Don’t worry, you aren’t alone! Most of the people I have spoken to over the last few years are confused about invoice automation.
So, are you confused about invoice automation as well? Well I am going to try and help.
At ITESOFT invoice automation is when you have digitised and automated the whole accounts payable process.
But let’s break this down.
- Emails should be automatically pulled, data extracted and matching completed.
- Scanned invoices should have the data extracted and matching completed.
- Supplier portal uploads should be fed into the same system.
- EDI feeds should be matched without manual checks.
- Invoices with discrepancies or needing sign off should be automatically routed.
- Visibility across the full process should be included.
- Ability to drill into your data to make changes to the process should be an option.
- Final transfer of data into an ERP should be seamless.
Over the last few years I have spoken with hundreds of people who work in Accounts Payable around the world.
Virtually every person has a different understanding of invoice automation.
Not all automation beliefs are wrong
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, again not completely wrong.
Some organisations have outsourced the process and regard this as automated, again I can sort of see their point.
Most of the time these solutions are only for a percentage of the invoices, or part of the total process.
In order to stop people being confused about invoice automation it is important to remember this.
The Worst Offenders?
Some of the worst offenders, unfortunately this applies to a lot of companies, do the following.
They receive their invoices by email, good start! Although it is rarely all of their invoices.
They open the invoices on one screen and manually copy the data across into their ERP, open on a second screen.
Because they get their invoice by email or they just receive the image taken from a scanner they think of this as being automated.
God forbid the invoice needs to be sent out for approval…
These aren’t even the worst of the conversations I have had over the years.
How about this for a process:
An invoice is received by e-mail.
It is then 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?
Making a start is as far as it sometimes goes.
Being confused about invoice automation seems to be pretty normal.
Some organisations I have dealt with concluded that OCR technology would be of benefit to them.
They went to market and found the right scanning solution for them. Allowing them to digitise their invoices.
But that is as far as they went.
Forgetting 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 data extracted.
The information is transferred into their ERP, 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.
Now, if capturing the data is just the first step in a full automation project then great. The problem is that for many it never goes any further.
A common tale…
Invoices that are manually processed are often split by supplier when received. Meaning, if there is a problem with the invoice it is the same person who will see it each time.
This is fine, until that person is unwell, on holiday or leaves the business.
Then you have someone else trying to resolve an issue that they are unfamiliar with. This is particularly true if you don’t raise purchase orders.
Rather than carrying the invoice to the right person for authorisation, this invoice is just as likely to be ignored, lost, passed to the wrong person or simply left in an in tray.
Simply moving these to an email isn’t sufficient.
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.invoices 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 payment, 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.
So, what are the benefits of invoice automation?
I won’t labour the point. The chances are you already know the benefits of invoice automation, and removing the confusion.
But I will highlight a few.
- Improved communication, internally and externally.
- Clear and clean paper trails for audit.
- Visibility of the problems in your processes and any potential bottlenecks.
- Reduction of unnecessary tasks, yes I am talking about manually copying data.
- Defined business processes.
- Increased productivity and profitability.
- Cost reductions.
- Happier staff.
- Significant reductions in errors.
Still confused about invoice automation? Get in touch, I would be delighted to have a conversation with anyone.