By Wendy St. Clair, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Kofax

No one has ever called strategising for digital transformation easy. But the exponential growth of corporate systems and data, coupled with the recent explosion in demand for work-from-home solutions brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak, may make it seem downright impossible to decide where and how to start. And yet many organisations recognise they have no choice but to digitally enable their operations if they want to compete in 2020 and beyond.

The good news is your company isn’t the first to attempt digital transformation. In fact, there’s an abundance of documentation on the benefits of automation across many business areas. And one area in particular has been proven to demonstrate value to the business, reduce strain on employees, improve customer and vendor relationships, and deliver positive ROI – in quick succession. That area is the finance department, and more specifically, the vital accounts payable (AP) function. The fast delivery of so much value makes AP an excellent starting point for a successful digital transformation.

AP success stories include reduced costs, streamlined operations, fewer hours spent on the phone with vendors, and happier employees. That’s why, in its 2020 AP Metrics that Matter Survey, Ardent Partners found that 55% of the AP and purchase-to-pay (P2P) leaders surveyed believed digital transformation of the AP process is exceptionally or very valuable[i].

Now, please take a moment to consider even more encouraging data from the survey:

  • Top-performing companies that automated the AP process achieved six times lower invoice processing costs.
  • With automation, best-in-class companies in the survey were 1.6 times more likely to use AP-related data and intelligence to inform enterprise cash flow analysis and two times as likely to leverage data and intelligence to improve stakeholder collaboration.
More good news: Future-proofing your AP organisation through digital transformation doesn’t require throwing out your enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and starting over. Instead, you can automate critical processes in sync with existing ERP systems and focus on two seemingly tactical – but influential – efficiency metrics. Your priority should be to reduce the time employees spend processing invoices each month while increasing their ability to manage a higher volume. The effect will be a transformation of their workday and your business’s ability to keep critical processes moving forward.

AP automation is the linchpin that centers and provides support for your ongoing digital transformation.

How AP Automation Saves Time

Enables a faster invoice-processing cycle. Accounts payable continues to be mired in paper, a problem contributing to delays, mistakes and slowdowns in invoice processing. According to a 2019 Ardent Partners survey, 47% of AP leaders say elimination of paper and reduction of manual tasks is a top priority[ii]. Intelligent automation capabilities, such as cognitive capture and process orchestration, make the transition away from paper and manual tasks possible. And there’s another benefit to digitising paper invoices: by capturing and processing data, you can leverage it across the entire organisation for faster, more accurate decision-making.

Improves cross-functional collaboration. Accounts payable is the best place to start digital transformation because it impacts functions throughout the business, from procurement and business units to finance and suppliers. With AP processes automated end-to-end, key information flows faster and more easily between all stakeholders. Every decision and opportunity is optimised. It’s the reason why almost half of the AP leaders surveyed by Ardent Partners say improved collaboration with key stakeholders is a requirement for taking AP performance to the next levelii.

How AP Automation Improves Efficiency

Reduces complexity. The average AP department receives invoices from multiple sources, in numerous languages and formats. This variety creates a number of complex downstream processes, which then require more time and expense to complete. Some AP automation tools are built to enable straight -through processing of even the most complex invoices, working with multiple currencies and layers of VAT taxes, and providing automatic payments to multiple tax authorities and vendors without human interaction. This alone can make AP teams exponentially more efficient.

Ensures consistency even during a crisis. Whether a company needs to work around a global pandemic, a regional hurricane or any other unplanned activity, we all need a consistent and fool-proof way to manage cashflow activities that’s not reliant upon paper-based, location-dependent manual tasks. An organisation’s ability to act, react and have visibility into their processes from any connected device is a core component of remaining nimble and efficient.

Integrates AP automation with any ERP. AP teams that process invoices outside the company’s ERP systems face more delays and errors. When AP automation is integrated into the ERP, however, the entire process is streamlined, so they gain complete visibility and control over financial processes. That means they can leverage insights to take advantage of discounts and continually improve.

As IT teams face intense pressure to digitally transform their organisations, they should focus their initial effort where it counts most. AP automation is a prime place to start your digital transformation. You don’t have to worry about the wheels falling off your IT department or wrecking your revenue. Instead, you can be sure it will drive quick results across the business – and enable you to work like tomorrow, today.

[i] Cohen, Bob. (2020) AP Metrics That Matter – 2020 Update. Ardent Partners. Webinar.

[ii] Ardent Partners. (2019). The State of ePayables 2019: Driving Value in the Age of Intelligence.