How will technology shape the future of Accounts Payable?
Join us as we talk with Stewart Griffiths APAM, exploring how technology in AP is shaping the future of the function.
Accounts Payable automation is not just a passing fad. It is a well established industry, yet so many organisations have yet to implement it. Why?
What are some of the blockers to technology in AP? How can the leaders of Accounts Payable address these?
Watch the video, listen to the podcast or read the transcript below.
Part 4 of 4.
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Rory Coleman-Smith: Welcome back to another edition of ITESOFT Insider View. I’m joined, of course, again by Stewart Griffiths.
Stewart Griffiths: Hello Rory.
Rory Coleman-Smith: So last week we talked about technology in AP and AI and things like that.
Now we are going to be talking about the future of technology in AP and why that matters.
Technology, the Future for AP?
So, initially, automation, right?
I’m going to be talking about automation of course, but what’s your opinion on it?
Is it something that’s here to stay? Is it a fad?
Is AP Automation a Fad?
Stewart Griffiths: I think, for me, automation is here to stay, there’s no getting away from it.
I think, for me, automation is around improving your process.
So, first of all, if you want to improve your process is to be clear on what your process is.
What are you trying to achieve by automating something?
Are you automating for the sake of automating?
No, clearly not, but it is about having that clear goal.
What is it you want to automate?
Why do you want to automate it?
And how will it improve your business or your process?
Rory: Right, and as you said, improving your process I guess that’s the thing you have to understand about automation is that you can’t just plug in an automated system and just let it go.
You’ve got to have a robust process in place?
Stewart: Yeah, yeah, I think for me, I think, robust processes; you’ve hit the nail on the head. Automation doesn’t fix broken processes.
So, if you need, if your process is broken or there is, there is, an element to it that you’re not quite sure you understand and you think putting automation in is going to fix it… It won’t.
Automation is really around increasing the efficiency of an already robust process.
Stewart: So for us, for people in AP, the thing about automation? You need to be clear as to what it is your trying to achieve.
Does your process work and how will automation improve that process?
What’s Blocking Technology in AP?
Rory: Yeah, so you’ve said automation is here to stay and yet there is still a lack of understanding of the benefits, but what else do you think is, sort of blocking AP automation in some organisations?
Stewart: I think, like you just said, the lack of understanding, you know, what is automation going to deliver to your business?
I think, in some ways, AP managers need to understand what automation will bring and then you need to sell it to your business.
I think, you know, lack of understanding is around what, or why are people scared of automation.
Is it just because an IT department never thought about implementing this automation piece?
Is it about your team that just don’t understand what it is that it will bring?
Is it about resource?
Is it about Time?
Is it around cost?
What is stopping you from automating within your business?
I think, once you understand what that is, then you can address those issues and then you can talk about the benefits.
Rory: Right, but just going back to blockers, do you think that the real blocker is… This is going a bit deep… The real blocker is that whoever is proposing the automation… Is their lack of communication?
Rather than people not understanding the benefits, well, maybe you haven’t explained the benefits?
Stewart: Well yeah, maybe, maybe that’s what it is.
I think, as AP managers we need to make sure that we know exactly what the benefits are going to be so that we can explain those eloquently to the leadership teams, you know, to our internal teams.
Because, you know, automation is a no brainer for me.
But then I work in AP, but for the non-finance people, for them, you know, you need to break it down and then, again, it’s about delivering your message and for me, you know in my world, it’s about being a politician and lobbying people and having those conversations with people: “do you realise that this can benefit us in so many ways?” And so when you have, I don’t know, a group discussion around automation, as a business, and getting all those stakeholders in, you know, you need to be clear as to what it is.
Because people hear different things when they hear automation or people think different things when they hear automation.
So, their interpretation of automation to a CEO is different automation to somebody in the AP team because the AP team are thinking oh, I’m going to lose my job, and the CEO is going; “I don’t understand it, it’s going to cost me money, so what’s going to be our return on investment?”.
The benefits are there, but we can talk about the benefits later on, but the piece around, what’s the word? Um, engaging senior management and influencing those people and making those people understand I think you need to have that clear message as to what it is you are trying to achieve and if you can deliver that message well then you are half way there towards getting what you want.
Rory: And understanding what benefits are going to help sway specific levels of your understanding.
Stewart: Yeah, yeah.
Rory: So, benefits, I mean, it’s not all doom and gloom.
Benefits of AP Automation
We want to talk about something positive here when we are talking about automation!
So, you’ve implemented automation before right in Accounts Payable?
What did you see were the benefits that happened there?
Stewart: I think, a couple of the benefits, around automation are definitely around the time savings.
I mean, if you are working more efficiently that means that the processing is quicker and then, then well you are being more productive.
And then, I suppose, people are happier as well because those tasks are taking a shorter time to do.
And then around what those people would then do with those tasks that’s adding value to your business.
But then, you know, automation brings protection as well.
There’s the whole world of fraud and automation helps with that.
I wouldn’t say eradicates it, but it helps with that process
Rory: Yeah, reduces that risk.
Stewart: Yeah, reduces the risk.
And then, for me, you know, automation for me is around eradicating that, that input.
In an ideal.. you know, I currently work in a department, I will hold my hands up, I currently work in a department where people input information.
Stewart: Eradicating that inputting and automating that whole step is a must in AP, for me, is a must.
I think we need to get rid of that whole inputting piece.
There’s computers can do that, there’s processes that can do that.
And then once you’ve got past that then it’s a case of what you do afterwards and how do you add more value to your business by dealing with that, with that information once it’s in your system.
But getting it in, there’s no excuses people, you should be talking about getting it in quickly, getting it in efficiently, and then and safely, and then what do we do with the information?
Rory: Yeah, so your vision for the AP team at BPL is no manual input, all automated so that people have more time to do these value added tasks?
So, for example, what would you see as a value added task?
Stewart: Well there’s always a piece around statement reconciliations.
Stewart: And understanding that we have to make sure that we are checking our statements and we are checking our suppliers information to make sure that it compares to yours, so you know, that could be one value added task.
Stewart: You know, some people don’t do statement reconciliation?
I found out at the APA conference recently, you now, oh my god!
I do, I think it’s a great key, but you know we’re digressing…
So for me, again, you know, value adding tasks around things that you’ve always pushed to the back of the queue.
The things that you need to bring from under that, out of that drawer, or out of the dark ages and say, look I need to look at this because this is a problem and this could actually unlock a few pieces of valuable, either monetary or, again, give you more insight into different areas of the business that you’ve never really thought would be impacted.
Rory: It would, yeah, so, one thing I have always used as a value added task in this sort of scenario would be to arrange supplier discounts and things like that.
Is that a realistic thing you could suggest for automation?
Stewart: I say, yes, anything’s possible. But then its…
Rory: It’s not something to rely on when you’re doing a project?
Stewart: Yeah, there’s other variables, of course, is it, is that in my industry?
Is discounts applicable to me?
Stewart: But yeah, you know, again, we’re talking about getting that information in and then moving on to; what can we do to enhance our business?
And discounts is one of those things that has always been, you know, a piece where you can achieve some great wins.
Rory: Ok, great, well thanks for your insights Stewart.
Just, really quickly, tell everybody what is up next for you.
Stewart: Well, for me…
I love to engage with the AP industry so I’m embarking on a project to make sure that happens…
So watch this space for 2020.
I will be out there, as it is, as an AP person, and wanting to talk and engage with other people in the industry and hopefully getting some great insights and understanding what is happening in our world of AP.
Rory: Well thank you very much for joining us and thank you Stewart.
Stewart: Loved it, thank you.
Rory: And we will be back with another ITESOFT Insider View series, thank you.
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