Processing invoices is a thankless task at most businesses.
Between the time an invoice is received and the time it is entered into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) application, accounts payable staff must perform a seemingly endless list of manual tasks.
- Opening and scanning the mail
- Retrieving invoices from an e-mail box or portal
- Keying the information from invoices
- Matching invoices with purchase orders (POs) and delivery receipts
- Tracking down purchasers
- Physically routing invoices to approvers
- Chasing down information to resolve exceptions
- Searching for lost or misplaced invoices
- Entering invoice information into an ERP
- Searching an ERP for duplicate invoices
- Reconciling invoices with payments
- Updating vendor master data
All the while, staff must be mindful of the dozens of best practices, business rules, policies, and regulations that their business has in place for approving invoices and paying suppliers.
All these manual tasks result in a function that costs too much, takes too long, creates lots of errors, provides inadequate visibility, frustrates suppliers, and makes it impossible to implement best practices.
And it is not just paper invoices that require manual handling. Only 39% of the invoices that businesses receive electronically are processed without human intervention 1 . For instance, many businesses process invoices receive PDF e-mail attachments as if they arrived through the mail. Some businesses print PDF invoices and scan them into an automated accounts payable solution.
This is a huge waste of time and only gets worse as a business grows.
The root of the problem is the piecemeal approach that most departments have taken to automation.
- E-mail based approvals are not “intelligent”
- Supplier portals and EDI/XML are not enough
- Scanning/OCR alone will not get you to touchless invoice processing
- Many accounts payable systems are not integrated with an ERP
The current invoice process at most businesses is a mess, with paper and e-mails flying back and forth and manual data entry and inputs throughout. Literally at every single point of the invoice approval workflow, there are manual processes with significant opportunities for errors and delays.
It is no wonder that 84% of an accounts payable practitioner’s day is wasted on tedious manual activities such invoice data entry and paper shuffling 2 . In fact, accounts payable leaders often spend more time each day on transaction processing than on the managerial tasks they were hired for.
A new breed of digital technology promises to change all this.
The technology – which combines robust robotic process automation (RPA), cognitive capabilities, and an advanced reporting dashboard – to create scalable, repeatable, and touchless processes.
1. Unread emails are monitored for supplier invoices.
2. Attachments are found and detached from the e-mail for processing.
3. The attachments are read using cognitive capabilities and data is extracted.
4. Invoice information is validated based on pre-defined business rules.
5. An invoice is created, matched against POs and delivery receipts based on pre-set rules, and checked to ensure there are no duplicate invoices.
6. Users are notified about whether invoices were successfully processed.
With this digital technology, accounts payable staff only intervene when necessary.
The result is an end-to-end invoice process that is touchless.
Eliminating manual processes frees accounts payable staff to focus activities such as cashflow and spend analysis, building relationships with suppliers, and collaborating with stakeholders such as treasury and procurement – gratifying tasks that can help businesses navigate tough times.
2 IOFM AP Department Benchmarking Report
President at Brousseau & Associates
Over the past 26 years, Mark Brousseau has established himself as a thought leader on accounts payable, accounts receivable, payments and document automation. A popular speaker at industry conferences and on webinars and podcasts, Brousseau advises prominent end-users and solutions and services providers on how to use automation to improve document- and payments-driven business processes. Brousseau has chaired numerous educational conferences and has served on several industry committees and boards. He resides in Center City Philadelphia with his wife and three sons.