they arrive.

FIVE. Inflexible workflows: Automating AP offers organizations like yours a rare opportunity to reengineer your invoice workflows to be more streamlined. Unfortunately, too many fail to validate vendor claims about the ease with which their workflows can be configured. In many cases, as a result, organizations get trapped in a never-ending cycle of paying vendors to modify the workflows in their rigid technology using costly, custom code. 

How to stay on track: Don’t believe everything you see in product demonstrations. Test the flexibility of the workflows offered by prospective vendors to ensure they can meet your organization’s ever-changing needs. Ask vendors to demonstrate their software using your documents and workflows.   

SIX. Inadequate implementation planning: Deploying an automated solution can be complex. This is especially true in accounts payable where projects typically involve process and workflow changes, multiple stakeholders across the enterprise, including suppliers, and integration with legacy back-end systems. This makes the implementation critical to the success of an automation project. An effective system implementation approach can make or break a project before it even begins. Unfortunately, many AP departments become so focused on the technology involved in their automation initiatives that they overlook the importance of implementation planning.

How to stay on track: Look for technology solutions providers with a professional services team that is expert in process improvement. Be leery of solutions providers who do not analyze your current AP workflows and take the time to understand your desired end-state, before the implementation begins. And they should offer insightful best practices for continuous improvement.

SEVEN. A poor technology fit: Choosing the wrong technology solution for your accounts payable project can result in processes being digitized in the wrong sequence, wasted time and effort correcting sub-optimal automation, poor return on investment, strained stakeholder relations, and less cross-functional harmony. Confusion about the array of technologies and approaches available for accounts payable automation is the most common culprit.     

How to stay on track: Look for these 10 key attributes to focus on when evaluating prospective vendors.

  1. Ease of use
  2. Seamless integration with legacy finance systems
  3. Capabilities for intelligent data capture using optical character recognition (OCR) and smart data extraction
  4. Customizable workflow configurability
  5. Hands-on implementation and ongoing training and support
  6. Data and document archive and retrieval
  7. Comprehensive, insightful, and flexible reporting and analytics
  8. Capability to automatically upload invoice and supporting documents directly into ERP
  9. Support for mobile approvals and research
  10. Data security and fraud prevention functionalities

Consider a solution like Sage Intacct Marketplace Partner, Yooz, that offers all 10 of these attributes and seamlessly integrates with all of the Sage Intacct ERP products for one complete end-to-end invoice and payment processing solution.

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