Growth and Optimization
What Expense and AP Automation Really Means for Your Job
Think of all the ways automation helps you in your personal life. From Amazon recommending helpful items to add to your cart and saving you a trip to the store, to Alexa setting a reminder for you to take out the trash, automation helps us complete our to-do lists more efficiently.
Similarly, automating business finance processes can minimize time spent on repetitive manual tasks, freeing up time to focus on higher-value work.
But workers might wonder how automation could affect their jobs. Particularly when the shift to remote or hybrid work arrangements has prompted many organizations—86% in a 2021 survey by The Economist Group—to be more open to experimentation and quick shifts in strategy.
What does that involve? Well, 89% of executives surveyed by The Economist Group plan to make their businesses more resilient by implementing advanced technologies to reduce manual drag. That means automation.
While business intelligence and machine learning are already here, organizations still need their humans. Here’s why.
What’s the impact of automating your finance processes?
The World Economic Forum projects that by 2025, automation will disrupt 85 million jobs globally across 15 industries—while creating 97 million jobs. As automation takes on more information and data processing tasks, the demand for human skills—like creativity, flexibility, and analytical thinking—will grow.
Despite the fear of job loss, what typically happens after automation is that finance staff are freed up to do strategic, business-building work that brings more value to the company. For instance, an AP Manager who once spent hours manually reviewing and matching POs can now spend that time negotiating more favorable terms with vendors.
Reducing pain points for your finance staff is a good thing. Automating tedious, lower-value tasks can help you create a better workplace, potentially helping you retain your dedicated existing employees. And, in a competitive hiring atmosphere, it can help draw top job candidates to your forward-thinking, employee-friendly organization.
Here are four other key ways automation can benefit an organization and its people:
1. Ensure better compliance
As the world becomes more digitized, staying compliant becomes more complex. A 2021 analysis by Deloitte found 220 regulatory changes worldwide every day. Automation helps conquer those complexities, flagging issues to avoid fines or opportunities to claim tax breaks and refunds.
Alkermes, a global biopharmaceutical company, depends on automation to help manage compliance. Because the organization is in the life sciences industry, compliance is a top concern—including providing disclosures required by The Sunshine Act (Open Payments Act) and complying with various states’ laws.
“We also use the SAP Concur manual audit tool to make our audit process more robust and ensure all of our expense reports are in compliance with our travel and expense policy. We have around 1,500 reports every month, between the U.S. and Ireland—so, we utilize a combination of automation and human interaction to reduce our risk.” – Tetiana Sapun, Senior Travel and Expense Specialist, Alkermes
2. Promote greater accuracy
If your finance staff relies on manual process—like those used in most small and midsize businesses—they’re likely bogged down, fielding numerous emails and sifting through endless
But automating your process creates a single system to capture and route invoices digitally from approval to payment—in practically any format. Automation helps cut invoice processing time by 16%, AMI-Partners research found.
Plymouth Rock Assurance, a Boston-based company, wanted to be able to easily audit and reduce discrepancies in their expenses.
With their original manual process, the small AP team had no way to self-audit or confirm what they were paying without sifting through reams of paper—an exceptional task considering they processed about 650 requests per month. Typically, managers signed off on expense reports, which were automatically approved and paid. Then, the inevitable happened: discrepancies surfaced in the year-end audit.
Once they adopted SAP Concur solutions to automate their finance processes, the AP team could quickly see expenses that didn’t comply with policy and flag them for follow-up.
“We knew we needed a less archaic, digital expense reimbursement process; one that would make it easier for everyone who was part of that lifecycle.” – Dan Bonnyman, AP Operations Supervisor, Plymouth Rock Assurance
3. Control costs and manage expenses
Chicago-based CareerBuilder’s sales force makes up 40% of its employees, which meant a lot of frequent travelers. Using Concur Travel and Concur Expense, the company improved its traveler experience, increased policy compliance, and gained significant savings and control over expenses, including:
- Enabling $420,000 in savings thanks to auto-population of reports, mobile, e-receipts, and more.
- Improving online booking compliance from 80% to 95%.
- Reducing administrative staff needs from just over two people to one. But instead of eliminating positions, they reallocated staff to higher-value-producing work.
“We didn't actually eliminate any positions. At the time, there was no one in the accounts payable department [who] actually did analysis. Now we have one FTE focused on analysis for all our spend. The rest of the team is able to easily manage processing for all expense reports and invoices.” – Jeff Cole, senior director of Information Management, CareerBuilder
4. Gain valuable business insights
When you depend on a fully or even partially manual process, you struggle with uncaptured, disorganized, outdated data and disparate cash management insights and decisions. Automating your processes lets you tap into near real-time data to leverage for early-payment discounts, make on-time payments, and control category spend.
Improved tracking saves finance firms $28,000 per year and retail businesses $33,000 per year. Having accurate data saves professional services firms $39,000 per year. And better analytics saves tech firms $35,000 per year, AMI-Partners research found.
Alkermes also depends on automation to help manage its travel and expenses. Working with SAP Concur gives its leaders clear visibility for better decision-making, employees get convenient mobile applications that make it easier to submit expenses. Meanwhile, the back-office processes have become more efficient so finance employees can stay focused on higher-value generating work.
“One of the biggest benefits of SAP Concur solutions is automation. By automating manual processes and bringing integration into the mix, our operations run smoother and better, with the visibility and analytics we need in one place.” – Tetiana Sapun, Senior Travel and Expense Specialist, Alkermes
What to look for in an automated solution
Automating expense and AP processes can better support businesses as they navigate the complexities of the digital world. Leaders from all sizes of businesses are starting to see how automation can help prepare them for unexpected and gain better insights into what’s working well for their company—and what isn’t.
Choosing an automation solution for expense and AP processes doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task.
Learn more about choosing an expense automation solution in this guide, or try the self-guided Concur Expense demo.
Learn more about choosing an AP automation solution in this guide, or try the self-guided Concur Invoice demo.