What is the best way to prepare for automation in finance?
- Understand and carefully detail what your current AP processes look like. Be sure to include, and highlight, problem areas.
- Engage with colleagues and understand how your processes and pain points impact the wider business.
- Build a multi-disciplined team to head up your process review, and any subsequent project. Involving more people in this offers a chance for new ideas and insights.
- Do your research, what information can you find that highlights best practices for Accounts Payable?
- Detail your “as-is” and your “to-be”. Use a partner for this if you are unsure of the best approach.
- Involve your IT team, find out what tools they already have that could be used.
- Using your team of experts, understand what impacts your project could have on the wider business.
- Ensure communication to a wider community, explaining what is being explored and how this can bring them benefit.
- Design a phased approach to automation, starting with some small areas that could yield quick wins.
- Make sure that the project plan is adhered to, from costs to timescales, and ensure that this information is open and clear for scrutiny.
As with any significant project, there are always some key steps that you should consider taking, automation in finance is no different, these are just some of these that should be considered.
Understand and detail your current processes.
In order to have a chance of a successful outcome, it is vitally important that you know where your starting point is. The more detail and information that is gathered and evaluated at this stage, the better your chances of really pinpointing pain points that could be addressed.
Every person in a department, and in each department that would be impacted, will have a different opinion about what the biggest challenges they have are. What is important at an early stage is documenting these in a clear and concise way.
Automation may not be able to answer every problem that you come across, in fact it simply may be too big a task, or to costly a project to handle everything. What is important is that you know this early on, this will start to form the framework of your project(s).
It is often tempting to downplay areas that are an issue, especially in critical areas of a business like the finance team. Let’s be honest, it can take a brave person to, not only admit, but also to carefully document problems that relate to money coming in or going out of a business.
This makes these areas even more important to look at when you start evaluating automation options. Sometimes the savings that can be generated from these embarrassing gaps can far out way the short term loss of face.
A prime example of this would be organisational supplier master data. We know that it is very rare that best practices are applied when new accounts are created, or changes are made to existing files. In fact, a recent survey conducted by PPN showed that 43% of respondents only claimed to be monitoring their supplier master file each 6 months.
For many organisations they feel that any attempt to enforce best practices, or ensure that the file is clean and well maintained is simply too big of a burden for AP to handle. In many instances though there are few other teams in the business with the knowledge and skills to effectively do the job. This could be an area where automation can make a real difference to a business, from reducing data management jobs to reducing fraud risks.