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3 Things That Are Really Needed For Accounts Payable Process Improvement

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Coming Soon To Theaters Near You

There is a trove of amazing movies set for release this fall, all chock-full of Hollywood’s best and brightest.  One that stands out from the bunch is a little-known tale about one of the unsung heroes of World War II.  No, not a story about an officer in Normandy or the Pacific theater, but someone who likely had a bigger impact on the war’s outcome, especially for the defeat of the war’s primary aggressor, Germany.  In The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, a renowned mathematician turned cryptanalyst who studied at Princeton University in the mid to late 1930s. Shortly after his studies, he was recruited by Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park and began working on breaking the encryption methodologies of the German Navy.  This was no easy feat as Germany had a very advanced machine called Enigma that worked with lethal accuracy in encoding their communications to their U-boats which were wreaking havoc on allied mercantile, passenger, and cargo vessels.

One may wonder what the association is then with Accounts Payable process improvement, as on the surface, there isn’t a clear connection.  However, one of the unflappable beliefs of Alan Turing was in the potency and eventuality of machine-based processing in the future to displace human intelligence as the prime driver for thought and innovation.   While Turing’s contributions to the war effort were hailed as the single most important in the war by none less than Winston Churchill, history has proved otherwise regarding the evolution of computing and machine-based thinking.  Consider this article by Walter Isaacson of the wall street journal, which challenges us to re-consider how innovation occurs and what should be the future direction for integrating technology into our increasingly complex lives.

 

Relationship to Accounts Payable Process Improvement?

 

So, bearing that article in mind, his premise (essentially that computing will not replace human thinking but rather enhance it) is something that we’ve infused from day one into our approach for tackling burdened process improvement, and with that said, here are three components that are necessary for any meaningful Accounts Payable process improvement.

  1. You need robust technology. – Certain things, like data entry, can be done away with.  It is a non-strategic, costly, and error-prone function. Why would anyone want to waste time banging on a keyboard when software (OCR, specifically) is fully capable of getting high levels of accuracy.  Now with that being said, in the financial world, you need 100% accuracy in advancing transactions, so again, overlaying the technology with a layer of human intelligence for audit and quality assurance purposes is the common sense approach.
  2. You need to mimic logic within the administration of the process. – Much like the intelligence bound up in Willy Wonka’s egg-detecting scale (Good or Bad), in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, certain process items can be vastly improved through tools incorporating workflow and business intelligence engines. Obviously, these steps require some level of human guidance in their set up, much like a traffic cop. Still, once a system is devised whereby a process can run ad infinitum, much of the monotony and intricacy of the process can be hastened away.
  3. You need human intervention at exception and administration levels.  Why?  Because for the same reason that an algorithmic powerhouse like Google can’t answer the fanciful question that a toddler can…at some level the information needed to guide a decision are qualitative, not strictly quantitative.  So even though Google can regurgitate facts and figures to the nth degree, it is powerless to weigh in on decisions where discretion is necessary.  In our experience, the best way to do this is to isolate exceptions for review at various levels within a process from AP Staff to Manager to Executive.

We hope you found this valuable, if not entertaining. We encourage you to witness a rise of the machines akin to that of John Connor’s in a retro way at the theaters this fall via The Imitation Game and for you to pursue process improvement whenever possible.

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