“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
That's what Plato said anyways....but, we tend to agree, however that most airline passengers are grateful for successful landings, so there’s that. Regardless of your position on whether the beginning or the end is the best, we want to get off to a good start with today’s post which is really about outlining what we believe is the optimal way to address AP automation for Netsuite users.
Now, defining what AP automation actually means is necessary for a common understanding since it’s a broad topic and confusion over it can arise quickly. For the sake of today’s article AP automation as leveraging an advanced technology apparatus to address invoice presentment (how accounts payable invoices are received into a business) through their processing (approval process, 2 or 3 way matching, and GL coding) and ultimately ending in posting (entry into ERP or accounting system). The payment process that comes after posting is also a prime candidate for AP automation but we like that idea that’s better couched as integrated payables. Here’s a deep dive on that, which will get you up to speed in a hurry.
Key points we need to address relating to AP automation for Netsuite.
Whichever approach you’re taking for automating invoice processing should follow a general course of action. Invoices are received in numerous, different ways. Some may be emailed, others hard copy via mail, still others via supplier portals, and for some legacy businesses, even fax. Beyond that, there are file format considerations and we’ve seen them all...PDF, physical paper, Tiff, JPG, and XLS files are all part and parcel of the structures that AP departments have to deal with.
Invoice Presentment - Optimal AP automation for Netsuite with respect to how invoices come in means being able to capably and swiftly address these multiple types of submissions in a cohesive, scalable, and powerful way that empowers the AP organization to capture all necessary data and leverage the data to good effect in advancing the invoice through the process.
This is best done through the use of advanced OCR (optical character recognition), whereby invoices can be categorized (Non-PO, PO 2 way, or even PO 3 way - with a receiver to match against). Critical information can be parsed from each invoice depending on its type and that information can be used to drive the process forward automatically and without human intervention.
Invoice Capture - One way or the other you need to get the data off the invoices if you’re going to end up posting them within Netsuite. For people who haven’t automated they have to assign this task to their AP staff and in many cases have to scale up the staff to accommodate higher invoice volumes since it’s all predicated on data entry and manual validation steps (Vendor and PO lookups, line item matching, etc.) From our perspective, this is wasted effort given how strong capture tech is these days. With near 98% level accuracy with advanced OCR at a character level, what is the gain in pursuing data entry? At the same time, most businesses aren’t interested in investing in or managing outlier technology that is expensive and requires special IT skills to administer. So, from our perspective, what most businesses would do well to consider is partnering with a service provider that helps them get the outcome they want. In other words, sign up with someone that can deliver the invoices captured and clean on an ongoing basis, so you don’t have to get entangled in yet another system you have to pay big dollars to bring in and then have the benefit of managing. Why not just pay for the outcome, especially if it’s a nominal ongoing, pass through expense that gets you immediate impacts?
Invoice Presentment within APSmart from CloudX
Data Integration - This may be the unsung hero of the bunch of items necessary for optimal AP automation for Netsuite. Honestly, we can’t overstress the need for solid integration. From our perspective, the best approach with a system like Netsuite is facilitated through its Suitecloud developer environment where, because of its service oriented architecture, third parties can develop and integrate their apps in a consistent and scalable approach. As such, when you have a tight integration (ideally via a dynamic API), especially in the AP realm you can do all sorts of wonderful things that otherwise would require manual effort that is costly, time consuming, and error prone.
Here’s a few things that can be expedited through tight data integration from an AP automation perspective for Netsuite:
-Vendor Validation - As invoices get submitted into the AP automation system for processing, vendors can be validated against the Netsuite vendor master file information to determine their accuracy and legitimacy. When valid vendors are identified, the invoice can continue forward in processing and where vendors detected in the capture stage that don’t reconcile against available, valid vendors in the master file, the invoice can shift into an exception state to be triaged by the accounting staff. This is huge from a data cleansing and fraud detection standpoint and would otherwise only be possible by an operator doing manual entry reconciliation and lookups, both of which are cumbersome and a total drag on efficiency.
-General Ledger Coding - By exposing the various GL table data that exists within a Netsuite deployment and bringing that into your AP automation system of choice, you can do some interesting things. For starters, you can overlay the approval process with a tighter set of controls so that relevant stakeholders (approvers) only see the GL codes that they need to access. This is helpful as it contributes to cleaner books and can eliminate fraud, while providing nice audit trails along the way as coding selections are evidenced by actor based data. This obviously presumes some electronic workflow that drives the process, which is pretty much a standard feature for any end to end AP automation system.
-Purchase Order Matching - While Netsuite has latent capabilities to execute multi-way matching (the matching between purchase order data and invoice data, whether 2 way ie. PO vs Invoice, or 3 way ie. PO vs. Invoice vs. Receiver Document), if you don’t have an automation component driving the match, then Netsuite can only tap into the matching capability after the invoice or receiver data is brought in manually. This is a bummer. However, optimal AP automation for Netsuite would include the PO matching because the data parsed through the Presentment and Capture steps above make the data available and usable in an automated way. Therefore, you can eliminate the need for manual matching in a high percentage of invoices. You can even overlay variance thresholds between these documents to tighten payment controls over your AP process. Again, none of this is possible if you are stuck in an environment where you manually cranking away against data entry. But, with some advanced logic inside of an AP automation system for Netsuite you can easily pass along the ones that reconcile well and isolate the ones that have quantity and line item mismatches or that exceed permissible variances.
Invoice Population within Netsuite of above referenced invoice.
One key take-away as a higher order thought to transforming accounts payable is essentially this; beyond making AP efficient and empowering your staff to do more work in a faster fashion because of machine automation, there should be a fundamental elevation in the strategic nature and role of the accounts payable function, because the time savings and visibility associated with this AP automation initiative means your people will be freed up to pursue higher order tasks.
This is why many corporate finance leaders who drive these kinds of projects forward will find themselves being able to pursue things like enhanced cost accounting or specialty projects, optimized vendor management initiatives, or pursuit of a more sophisticated payments strategy. Obviously, if you’re mired by data entry and manual process, you’ll never get the upside of experiencing any of the meaningful uplifts in the nature of the work, because you’ll be perennially stuck in the weeds so to speak.
A few other things to think about with respect to AP Automation for Netsuite:
Beyond the obvious invoice processing elements we’ve already laid out, there are some more nuanced impacts of data visibility within AP that should never be overlooked.
For starters, the impacts of visibility and speed within the framework of optimal AP automation for Netsuite users (and really anyone implementing accounts payable transformation) should net out to actionability. Realistically, if it’s not advancing your business and translating into concrete value, what’s it doing for you?
From our perspective here is what it could look like:
-Insight into pending payables - dashboards are really helpful this way, and more specifically having visibility into impact dates with respect to when invoices are paid. The two predominant ways this flushes out is the invoice due date and dates for early payment discount deadlines. In the former, you can use the visibility and speed of the optimal AP automation for Netsuite to eliminate late payment issues and fees and in the latter you can use it to increase your early payment discount capture rates. One is a defensive mechanism, the other enables your business to go on offense and to increase the strategic value of AP to the business in a tangible, monetary way.
-Reporting & retrieval - Being able to produce relevant AP documents, be they invoices, statements, credit memos, voucher / check request forms, and the audit trails for invoice and payment actions for every stakeholder in the process is crucial to ensuring the payables process has been structured in a way that is compliant with best practices and controls that are sound and justifiable to those responsible for corporate governance. Additionally, being able to produce rich reporting that empowers your business to manage to key performance indicators is another factor for enhancing the performance of your AP department. Additionally, being able to have insight into vendor, workflow, and payment data will afford you the ability to get insights you may not have if the AP function is exclusively done in a manual way.
-Audit & vendor relations - By having a flexible, open platform that is collaborative in nature and that is integrated with your Netsuite instance, you’ll be able to empower third parties like your auditors or your vendors to have insight to the status of invoices and related AP documents, as well as provide the images as well. This is important from establishing foundational understanding, especially when trying to troubleshoot or reconcile issues that may occur from a billing discrepancy or authorization perspective.
So we hope this was a helpful overview of some of the components that make up what we believe to be optimal AP automation for Netsuite. We know implementing these can be tricky, but we encourage you to pursue it because of the huge value you’ll get once your process is optimized and automated. If you’re looking for more intel on the best way to go about automating, check out this link below.