An SAP Concur podcast conversation with Deloitte:
While COVID-19 presented vast challenges, it also forced organizations to evolve to a more digitized infrastructure that supported employees personally and professionally. “2020 was the perfect opportunity for companies to gut whatever process they had, build some[thing] new and exciting, streamline processes, and get the technology in there to support them. That’s what 2020 was about.” Listen in to the hopeful and pragmatic conversation between Ryan Hamilton, value consultant for SAP Concur, and Oren Geshuri, specialist master for Deloitte, as they discuss the current and future state of the employee experience and organizational spend governance optimized through financial technology.
Maximize the ability, Minimize the mundane
Automation in accounts payable (AP) does not involve the elimination of people. Rather, it is empowering people in those roles to do more for their organization, meanwhile enjoying their work.
“The first thing that people forget about in an AP process is that the people are core to it,” Geshuri shares. “AP is—generally speaking—one of the least…strategic areas, traditionally in an organization. It’s people who are taking what has generally been a paper process. They’re paying the checks, they’re cutting the checks, or if you’re lucky, the wire transfers of the ACH. That is a process that has basically been the same for decades and decades—if not centuries….in the past 20 years, this whole new world of AP automation has revived that area and has given a lot of ability to automate those processes to get that paper out of the desk and allow what was originally an AP Manager or AP Clerk…a little bit more opportunity to spread their wings and become a little bit more strategic in their roles…so, we’re taking these people, who were traditionally a very focused, routine-based person and empowering them to become more intelligent about the way they are doing business.”
Maximizing the ability for someone in an AP role to contribute beyond the tactical day-to-day process execution frees them up to look at the overall picture and strategically advise on how to optimize revenue and process. This is a shift in mindset as well as an opportunity to improve the employee experience for AP professionals.
Doing therapy and processing paper for those that scream the loudest
A broken payments system is the larger organization’s problem that the AP team gets to manage. “The second the vendor gets on the phone and is yelling at someone…That’s when we transition from the ability for an individual to contribute value to the entire organization’s opportunity to create value,” shares Hamilton. Both sides of the phone cringe when a payment hunt has begun, and the parties on the call are rarely the ones responsible for the delay or the solution. We must pity these AP folks as, “the two things that they’re doing all the time is processing paper and doing therapy over the phone for the people that are calling them,” shares Geshuri. The good news is, that once your AP system is automated and optimized, your team will have the time to prioritize payments based upon what makes sense for the organization rather than who is screaming the loudest.
“When you take this behemoth of manual process, and you strip it down to its core parts, and then you automate it—and let’s just make the point that the last thing that you want to do is to automate poor processes – you want to re-engineer, or optimize the process before you automate it. That’s key. But once you’ve optimized that process and automated it, then, you now have metrical data that can help you target the areas that you, as an organization, need to focus on…the ability to zoom in on specific steps is super important and you can’t do that until you’re able to measure them…you’ve taken what was the mind-numbing, solo performance of processing payments, and you’ve made it now a team collaborative effort on how do we…give the best possible value for that process…it takes a village,” shares Geshuri.
COVID-19 = Survivability litmus test
The pandemic accelerated many inevitable changes, and its impact is exponential. So much so that it has put some organizations forever ahead of their competitors in the marketplace. “COVID-19 was the litmus test for the survivability of an organization. Which isn’t to say that organizations that had a lot of trouble aren’t going to survive, just how well-equipped were they? There were basically two broad categories of organizations:
- You had organizations that had already walked down the path of automation, they already had digital workflows, and they had more cloud-type services. Those guys could pretty much the next day start working from home. As long as they dealt with any VPN or working from home issues, or maybe the fact that a lot of places didn’t issue laptops, that’s a big problem right there, but nonetheless, those people pretty much just walked right into a sustainable type of process.
- The people that I kind of feel bad for were the people who either had not even looked at AP automation or maybe had it on their map downstream but hadn’t yet gotten to it. These are the people who, they still come to work, or, prior to COVID, came to work to a big pile of paper on their desk. You can’t take all that paper home, obviously, you’re not going to have all the different AP Clerks, or tactical folks, getting big batches of paper invoices to their houses. You had to come up with a process really quick to figure that out quickly…Image capture became a huge boon for those people who had to switch to a work from home situation,” shares Geshuri.
In addition to the global heath crisis, organizations without a digital infrastructure either leaned into the change or struggled to catch up. Geshuri points out that, “if you have not used COVID-19 as the spark to move towards a more digitized infrastructure, then you will probably not be around in another few years…this was the great leap of evolution…let’s go back to our Darwin, cycles are slow in evolution, but every once in a while, there’s a triggering event that causes a great leap, right, the fish suddenly starts walking on land. We’re at that crux right now, where COVID-19 is that spark, it’s the meteor that’s ‘extinct-ing’ the dinosaurs.”
Top talent retention: Shake off the AP cobwebs and embrace the new
The way an organization runs its AP program can be a key indicator of its overall management and performance. On this, Geshuri shares: “If you have a dynamic leader, who is there, willing to embrace new technologies and move along the path to automation, the talent will come….there are a lot of ways to communicate the desire to use technology for good instead of evil…ask candidates to participate in the strategic mindset…you gotta shake the cobwebs off of the old dusty way of thinking and embrace the new.” The expectation for constant improvement has only been accelerated by the pandemic. Improving payment methods and terms empowers AP teams to inform strategic decisions across the entire organization. “It is our job here to completely eschew the old way of thinking and embrace the technological approach that frees everyone up to pursue the strategic path,” shares Geshuri.
Forever changed in a good way
Once the pandemic dust settles, Geshuri predicts that organizations will be all the better for the changes that were forced upon them in 2020. “COVID-19 is here to stay. Our entire existences have been irrevocably changed. But, I think, ultimately for the better. This is one of those periods—it’s a paradigm shift in societal and corporate norms, that is only going to make people come out better for it. They’ve had to adapt, but that push has set people up for hopefully, future success…things will never be the same normal you had before. This is the perfect opportunity for you to change.”
Leveraging the opportunity to find community in new ways and streamline operations has helped organizations and individuals prioritize what is truly important. “The biggest shock wasn’t, ‘can I check my email or look at a PDF at home?’ It was, ‘I am now stuck at home…and I no longer have the community around the water cooler, with the people that I work with’…it was the social contact change that was the most egregious for them. The work changes, the technology changes, everyone realizes this is the better way to work. The work-from-home world, aside from all of the distractions, shows us that we have the technology, and we can succeed. How many companies before COVID-19, never wanted to let people work from home? There were organizations that simply did not allow it. Well, sorry, the train left the station. It’s over, you can’t do that anymore. And people are adapting to that…2020 was the perfect opportunity for companies to gut whatever process they had, build some new, exciting, streamlined process, and get the technology in there to support them. That’s what 2020 was about,” Geshuri shares.
As a Specialist Master for Deloitte, Oren Geshuri helps organizations transform their payment programs. In this role, he is often challenged by key leaders of clients on how Deloitte can save them money. Each time this question is raised, Geshuri realigns the partnership goal to be around how to deliver the overall value. “It’s targeting the fat, streamlining, and allowing people to be more strategic about their jobs. It is about people moving away from tactical things [and] allowing the technology…all the buzzwords that you’ve heard…to free your people to do their best jobs. That’s what delivering value is about. It’s giving them the power to shine.”
Maximizing people’s ability to do their best work by reducing menial tasks through automation has helped organizations survive the pandemic and create cultures of top talent that are mostly thriving in spite of crisis and are evolving to the new era of organizational optimization—regardless of industry.