I have spoken with a hundreds, if not thousands, of people who work in Accounts Payable departments and every single one of them has a different understanding of invoice automation.
Invoice Automation Beliefs
Some people believe that a having a supplier portal counts as invoice automation (this one I can understand!), others tell me that they get all of their invoices via email, so they are already automated.
Many times, I have explained what our solution does, and I get the response “we are already automated”. A couple of simple questions later and you learn their definition of automation is not your definition of automation, if it is invoice automation at all!
The Worst Offenders?
Some of the worst offenders, and thank goodness it is a relatively small minority of companies, are those who receive their invoices by email, they open up these emailed invoices on the left side of their computer screen to then type out the information into another application on to the right side of the computer screen BUT… because they get it by email they think it’s automated. God forbid the invoice needs to be sent out for approval…
That’s not even the worst of the conversations I have had. I have been told by organisations how an invoice received by e-mail is PRINTED, manually coded, stamped for receipt, a COPY then made and the copy sent for approval… How much double handling of one document it that? Just too much. If it took one grocer to place one apple on the shelf three times, the boss would be complaining about how inefficient they are, so why do this with your invoices?
Some of the companies concluded that OCR technology would be of benefit, they went out in to the market and found the right scanning solution that would work for them. They then stopped and rubbed their hands together and congratulated themselves on doing a good job only to forget about workflow tools, reporting tools, how technology evolves, and how important these elements are to the automation process.
They would receive an invoice by paper or email, the invoice would be scanned, and the information is transferred via flat file into their system, wonderful. BUT, as soon as an invoice needs approval it has to be done manually (out comes the printer, the stamps etc. etc.) or by internal email. And they still have very limited visibility or control across the process.
A Common Tale…
See if it’s a piece paper and needs a signature, the chances are that (let’s call him David), David in the accounts department will walk the invoice to the right person, he has probably been doing this for years and emailing it isn’t even a thought to him.
Today though, David is running behind on his own work, so he will hand the invoice to the new guy (Peter?) who’s only been here a week and still doesn’t know who anyone is. Peter will do his best to find the right person but ultimately it will get lost, or will end up with the right person so late that there will be penalties for late payment.
Now if David did manage to find the button to send off an email for the approval, he then has to hope that not only does someone read it, but that they action it straight away. Let’s face it, we have all flagged an email as “to do” and then promptly forgotten all about it!
Without proper workflow tools, with built in escalation processes etc. this email may well stay forgotten about for weeks. During which time the business that sent the invoice is sat waiting for their money, they keep calling the Accounts Payable team to chase, or even send in more copies of the same invoice. You can well imagine the chaos that this can cause for you, them, and anyone else unlucky enough to be caught up in the process (did I hear duplicate payments and recovery audits there?)… More on that another day though!