The role of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in Accounts Payable is, fundamentally, to remove time consuming, repetitive, low-value tasks such as data entry from employees. Freeing accounting clerks time to focus on higher-value tasks.
Simply put, if your team are typing data from a document, into any system, this is the task that RPA will replace. No more copying the invoice number manually, or keying in supplier details, or even looking for the correct contact to send an invoice our for approval.
An organisation that is working on digitalising processes and information will, almost certainly, be investing in RPA tools.
Within Accounts Payable, RPA technology will provide relief in two key areas:
The capturing, input and matching of data from supplier invoices.
In a manual Accounts Payable environment every step of this process is handled by data entry clerks or accounting clerks. From receipt of an invoice there may well be a number of steps taken before the information is even looked at.
In worse case scenarios this can add days of delays to the processing of an invoice. Especially in de-centralised Accounts Payable teams where there is no guarantee that invoices will even have been received in the right location.
RPA tools can completely eradicate this. Of course, pieces of paper will still need to be scanned, but that is something every organisation should be pro-actively moving away from.
In the event that an invoice was received into the wrong office, it is wholly irrelevant, RPA is location agnostic, the information can still be processed instantly.
On receipt of any digital file, RPA will replicate the task of coding the data from the invoice, capturing each character and matching the information against other data sets such as supplier master data or purchase orders.
When the supplier invoices are received into an organisation as digital files, a true RPA solution will simply need to be pointed at the inbox or file that receives the data. There should be little or no need for human intervention in the collection of the data and subsequent processing.
What is worth noting, EDI files still need to be validated, often times approved and certainly referenced against other data sets. For many organisations EDI is seen as the end of an automation process, the reality is that these solutions are simply the beginning.
Before posting any invoice for payment, an Accounts Payable team should be absolutely certain that there are no errors, false invoices, missed purchase orders or open goods receipt notes. Assuming that your supplier has sent a 100% accurate EDI feed is short sighted and opening your business to enormous risks.
If this file passes through a solution that can ensure the validity of each line, match these automatically and flag any errors or risks, before posting to an ERP then the digitalisation and automation process will be far more robust and protected.
The information, once matched, can then be automatically posted into an ERP, or could be automatically work flowed for approval where needed.
The workflow of invoices for approval, coding, and cost centre allocation.
Similarly to the capture and processing of invoice data, RPA solutions can also offer a far more streamlined workflow process when there is an issue with an invoice and this needs to be handled somewhere else in the business.
If an organisation is still manually sending invoices out to the business for approvals there are any number of associated risks. Loss, damage, failure to supply audit trails, delays to approvals etc.
When this process is digitalised and automated these risks are eliminated.
RPA allows for the steps that would have been completed by an accounting clerk to be done autonomously, on scanning the data of an invoice the solution can apply business rules to the data.
If your business rules state that any invoice with a value higher than £ xx requires sign of from the departmental manager then the system will automatically route this to them.
In addition to this, RPA solutions can also send reminders to recipients, forward failures to senior managers, or follow any other best practice guides that your business wishes to follow.
Best case, this can reduce the approval process of invoices to just hours, rather than days spent with internal post systems.
Combining the capture and workflow for No Po No Pay policies.
Another, often overlooked, advantage of RPA tools in Accounts Payable is the fact that you could implement a no PO no Pay policy, without applying employee time to this.
If we take the concept of capture and workflow of supplier invoices, and then apply a no PO no Pay policy, a suitable solution could simply reject an invoice on receipt, and send this straight back to the supplier explaining why and asking for the relevant information to be amended and re-submitted.
With a true RPA solution deployed, organisations can very quickly ensure that the most time consuming and repetitive tasks that face Accounts Payable are removed.
With time being in both high demand and short supply, these benefits alone can allow a costly back office function to become a profit centre for an organisation.
Freeing up your teams time to chase down payments, build relationships with suppliers, understand the data that is fed back out of the system etc. you can start to explore areas that were previously ignored or overlooked.
Reducing the risk of fraud, working on dynamic discounting, educating your team for future technologies and business changes, there are any number of ways that this time could be spent.