Detailed Guide on Accounts Payable Workflow Automation
September 14, 2021
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7 min
ACCOUNTS-PAYABLE
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Introduction to Accounts Payable

Accounts payable represents the amount owed by a company to its creditors and suppliers. It is deemed a liability when a company orders commodities or services without paying in cash upfront, implying that the goods purchased were on credit. 

A company's net accounts payable (AP) balance shows up on its balance sheet and can be found under the current liabilities section. 

To boil it down to simpler terms, here is an example:-

A manufacturing company requires raw materials, machinery, and fuel for  production. These desired commodities are consumed in considerable amounts and thus cannot be purchased in cash. Therefore, the company makes such a purchase on credit with a credit period of typically 30 days.

Until the company pays off the amount owed on the supply of raw materials, power, and fuel to the vendors in question, it will appear as Accounts payable in its accounting books.

Introduction to Accounts Payable Workflow

AP Workflow is an invoice tracking and validation process which includes invoice data capture, entering the right account and cost center, matching against purchase orders, seeking approvals, and posting for payments. 

AP workflow can be achieved manually as well as via automation; however, there are certain downsides to the manual approach. 

The manual approach, when it comes to AP processing, is a tedious and time-consuming task performed by delegated individuals in a business work-frame. 

Therefore, the manual operation has a considerable tendency for errors that impact the production flow.

Manually matching invoices to other appropriate accounts documents is the traditional approach, being the most widely performed practice of the fundamental AP process in a business - despite being exceedingly slow-paced and error-prone.

According to the Ardent Partners’ Accounts Payable Metrics that Matter, in 2020, there exist several deterrents that shackle the streamlining of the AP workflow for any company -

  • Excessive paper (40%) 
  • Exceptions Rate (62%)
  • Prolonged invoice approval times (51%) 

How does Accounts Payable Automation work?

AP automation boosts the efficiency of AP operations and provides enhanced information accuracy, deeper visibility into the performance of the AP department, and promotes consistency within a business.

AP workflow automation alleviates the time spent on manual processes such as invoice data entry, gap analysis, and approval workflow. AP Automation accelerates invoice processing and ensures the accuracy of payments.

Here are some key points on AP workflow essentials and why the AP department must implement automation in all steps of processing -

1. Invoice entry and sequential categorization

Invoice entries from various vendors can get exceedingly complex because suppliers forward them in varying formats and channels.

In such scenarios, AP workflow automation can truncate the steps involved in the process, notably with augmented invoice processes handed over in complicated formats and channels.

2. Invoice routing dispatch and relevant approvals

Before an invoice gets paid for, it goes through a step-by-step procedure for relevant approvals for subsequent deviation handling and authentication. 

Considering that several individuals are involved in the AP invoice approval workflow, it is cost-efficient to delegate the invoice to the appropriate department of the claimed request.

The AP automation system tool can aid in the immediate and effective operation of the routing and approval process. 

3. Invoice data capture and authentication

Manual data entry is time-consuming, expensive, and prone to errors and mistakes. The automated accounting systems and validation solution yield a streamlined and cost-effective process.

Automation boosts the efficient throughput of work, and since the task requires repetition, potential recurring clerical errors get identified and marked or segregated and quickly resolved. 

4. Invoice accurate matching and validation process

To authenticate the invoices received, they must get matched along with the other invoices and appropriate documents.

The AP workflow automation tools help validate the legitimacy of the invoices before processing payments by juxtaposing them with other documents and swiftly spotting errors or inconsistencies.

Pain points in Accounts Payable Workflow

Here are some pain points with regards to the AP workflow being shackled due to manual invoice processing, incompatible systems, and limited resources:-

pain points in accounts payable workflow

1. Inaccurate data extraction

Data errors are unavoidable when paying invoices or generating purchase orders that demand manual data entry, scanning paper invoices, printing, or signing paper checks.

A Proactis survey revealed that 62% of European SMEs face inaccurate data challenges in AP and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. 

Identifying errors and rectifying them is time-consuming, and if a business depends on manual quality control, some inaccuracies can slip through the cracks.

2. Fraudulent data

AP is a sizable target for fraudsters due to widespread disorganization and inaccuracies in invoice reports generated by manual operations. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners deduced that billing fraud impacted 18% of large organizations and 29% of SMEs.

Third parties or even employees forge invoices and extract capital from the company due to the absence of a centralized solution.

3. Slower turnaround time

Manual invoice processing is slow and draining for employees, especially in giant enterprises that deal with thousands of invoices each month. This scenario leads to delayed payments to vendors.

Delayed payments result in late fees and missed discounts on timely payments, leading to thousands or millions of dollars in missed savings. Late payments also lead to a breakdown in trust between a business and its vendors. 

4. Slow approval rate

With manual AP processes, the staff must manually hand over paper invoices for approval. This scenario increases the chances of misplacing relevant documentation that gets buried under tons of paperwork, leading to delays.

When a business receives invoices from the supplier, the AP department must manually enter data into the system to initiate the invoice approval procedures, which can be time-consuming.

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How to fix and automate existing issues in AP Workflow

AP automation can inhibit several glitches and pitfalls of the traditional approaches to AP workflow -

1. Prevent payments fraud

Internal document fraud occurs across all levels of an organization. 26% of fraud is perpetrated by senior management, 34% by middle management, and 31% by operations employees.

While manual AP processes can easily get manipulated, AP automation creates a digital audit trail that enables automated validation. With automated calculations and enhanced validation of data, manipulation of invoices gets tougher.

2. Accelerate the AP Workflow 

Errors in a paper invoice require the resubmission of paperwork. Besides, busy approvers leave manual paperwork buried at the bottom of inboxes, withholding approval processes.

Under such scenarios, AP automation can speed up invoice coding and processing time by 73%. Automation performs repetitive tasks effortlessly.

Automatic routing and approval notifications lead to approvals getting signed quicker, while automatic validation eliminates errors, cutting out the time spent on corrective work.

3. Alleviate errors 

Manual AP processes are stricken with data entry errors, duplicate invoices, missing paperwork, and double payments. Human errors are unavoidable and can often lead to substantial losses to the company.

Automation eliminates errors by automatically validating information before submission. 36% of organizations acknowledge that automation results in fewer exceptions and duplicate payments in the AP process.

4. Reduced costs

Manual AP processes are expensive and can add substantially to your expenditures in terms of remedial costs if the reports get submitted with errors.

However, with automation, these costs are considerably lower, as AP automation leads to an 81% cutback in invoice processing costs.

By implementing an AP automation solution like Docsumo, your AP process speeds up and becomes more scalable, leading to you paying less staff to do the same work. Besides, there are fewer correctional costs as data gets automatically validated and eliminates mistakes.

5. Strengthened supplier relationships

As manual AP workflow is slow, error-sensitive, and susceptible to recurrent delays, they can jeopardize your supplier relationships as suppliers anticipate fast payments.

By implementing intelligent automation solutions for accounts workflows, you can initiate payments faster and ensure timely execution. Automation also provides a better audit trail for suppliers to promote transparency.

Final Words

The AP department in a company oversees payments to all vendors and plays a pivotal role in strengthening relationships between the two parties.

However, due to erroneous data detection, AP frauds, slow turnaround time, and more, the AP department must adopt automation and facilitate a streamlined operation of processes.

AP automation tools deliver unparalleled precision, reduced turnaround times, and alleviate costs to provide you with a seamless experience and avert crisis scenarios like delayed payments, double payments, falling victim to frauds, and several others.


Written by
Pankaj Tripathi
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Detailed Guide on Accounts Payable Workflow Automation
ACCOUNTS-PAYABLE
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May 4, 2021
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7 min
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