Automation, fully automating your accounts payable process doesn’t always go as smoothly as you’d like. You’re bound to face challenges when changing the workflow and updating business processes for any department, and accounts payable is no exception.
What’s your organization to do when facing problems as you begin automating the AP department? It can be difficult to find out. Most of the advice you’ll find simply tells you that automation is a good idea. It’s rarer to find people talking about what to do when automation doesn’t go as planned.
Whether you’ve run into some roadblocks while automating or want to avoid such problems when you do automate, this article is for you. We’ll walk-though some of the biggest challenges facing AP automation in 2019 and offer tips for how you can overcome them.
A Lack Of Planning
With the right software system, implementing automated accounts payable is fairly simple. But that doesn’t mean its a good idea to just jump into automation without a plan. Before you automate your AP department you’ll need to answer a few questions. These include:
- What’s Our Goal For Automation?
- Who’s On Board With AP Automation?
- How Will AP Employees Use Their Time?
- What Will Automation Cost?
- Which AP System Will We Use?
For more information on why these questions are so important, you can read our article “5 Questions To Ask Before You Automate AP.” Setting goals, making sure everyone involved is on the same page, and making a plan for how the department will work post-automation are all tasks that will help you identify and overcome challenges facing AP automation.
Unclear Goals and Controls
Let’s take a closer look at part of the planning that should happen before automating accounts payable. To use your AP automation system effectively, you need to know what it is you want the system to do.
Start by developing a management initiative. This should include clear goals for automating the department, allocating resources to the project, and generating enthusiasm for automation among senior management and AP employees. You’ll often find that people are hesitant about automating. Here are a few articles that can help smooth things out and clear up any misunderstandings:
- Best Tips For Getting IT Management On Board With AP Automation
- 3 Steps To Getting Your Boss On-Board With AP Automation
- Does Robotic Process Automation Take Jobs Away From Real People?
Pre-automation is also a good time to take a close look at existing processes and controls. What does workflow look like now? Which types of controls are already in place? What works in the current system and what doesn’t?
The more you know about the current state of accounts payable processing the better idea you’ll have of what you want workflow to look like in the future. One of the big challenges that can trip-up AP software implementation is an unclear idea of what you need the software to do. Planning ahead helps with that.
About 1/3 of implementations fail entirely – a fact that’s pretty well known in the IT/software industry. Another 1/3 of implementations get scaled back or have their scope changed or reduced. That leaves only 1/3 (about 33%) that are fully implemented. To avoid becoming part of the 66% that fail, you need to have an implementation plan in place and choose a reliable software provider.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all explanation for why so many implementations fail. Sometimes it has to do with poor planning on the part of the company who wants to automate. Other times it happens because of poor scoping on the part of the software provider or promises that weren’t entirely accurate.
It’s worth noting here that NextProcess has an implementation rate near 100%. We’re open about what our products can and can’t do and we’d be happy to answer any questions you have. You can also schedule a demo to see how our software works before you decide whether or not to purchase. If you do choose us for your AP software provider, our customer service team will work with you throughout the entire implementation process.
Implementation typically lasts about 6 months, though you’ll be able to start using the program early on in that time frame. Our Project Managers will work closely with you to set up configuration options that enforce your policies and support your company’s goals and needs.
Misunderstanding Automated Systems
Once you have the AP system set up, the most common problems arise when they’re not being used correctly. Most often, this is due to an issue with inaccurate or contradictory data. If the data you’re putting in doesn’t match what the system expects or the system finds errors that it can’t automatically reconcile, then someone has to step in and fix things manually.
There will always be a few exception invoices that require manual processing. But when an automated system is running well, the auto-processing rate can get up to 90%. If your auto-processing rate is much lower than that it’s time to take a closer look at what’s going on.
Exceptions are not typically caused by a problem in the automated AP system. Catching exceptions actually means the system is working well because it’s only designed to auto-process invoices that fit your customized parameters. To reduce the rate of exceptions invoices, you can do one (or both) of two things.
- Refine your custom tolerances.
- Correct data errors.
We’ll cover these solutions in more depth in the next two sections of this article.
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Inefficient Settings or Software
If the system is consistently flagging invoices as exceptions which actually have no errors you may simply need to refine your business rules and adjust your settings. Your software provider can help with this. Standardizing your automation processes can also help correct this problem.
Another thing that can help is to automate other departments involved in the Procure-to-Pay process. If you also automate your purchase order system it can communicate with the AP system to match purchase orders and invoices more accurately and quickly.
NextProcess offers a suite of programs compatible with each other and with existing ERPs. This makes it easy to streamline connected processes across the company. There will be no software conflicts, implementation of multiple programs is easy, and it also simplifies customer service.
Data entry errors are a big problem for manual accounts payable systems. Whenever employees manually enter data from invoices into a computer there is a risk of human error. Even the simplest mistake can result in costly errors for your company. If you’re not careful, some of these problems can transfer over to an automated system.
The first thing to do is switch to receiving as many electronic invoices as possible. Digital data is easy for the system to read without generating errors. For your suppliers and vendors who still send paper invoices, you’ll need an accurate data capture system. If you’d like to learn more about how these systems work, check out these articles:
- This Is What You Need To Know About Your Data Capture Options For Accounts Payable
- What’s The Difference Between Image Capture and Image Indexing?
- Top 10 Reasons Why Using Robotic Process Automation For Data Entry Is The Right Choice For Your Business
NextProcess’ proprietary data capture technology ensures over 99% accuracy on every invoice. The system can handle multiple methods of receipt (including email and EDI) to keep your process moving quickly. For paper invoices, our high volume mail center quickly gets your invoices digitized and ensures data security.
Challenges With Suppliers and Vendors
Not all data errors are the fault of your processing system. Some come from invoices that contain missing or inaccurate data that will cause problems no matter how accurately it’s transferred into your system. To correct errors coming from outside your company, you’ll need to work with your vendors and suppliers.
Most automated systems can’t check purchase orders or invoices line by line. If there’s a pricing discrepancy or a different product number shows up, the automatic system routes the invoice for manual fact-checking and approval. Reconciling this sort of exception often means contacting vendors directly to work out why prices, product numbers, or amounts don’t match.
This sort of thing is a hassle, but automation systems do make things easier. NextProcess’s AP automation software sets up a vendor’s portal so vendors get controlled access to your processing platform. They’ll be able to check the status of their invoices and submit missing information. This portal won’t eliminate the need to check in with vendors to handle discrepancies, but it will help.