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Chapter 4

The Automated AP Solutions

It’s not about replacing people. It’s about increasing efficiency.

Some workers hear the term automation and instantly think of layoffs and staff reductions. While that can be a side product of automation, it’s not the goal. The basic idea of workplace efficiency is to have the same number of people get more done. With automation, that is an inevitability.

Also, considering the alternative, automated AP is an easy decision.

Henry Ijams asks this question: “How many people write checks today? For small businesses, 80 or 90 percent of bills are paid by checks.”

It integrates with your ERP or accounting system.

As we previously discussed, integration with your company’s ERP or accounting system is a major benefit that leads to productivity gains through automation solutions. Connected to your ERP or accounting system, each time an invoice is received or processed, the appropriate accounting entries are instantly and automatically created.

This integration is the end of duplicate work and manually copying information from one system to another. Once the system, solutions, and integrations are setup and tested, it just works. So many processes that your staff used to do by hand are taken over by instant electronic processes and overnight processing cycles.

It integrates with your bank.

Accounts payable and accounting teams work together closely to ensure payment is recorded correctly in the general ledger. At the end of the month, the accounting teams review every transaction to ensure they match up with what’s in the bank.

This used to be a completely manual process, then was improved by spreadsheet programs. With bank account integration, however, your business can reach a whole new level of efficiency.

Modern AP systems can download bank balances, pull cleared transactions, and make the reconciliation process simple from end-to-end. Companies of any size can benefit from this type of integration. At larger companies, a separation of responsibilities ensures that each staff member has access to his relevant duties in the process flow. Separation of duties adds an extra layer of security, as workers do not have access to simply login and make payments and updates on their own.

Modern AP systems can download bank balances, pull cleared transactions, and make the reconciliation process simple from end-to-end.

It offers fraud protection and information security.

In addition to the extra security from separation of responsibilities, going from paper to a digital system improves information security to your organization. While you might think of horror stories, like when Target and Home Depot had their credit card systems hacked, these stories are the rare anomalies, not the norm.

Hacking can happen, but well designed, modern ERPs and AP systems are built to withstand virtually any attack.

In most cases, the worst-case scenario is a DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack, where your systems are overloaded and inoperable. But this is more of a web problem than an AP problem, unless you are using a web-based provider that doesn’t take advantage of DDOS protection and cloud performance. In this day and age, no reputable company would offer an AP solution that is not thoroughly tested against hackers.

Thanks to corporate firewalls and other anti-hacking tools, your data is safe and secure when you choose a trusted provider for your ERP and AP system needs.

It offers greater insight.

Business leaders should have access to instant reports telling them everything they need to know about the current state of the company’s finances. This includes AP reports with information about things such as outstanding payments by vendor and recent expenses by product, expense type, or category.

This type of information should be available electronically across all products, functions, and divisions, but too often this type of information is so disparate that the systems can’t communicate with each other and managers can’t get the information they need in a timely manner.

System integrations get your data out of silos and into a usable format for making decisions. Business leaders shouldn’t have to guess when making decisions that influence the fate of the company.

Decisions should be made on solid data and evidence, and automated AP systems offer just that. AP automation not only removes manual steps from your team’s AP processes, but also gives you better access to your company’s data.

Automated solutions offer unlimited users.

Many AP systems, both locally-hosted and cloud-hosted, charge a fee per user. As someone involved with your company’s spending, you know how valuable each dollar can be, and eliminating monthly recurring charges for your team to access an antiquated system is an ineffective use of your company’s capital.

Between the AP team, accounting, and various department leaders and managers around the company that are involved with the AP approval process, you may have a lot of users that need system access. Before you choose your solution provider, ensure it is one that gives you adequate access for every necessary staff member without blowing the budget.

If your AP is fully automated, however, you shouldn’t need many accounts. Invoice and payment approvals can be handled through your internal email system to avoid adding more users to systems. The manager can just hit the reply button and type the word “approve” and your AP system will move on to the next approval, or simply release the payment electronically.

Automated AP solutions include paperless document storage.

Document storage requirements are generally set by the legal and compliance teams, but with automated AP, you don’t have to worry about documents. Everything lives in bits and bytes on your network rather than packets and papers in your filing cabinets.

AP automation can effectively remove the need for paper storage and extensive holding periods. Everything is quickly accessible to team members with approved access. The days of shred bins and paper document security can be behind you, along with expensive bills for document storage and shredding vendors. That is one bill most business executives are happy to see vanish from the monthly payment cycle.