April 6, 2021

Today, automation technology is one of the inevitable technical trends for companies wanting to improve their efficiency and agility in a complex and competitive economic environment. The reasons are clear, including cost reduction, process optimization, data security, regulatory compliance, and many more.

If you are considering automating your invoice payment processing (AP) workflows, or are already investigating solution providers, your success will be based on following some basic guidelines and avoiding some common pitfalls.

With that in mind, I thought I’d offer some insight to help you on your journey, combining practical information with a little tongue-in-cheek humor. Here are six ways you can mess up your invoice processing and accounts payable workflows.

1. You are unaware of the costs and time it takes to process your invoices. 

People have been telling you over and over that invoice management causes constant frustration in the accounting department and ill feelings when suppliers complain about not being paid on time. It becomes a nightmare when invoice volumes rise to an unmanageable level. So why even bother knowing how much it all costs? It’s either very expensive and someone is sure to start wondering why you didn’t do something sooner; or the cost is marginal and you’re missing out on a relevant project that could have made you look good with your financial leaders.

Better to avoid knowing and hope no one notices.

2. You don’t seek to understand the challenges your suppliers face with your current invoice processes.

Auditing all the weak points in a given process, finding past due invoices, replying to e-mails from angry suppliers—it’s like reading a medical dictionary! You end up convincing yourself that you have all the symptoms of a disease—Acute Paper-itis, a highly addictive condition involving incurable paper consolidation, contagious double-sided reporting, and repetitive storing of invoices in cardboard file folders and metal cabinets. It is an endemic phenomenon that even the top experts in automation technology have not been able to eradicate.

Stock up on band-aids now; you’ll need them for all of your papercuts!

3. When choosing an AP workflow automation solution, you ignore the need for legal compliance and audit trails.

By definition, software designers plan to cover everything. Especially when it comes to compliance with existing rules, such as traceability and audit trails, and, for the most daring, with rules that don’t even exist yet. So why bother running through a regulatory checklist? The techies have it covered! Besides, you can just deal with legal and audit problems if and when they arise.

What good would it do to anticipate?

4. You will buy as many software solutions as it takes to automate each step of the workflow.

To quote one of my favorite movie characters, James Bond, “For me, software solutions are like a medium dry martini. I prefer them shaken, not stirred.” (Or something like that…)

You might as well buy and implement multiple solutions. Because really, purchase orders, electronic document management, expense reports, and invoices have nothing in common, right? Besides, integrating solutions into existing information systems and ERPs never works.

And hey, you like jigsaw puzzles—they’re fun!

5. You plan to select an AP workflow automation solution that does not automate data entry, do PO comparison, validate invoices, or have mobile routing and approval capabilities.

You don’t play around with data security or quality. Human intervention will always be needed to enter and validate invoices. Tasks will always be handled better if a human, not a computer, personally oversees them. And humans never make mistakes, even when they are overworked and buried under paper.

You are Superman—or Woman—and you won’t let those pesky emerging technologies like AI and machine learning get the best of you. No way.

6. You don’t believe any provider that promises you can try a solution before you buy it.

“Try for free!” “No risk!” “Money-back guarantee!” Yeah, yeah. You’ve heard that before. It all sounds good until you read the fine print. You won’t be tricked into trying out different solutions before making your decision.  Why run the risk of getting trapped into a contract, even if it means you’re making an uninformed decision?

Stick to the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey method. It’s less scary.

Avoid These Accounts Payable Workflow Pitfalls 

In conclusion, I hope you’ve enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek exercise and that it has helped raise your awareness about some of the common mistakes and assumptions that invariably lead to accounts payable workflow automation failures, or worse, prevent you from even getting started.

For more information about AP automation options or how GRF can help your organization, contact Jim Norton, Senior Manager, Accounting Technology Services, at jnorton@grfcpa.com.