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Resources   /   Mastering Fundamentals of AP Automation

Chapter Six: The Path to Automating Accounts Payable

Here are four key actions to help you get started.

Automating your accounts payable might seem overwhelming, but here are four key actions to help you get started.

Action One: Pinpoint your objective

First, pinpoint your specific objectives.

For instance, your objective could be to reduce your late payments and errors. Or it may be to reduce manual tasks so your team can focus on more strategic, higher value projects.

Whatever your objectives are, estimate financial savings to make them more concrete. For example, specify that your aim with automation is to cut annual payment and invoice processing costs by 50 percent. Or indicate your objective to shave your supplier payments costs by 25 percent and check reissue invoices by 25 percent.

These figures will make the objectives more powerful and give you more clarity as you move ahead in this process.

Action Two: Strive to get your stakeholders on board

Once you’ve identified your objectives, gather your internal stakeholders including department leads, top executives and other employees.

It’ll help to set expectations and get granular. For instance, share the potential savings expected from automating AP.

Be open about the new work process, and make sure to incorporate employees’ concerns about the transition. It’s likely they’ll have valuable insights and need to feel comfortable with the change.

“Change management is often an afterthought when organizations decide to automate,” according to a report by Sage Intacct, an accounting system provider, titled Seven Pitfalls to Avoid When Implementing AP Automation. “But front-line staff can provide valuable insights into the current challenges with paper-based processes and are key to a smooth transition. If business leaders do not properly manage the technology’s impact on staff, it can cause low morale, delays in rolling out the system, low investments returns and loss of trust with senior management.”

Remember you’re dealing with human beings

Focus on the employees’ needs and desires. Avoid getting too deep in technology integration and AP automation software details. That can come later.

Get your team to resonate with the big picture benefits that automation will deliver, saving time and giving them more time to develop new and engaging skills and explore more exciting career paths.

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We partnered with IOFM to identify some important features to evaluate when choosing an automation system, including how well the software integrates with your accounting system, what levels of support and security the provider offers, and how customizable the solution is.

Action Three: Select the AP automation system that suits your company

Once you’ve rallied your team, look for a system that will work seamlessly with your accounting software and legacy financial systems.

Be sure that the accounts payable software tools are easy to use and can be expanded to handle higher numbers of payments and invoices. Find out if the vendor will offer you additional services, training and onboarding support to minimize your internal set up costs.

Who can help you most?

As you search for the right AP automation system, align with a solutions provider that has expertise in process improvement.

This advice is explained in an article by Sage Intacct titled Seven Pitfalls to Avoid When Implementing AP Automation.

“Be leery of solutions providers who do not analyze your current AP workflows and take the time to understand your desired end-state before the implementation begins. And they should offer insightful best practices for continuous improvement.”

Key questions: Does the software solve your AP problem?

When you select the AP system, make sure the accounts payable software and accounting software will integrate easily with your company’s accounting software and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, the heart of your online, computer-based financial operation.

Action Four: Integrate accounting system and AP automation software

After selecting the AP software system, review the integration to make sure the systems are compatible – meaning communicate and interoperate with each other.

And consider the advice in an article in Finance Digest, titled 5 Common Mistakes Around Accounts Payable Automation, which is to avoid integrating a solution that “does not communicate natively with your accounting software or Enterprise Resourcing Planning. A collection of application programming interfaces (APIs), connectors, interfaces, micro-services and configurable modules may indicate the integration is too complex. Make sure you have the right tools set up and that they all talk to each other before you make a decision.”

Why ERP systems are important for you to understand

ERP systems tie all the daily activity of a company together to make tracking and management reporting simple and centralized. The best ERPs allow any authorized employee, from accountant to CFO, to run self-service reports relevant to all parts of the company’s finances and operations.

If a company already has an ERP or various systems combined to handle many of the above functions, an AP solution can integrate into its existing systems.

For this integration, the company can use high-quality AP software existing in the cloud as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering. Another option is a server at your company’s office. The software offers connections to existing ERP modules and components. In some cases, it’s a simple plug-and-play integration; in others you need customized development to meet your specific needs.

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