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In Part 1 of this blog series, I addressed the concern about not only whether automation powered by AI might replace the job of the invoice payment processing (AP) individual, but more importantly, what will a robot bring to the company pot luck? I talked in terms of the more realistic scenario—partial automation—and gave examples of how partial automation powered by advanced technologies will actually help employees more productive and do more value-added work, not be replaced. In Part 2, let’s address the AP function of finance departments specifically.

If partial automation has not yet arrived in the accounts payable department of your organization, it likely won’t be long until it does. Rather than replacing the AP clerk, it will simply force that position to evolve. And that’s where the automation process ceases to be frightening and becomes exciting.

When an AP professional is no longer spending long hours examining, manually entering piles of purchasing orders, receipts and invoices, tracking down lost invoices, and fixing errors, what might that person be doing instead? As machines increasingly take over repetitive and time-consuming tasks, the AP clerk will more frequently ask, “What can I do that a machine cannot? In what creative new ways can I add value to my organization?”

Some of the new duties and responsibilities of the AP clerk have not yet been discovered, while others are already taking shape today. In midsize businesses, the AP department is increasingly playing a much more strategic and central role. That’s because automation lets people graduate from “data entry” with almost no impact to data analysis and collaboration. Add in machine intelligence, and the AP department becomes part of a broader sourcing strategy.

Here are two examples. Data analysis helps a company discover trends and discrepancies within its vendor network, but it still takes humans to act on them.  Imagine you’re managing restaurants at dozens of locations. Accountants can analyze what they’re paying for specific food items store by store. They might realize that the same vendor is charging more at some locations. Or the same product might be supplied by two different vendors.

It gives you the timely information to start a conversation with your suppliers to either consolidate with the cheaper provider or to renegotiate payment terms. That kind of dialogue, coupled with more on-time payments, strengthens those valuable relationships.

AI can also help with supply chain financing. When it comes to early payment discounts, some companies don’t want to take advantage of those because their cash flow doesn’t allow them to, so they tend to pay as late as possible. In reality, it’s often cheaper to borrow money to pay early than to not take the discount. With the extra time automation brings to the mix, the accounting department can suddenly make a difference in supply chain financing.

We’re only in the early chapter of a much longer story when it comes to the automation of work done by humans today. Intelligent machines will redefine our jobs as they boost productivity.

Rather than taking your job, partial automation powered by AI might become your new favorite co-worker.

Just don’t expect her to pick up the tab at happy hour.

 Tags: Digital trends AP Automation

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