CloudX Blog

Why Accounts Payable Process Perfection Is a Job For The A-Team

Posted by Chris Cosgrove

Mar 16, 2013 6:39:00 AM

Accounts Payable Process overhaul requires the A Team!

It's amazing how fast technology changes!

You buy a smartphone today  and tomorrow it’s obsolete.  The pace of change now moves astronomically.  I remember being one of the early guys on the college campus who had a cell phone, a flip phone with pull out antenna no less, in the late 90’s.  Now, the fact that I had a cell phone was astonishing, but to consider that carrying the same phone today would basically doom me to a life of ridicule and belittlement is a sobering thought.  I mean those phones and smartphones both exist to call people…right?  So what’s the big deal?  Oh, yeah…mobile computing, text and the power of data.

The technology world is changing at an exponential rate.  Computer power doubles every 18 months (Moore’s Law).   The law of fiber suggests that internet bandwidth doubles every 9 months.   Other areas of exponential growth include storage, content, and community.  Just consider the absolute techie tsunami that is social media.  In an astonishing  ten years, we’ve gone from no true social media existence to multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Youtube, etc.) with user bases in the billions and net revenues in the hundreds of billions. Amazing!

So the world is more interlinked than ever before, especially by user groups, relevant content, ideologies…all of which are essentially communities by commonality.  The things that matter most to us be they professional, personal, individual, or corporate are easily identifiable and accessible anytime.  The good news for most people is that because of these types of communities, it’s easier to access niche information quickly and to leverage that knowledge base to make informed and empowered decisions.  

 

So here’s a morsel for anyone considering AP process overhaul.

 

Before going down the yellow brick road of AP automation, it’s really important to understand that while in concept it’s fairly straight-forward.   Take invoice processing as an example…convert invoices to data, push the data to the accounting system, handle exceptions in a workflow, speed up the process, reduce costs, and live happily ever after.

Right?

In application it can be very difficult.  The reason for this, at least traditionally, is because the tried and true Accounts Payable software deployment approach underscores the need to bring new ( and often unknown) technology into the mix.   Looking at AP or any other transactional document process generally requires the use of a certain technology stack in conjunction with various physical processes to achieve the highest levels of improvement.

 

Consider this, to get 100% accounts payable automation here’s the short list of what you need to install, deploy, tweak, and manage:

 

-Scanning hardware & software

-Advanced Capture (OCR) technology – (highly niche area…template based or layout?, who validates the OCR results? )

-Document Management & Workflow technology – (this is fundamentally different from managing data in a core application like an ERP and will generally require an SME to administer and manage)

-Business Rules technology – (again, much of what drives the interaction of these systems involves initial config work and ongoing process tweaking, which means more dedicated support time, which most organizations have finite amounts of)

-Data Integration Proficiency – (for many users of lesser known back end systems, integrating data can prove to be a massive exercise in frustration…for enterprise organizations, it can mean deploying a battalion to spearhead the task…either way, you need serious chops to marry systems well, and this is why a lot of companies turn to third parties/aka integration shops)

-System Rollout & User Training – (for bigger deployments the complexity increases, and it’s best to begin any project with the end in mind, allowing time to take a multi-phase approach instead of pursuing a gargantuan roll-out.

And you thought this was just about bringing some fancy shmancy AP software in?

 

Some other items to consider if you’re going for the fully monty in improving your AP operations:

 

-Electronic Payment Methods – ACH/P-Card

-Vendor Portal Deployment – Give your vendors an onramp to upload invoices to you dynamically and a self serve kiosk

-Electronic Supplier Settlement Network – Providing group discounting, negotiated purchase rates and electronic invoice presentment and payment

-Time & Expense Report Management – Often intertwined with Payables improvements, as internal customers essentially submit expense reports to obtain payables reimbursement for miscellaneous spend.

 

There are many items to consider in improving AP to include investment requirements, achievability, returns, process gains, resource constraints, sponsorship, shared vision between executives and departmental leaders and many more.  This is why we say it’s a job for the A-team.  You need a crew of folks with technical prowess, project management skills, and visionary leadership to rally the troops and compel the organization forward.  So get your Hannibal, BA, Faceman, & Murdock in line and get on with getting better!

 

To learn some awesome Accounts Payables best practices and our approach to AP services, check out our ebook below!

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Topics: AP Process, Accounts Payable Automation, Improve Accounts Payable, Invoice Conversion, ap services, accounts payable software, accounts payable best practices, ap software, ap automation, accounts payable outsourcing

3 Ways That Your Accounts Payable Software Makes Forecasting Better

Posted by Chris Cosgrove

Feb 21, 2013 1:18:00 PM

 

Forecast

So you're a Finance leader these days in the midst of turbulent economic conditions that are unprecedented...what's the deal with forecasting?

Economic worries abound, supplier pricing is rising, political volatilities contribute to uncertainty, transportation costs are skyrocketing, and investors want more insight into your organizational financials...sounds terrific, sign me up.

In a recent Wall Street Journal Article, it was noted that 'Companies offer fewer details about their outlook', and that they 'seek to 'manage expectations' – Trying Times For Forecasting, Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2012.  This is largely due to the global economic uncertainty mentioned above and as a result many CFOs have adopted broader variances than previously in their reporting functions to analysts and shareholders.  There is also a growing trend of CFOs that have abandoned or curtailed the practice of forecasting, with the article noting a drop from 85% to 76% of companies providing financial insight over a period of three years.  This issue is certainly a cause for concerns for analysts and shareholders alike, who rely on accurate reporting data to value companies appropriately.

With that said, it's opportune to look to your back office functions, especially AP (2.0 that is), as an area to mine rich reporting data from a spend perspective.  This is infeasible with legacy technology and processes, however.  Often, AP invoice and pipeline information sits in silos (or on people's desks/inboxes)  without being addressed in a timely fashion.  Without having visibility to that info...you're already behind the eight ball in terms of being to forecast with any degree of ease and accuracy.  On the other hand, if you are one of the smart cookies that has recognized the value to automating your Accounts Payable process, then there is a good chance you are reaping the fruit of your labors.  No one said that Accounts Payable automation is easy, but the juice is worth the squeeze when done right.

Here are three ways that Accounts Payable software will make forecasting easier for you, and your analysts, shareholders, board, and organization happier: 

1. With invoices converted to data via smart OCR upon receipt, you have usability of the data to drive the process.  With the Accounts Payable process expedited, you can begin to turn invoices around quickly and eliminate late payments...bonus!  The bigger opportunity here is to capture more early payment discounts...double bonus!  An interesting note in Aberdeen's AP Invoice Automation in a Networked Economy - May 2012, show's that there is a difference of 73% rate of capture for companies who have automated (91% early payment discounts captured :) ) their AP vs. those who have not (18% :( ).  Faster invoice processing means better access to near real-time info, and real time info is the crux of accurate forecasting.

 2. By deploying an electronic workflow solution, you can eliminate internal bottlenecks and identify choke points to your approval process.  This also can contribute to faster payment turn-arounds, increased discount capture, and linkage across departments.  Think about it, you're effectively getting out of the paper pushing business and integrating procurement, finance, and the various approvers throughout your organization, you facilitate better shared intel between departments and promote inter-departmental collaboration.  Also, by getting visibility into process outliers (invoices in approval land that may be stuck in the process, you can more accurately accrue and forecast pending spend).

 

3. With usable data and imaged invoices, you can have immediate, dynamic insight to your spend.  Period.   With that accomplished, you can quickly and easily prioritize invoices for payment, manage supplier relations better, and account for your AP transactions and pipeline instantly

With advanced technology solutions in place to help you with invoice processing, you can get a firm grasp on forecasting, as indicated above.  However, besides making your life easier and more productive, the real boon with Accounts Payable automation is the added benefit of being able to reap profit where it simply was impossible before.  The two primary ways profit is generated through a successful AP automation initiative are by way of processing cost reductions (you’re invoices fly through the process now instead of limping) and by capturing more supplier discounts.  Interestingly, the discounts are usually a multiple of the cost reductions and really add the icing to the cake.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your AP process so that your forecasting woes can be gone and you want to learn how to make your AP system profitable and more strategic, you can learn more in our eBook on 7 Accounts Payable Best Practices to AP automation, here.  Also, you might want to consider improving your efficiency through Document Process Outsourcing & AP services.

 

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Topics: Accounts Payable Process, Accounts Payable Automation, Invoice Processing, Accounts Payable Solutions, ap system, AP Process, ap services, accounts payable software

Have a heart for your loved ones in the Accounts Payable Process

Posted by Chris Cosgrove

Feb 14, 2013 10:29:00 AM

Have a heart for those involved in the Accounts Payable process!

 

Happy Valentine's Day to all you in the Accounts Payable world!

 

Valentine’s day is recognized the world over as a special occasion in the year when lovers recognize and direct their affection towards each other through a variety of sentimental means.  Gift-giving, whether it is confectionery, floral, or greeting cards, is the modus operandi for most people that participate in celebrating this romantic day.  So in the context of shedding some appreciation on love towards all of our Accounts Payable friends who routinely save the day (Month/Quarter/& Year for that matter!), we at CloudX thought it would be apropos to send a little Valentine’s love your way.

In our opinion, the best Valentine’s gifts (chocolate aside) for most AP professionals would be the gift of peace of mind.  Seriously, many AP Directors and Managers are beyond stressed with the workload and daily burdens of the AP process and function.  Managing staff, providing reporting, ensuring accurate invoice entry, monitoring KPI’s, preventing fraud, ensuring compliance standards are met, satisfying vendors, improving processes, closing the books, and a litany of other tasks all go into the equation when balancing work/life standards. 

 

With that said, here’s a quick hit list for any last minute Valentine’s day shoppers looking to give that unforgettable, life changing gift to their AP sweethearts.

 

1.Accounts Payable Software – To use a broad term loosely, we think that this should encompass the ability to convert an invoice to data (from any native format – paper/pdf/tiff/edi/other) from the outset of the process, then validate the invoice data against ERP data (Vendor Master File/PO Tables/Business Rules – Approval Workflows), automate the routing and processing, and filter out items for exception handling.  Get the mundane stuff that sucks up time and energy out of the way, and isolate the stuff that needs attention and provide visibility to that…pronto!

2. Vendor Portal Technology – Another time consuming and everyday issue that AP leaders face is satisfying supplier inquiries about the status of payment on any given invoice.  At times, AP managers and supervisors are required to get in the midst of vendor disputes to affect positive resolution for both parties.  Unfortunately, this is a time consuming process for both suppliers A/R representatives, as well as AP staff.  With that said, by leveraging Vendor Portal technology, you can facilitate dynamic supplier invoice submission. This way they don’t have to print and mail invoices anymore…saving them time and money.  Also, in conjunction with the technology stack listed under point 1, they can have access to viewing where their invoices are by status…ie. have the been ‘Received’, ‘In Approval’, ‘Approved’, ‘Posted’, ‘Disputed’, etc, and thereby you can cut down on that inbound call volume by promoting a self-serve approach.

3. Dynamic Dashboards – By using the invoice data captured at the process outset with AP software, you can splice and dice the data to your heart’s content and use the data to make your life easier.  With it, you can speed the month/year-end accrual process, by associating invoices with GL data automatically, and make your outstanding spend efficient to retrieve.  In manual environments, this involves tracking down approvers and hodge-podging a forecast.  Also, you can use dashboards to identify chokepoints to processing invoices (especially Non-PO) and to identify early payment discount opportunities (by capturing invoices with terms and prioritizing them chronologically).

4.  Audit Utilities – The Accounts Payable audit is another one of the fun gyrations that AP leaders have to go through on an annual or biannual basis.  Generally speaking, it’s not difficult, but more cumbersome, especially if you’re managing your invoices outside of an electronic AP system.  Paper takes more time to locate records and provide them to auditors, whereas managing invoices and correlating documents in an electronic database format tends to be much faster, promoting a better audit experience and reducing audit cycle times (and your audit bill!).

 

We know this is a little bit whimsical today, but in the spirit of Valentine’s day, we wanted to give anyone who was on the fence about what to buy their loved one another great option.  I mean who really wants more chocolate, champagne, roses, a dinner out, jewelry, or trinket, when you can have awesome technology like this? ;-)

 

To learn more about Accounts Payable best practices or whether AP Automation, e-Invoicing, or AP services  (via document process outsourcing) are right for you, check out our eBook below!

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Topics: AP Process, Invoice Processing, e-invoicing, ap services, Accounts Payable Process, accounts payable software, accounts payable best practices, accounts payable audit, ap software, document process outsourcing

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