COVID revealed two truths that AP professionals had long suspected: first, the old-fashioned, manual processes that predominated before the pandemic were not fit for purpose, and would not withstand a sudden and severe shock to the system. And secondly, AP departments that adopted AP automation were far better-prepared for unexpected storms.
As the pandemic’s whirlwind begins to die down, it’s clear we’re not in Kansas anymore. With Covid forcing businesses to transform their day-to-day operations, automation is no longer seen as something to be feared, a costly and complex way of putting AP professionals out of a job. Instead, it’s an urgent necessity. Even so, the real benefits of automation aren’t widely known. They should be: automation isn’t just a tool, it’s a catalyst for the most profound change to hit AP in its history.
So let’s take a look at how the automation imperative will make your job more valuable, more strategic and more rewarding than you’d ever have imagined just two years ago.
Eliminate paper, cut manual processes
Let’s cut to the chase. One of the most obvious reasons to invest in AP automation is to reduce the amount of manual work associated with your processes. Covid turned this long-held ambition into an urgent priority: a survey of AP professionals by Ardent Partners in 2021 found that their top challenges were invoice and payment approvals taking too long, doggedly high rates of invoice exceptions, and the blizzard of accompanying paperwork.
With AP automation technology, you can delegate the tedious and time-consuming parts of your processes. Instead, you can use advanced machine learning AI to code and approve invoices and effectively eliminate those steps. With the ability to scale up and down the level of involvement automation plays in your organization, you can gain complete control over your processes.
Even more importantly, it’s an essential and proven platform for businesses as they respond to the post-Covid landscape. A survey conducted shortly after the start of the pandemic found that 63% of firms that had AP automation in place felt they handled the impact of COVID-19 well and felt they had a seamless transition to remote work.
Save time, reduce errors, slash costs
Which invoice do you think you’ll receive sooner: one that is printed and mailed to your office or one sent electronically? It’s a no-brainer: E-invoices and digital processes are not only instantaneous, they’re far more reliable than traditional paper methods.
With cloud-based automation, AP departments can store all your invoice and payment-related information in one central and secure location, making it much easier to access all your information and pull detailed data than with traditional methods. Meanwhile, you can customize your workflows, rules, and restrictions, meaning you can cut out the middleman and automatically move invoices into the approval stage.
Increased accuracy is another key benefit. To err is human, but we’re especially prone to mistakes when we’re working with hundreds, even thousands of invoices and client communications. AP automation means that you can reduce the influence humans have on the process, practically eliminating those costly and time-consuming invoice exceptions.
And if we’re talking ROI, consider this: in a recent study, IOFM calculated automation reduces average processing costs per invoice from $6.30 to $1.45, and that AP teams could process twice the number of invoices in the same amount of time. (In our experience, the savings are even more dramatic – our customers see average costs falling from $11 to just $2, and the time taken to process them slashed from eight days to three.)
That’s great news for the business as a whole. But what does the AP department and its employees really gain from automation? As we’ll see, the answer is much more profound and far-reaching than mere numbers can express.
Putting AP at the heart of business strategy
Why doesn’t the AP department sit at the top table of a business? After all, it’s the largest source of cash outflow from an organisation (payroll excepted). One reason is that while the world has been talking about the strategic value of big data and analytics for well over a decade now, it’s a conversation that seems to have passed AP by entirely.
That’s changing. As Jess Scheer, executive editor at The Institute of Finance and Management (IOFM), points out, finance is becoming more strategic. “AP aren’t just the people that are paying the bills any more. They’re regulatory experts. They’re cash managers. They’re being asked to do more big data analytics, and they’re often the last line of defense of fraud.”
For all the talk about robots stealing our jobs, here is a clear example of how automation actually increases employees’ relevance while giving them more meaningful, responsible and valuable work to do. That will go a long way towards fixing one of the biggest gripes of the profession – that they are not afforded the respect and status they deserve, a complaint cited by a third of AP departments.
So, it may turn out that the biggest impact of automation for AP professionals is one you can’t measure: increased pride and satisfaction in a role that makes a real difference to the business.