Accounts Payable Automation in 2011

Accounts Payable AutomationA year ago, I wrote a post about “AP Automation in 2010.” Well 2010 is behind us, so what about automation in 2011? I suspect that many businesses made progress on automating their AP processes, but there’s still room for improvement. Wouldn’t it be great to lower your invoice processing cycle time? Or get those paper receipts out of your pocket? Or make it more convenient for your decision makers to approve expenditures? AP automation has never been more attainable and every incremental step pulls cost out of your budget and frees up your time.

First, what is automation? To me, automation is simply leveraging technology to streamline a process. Streamlining a process could mean eliminating dependency on the slow and error prone routing of paper documents. Or it could mean reducing human touch points to truly valuable activities. For AP departments to achieve this automation, technologies such as e- receipts, managed payments and mobile computing can be leveraged.

E-receipts are an electronic version of a paper receipt which is automatically sent into your expense report from travel suppliers such as hotels and rental car companies. No need to mail or scan in a paper receipt – it’s already attached to your expense report. Now that’s automation!

A managed payment cycle is like pushing the headache of payment processing (either reimbursing employee expense reports or initiating supplier payments) to a partner who is an expert in moving money. Such a partner should offer pain relief features like low transaction costs, support for dozens of currencies and offer a variety of payment vehicles (ACH, check, etc.). A partner should also handle exceptions so that anything that goes wrong is immediately detected and either reprocessed or detailed back to you for correction.

As for human touch points, there will always be some oversight needed from your workforce. A typical scenario is an escalation of an expense report or supplier invoice that has suspect characteristics. Mobile computing to the rescue! While one of your employees needs to scrutinize and possibly take correcting measures, apps for smartphones and tablets make this work just a touch away – especially convenient during a meeting or your third youth soccer game on a Saturday afternoon!

So what does all of this mean? I’m not suggesting that technology advances have made AP processing trivial. But just think of what you could do with the time and cost savings that automation provides.

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