“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” So begins the classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. It refers to the premise of the story: A time of despair and suffering on one hand, and joy and hope on the other.
Let’s use this analogy in “A Tale of Two AP Departments” to tell about the despair and suffering of the AP department that still struggles with manual payables processes, preventing them from realizing how much time and money they can save—not to mention the dramatic increase in efficiencies—by automating their systems, and the joy and hope of the AP department that is already realizing the benefits of invoice processing automation.
Mister John Jones works in a manual AP department where his team receives the majority of its invoices in the mail or via email, with a payables process that is manual. They must hand-key data into their ERP and then physically walk invoices around the office (or send emails) to get documents approved. It goes without saying that this process leaves a lot of room for error, invoices get lost or hidden on someone’s desk, or get pushed so far down in an Inbox they are left unread or unanswered. All causing a lot of anxiety and frustration for John and his co-workers. John frequently has to eat lunch at his desk so he doesn’t fall behind.
Miss Jane Smith works in an automated AP department where her team receives the majority of its invoices via EDI (electronic data interchange)—computer-to-computer exchange of business documents—with very little if any human interaction needed to process. For them, automation means the ability for a single payables clerk to process almost 3,000 additional invoices per month compared to a completely manual process. Staggering! All with virtually no margin of error. Jane takes lunch outside of the office, sometimes enjoying a nice walk around the building on a sunny day.
John has no visibility into where invoices might be in the approval process. He feels like he’s herding cats on most days, spending a lot of time physically tracking down documents, finding out if they have been approved, and forwarding them or walking them around to the appropriate manager. He feels like he is living in the “age of foolishness.”
Jane’s cloud-based AP automation solution allows her to access documents stored in the Cloud, anytime, anywhere. And then she can electronically forward to the appropriate person to approve and push to the next stage in the payables process. All with a couple of clicks. Her time is then spent more on tasks that add value to the department and the company, such as improving supplier relationships and identifying ways to capture early payment discounts. Jane feels fortunate to be living in the “age of wisdom.”
Manual AP departments risk sensitive documents falling into the wrong hands or leaving private data exposed, causing John some sleepless nights; while in her automated AP department Jane can assign specific permissions and secure logins to managers, leaving data fully protected. She sleeps like a baby.
We continue our tale of “the best of times and worst of times” in AP departments in Chapter 2 .