3 min read

Getting the AP Automation Elephant On Your Side

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A Funny Story About Gloves...and Change

Brothers and authors, Chip & Dan Heath established a name for themselves with a fantastic business book, Made To Stick, in 2008.  In 2010, lightning struck twice with the release of Switch, which tackles the subject of affecting organizational change, especially for those who don’t feel empowered to do so.  In this book, there’s a fascinating story about Jon Stegner, a Global Procurement Director with a major manufacturing organization.  In this role, he knew that many of the processes that the organization embraced were dated, inefficient, and burdensome to the company and that they desperately needed transformation…but there was a little problem.  He knew that it couldn’t be achieved without the lockstep support of his divisional leaders sponsoring the effort to change, and he didn’t have that. 

So he proceeded to do something radical…by authorizing one of his summer interns to research their procurement process in more depth, and had him focus on one tangible commodity…the humble rubber glove.  After doing some due diligence the intern came back with some staggering facts….nearly 424 unique types of rubber gloves were purchased across their divisions, and more importantly, they ranged from $3-17, and even gloves of similar nature had vastly different prices because they weren’t centralized in their procurement efforts.  Not only did he gather this data, but he then sawed the limb off on which he was standing when he physically assembled all the different types of gloves with sticker prices attached on the boardroom table during an executive meeting with all divisional heads present.  He then had them tour the ‘shrine of gloves’ to get them to understand the implications of their situation, and in so doing got them on his side (a term which the Heath brothers called getting the Elephant on your side).  He then had the authority and the sponsorship to affect change, which is precisely what he did, for the better of his organization.

Accounts Payable Automation is not dissimilar.

Sure, the Accounts Payable Process may not be as easy to physically show the effects of a bad process in a memorable and tangible way as Stegner did, but that is no excuse to not make the case for AP automation.  In fact, it’s only when you perform a benchmarking exercise, which is essentially what Stegner did, that you get the ammunition you need to supply your business case.  Debating whether or not worthwhile is entirely subjective until you count the costs.  Then, and only then, do you have the basis to make an informed, intelligent decision.

Here are a few ways (entirely practical of course ;) ) to end the tyranny of paper in your AP process:


  1. Copy one of every invoice that comes into your organization in paper (or that is output from an electronic file to be reconciled) over the course of the month and dump on your CFO’s desk.  – Caution, this may result in getting you fired…but it is almost summer, so that may not be a bad thing…also, this is generally more advisable on Friday afternoons (definitely not Monday mornings).
  2. Affix Motivational Stickers to invoices circulating in your Non-PO approval process.  Surely your elementary teachers were ahead of their time.  For $1.99 at Staple’s you too can harness the power of Great Job, Way To Be, Good Effort accolades captured in smiley faces to better your invoice processing!  As a note Scratch n Sniffs are also highly advisable, though be fore-warned they are much more costly and the licorice is un-appealing…in fact nauseating.
  3. Adopt a Phineas & Ferb lexicon when you check in on your Approvers, Department Heads, and other folks who are just general obstacles to a streamlined process.  Phrases like ‘Hey fill in the blank _______, whatcha doooin?’ and ‘Oh, you are so totally busted!’ are sure to win over your peers as you police their activities.
  4. Get creative when Auditors request invoices and supporting documents.  Make a paper mache sculpture with the files in question or wrap a box of shredded invoices in invoices…it’s sheer genius!  I mean, you’re giving them what they asked for and since the likelihood that their billable hours will be excessive, you might as well give them a nice puzzle to work on…did you see Argo…then you’ll know what I’m talking about!

Alternatives to non-standard approaches

In the event any of these approaches result in disciplinary action to you or your collaborators, may we humble suggest an in depth AP benchmarking assessment?  That could be the tipping point in whether or not your bid for advanced Accounts Payable software and tools like Vendor Portal technology get heeded by your execs and ultimately implemented in your organization. Also, there are some times that it's important to not pursue automation, as indicated here.

For more information on AP Software, document process outsourcing, and Accounts Payable best practices for automation, feel free to reach out to us at CloudX.  If nothing, else you may actually find yourself laughing a little bit more, which is always a solid cure-all!

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