Making the Switch: Best Practices for Implementing Accounts Payable Automation

Implementing AP Automation

France’s national roadway operator spent a cool €2 billion dollars on new trains — only to discover they didn’t fit at most train stations in the country. Luckily, it was fixable — for the low, low price of €50 million. It’s every business leader’s nightmare; a costly mistake that could have been prevented if someone — anyone— had been paying attention. 

If your company is considering switching from manual invoice processing to AP automation, you likely already know that switching to automation can help cut the cost of processing invoices by 90%. But you might be concerned about making a mistake during implementation that results in lost revenue or productivity. It is time to lay that worry to rest. 

This guide serves as your AP automation pre-launch checklist. It will walk you through how to find the right AP automation solution for your business and cover best practices that will help you start reaping the benefits of AP automation now. 

A 5-Step Guide to Switching to AP Automation 

When you are considering switching from manual invoice management processes to AP automation, it is easy to dismiss the implementation project. The duration it takes for some providers can take weeks or even months. On the other hand, other providers can set your AP department up with AP automation in little as a day. 

The next objection AP implementers run into is they overestimate the complexity of the implementation process. That is understandable when you are making changes to your procurement process. 

But, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here is a low-stress guide to planning and launching your new AP solution. 

1. Examine Your Current Invoice Processes 

Your current AP challenges should serve as a focal point for an AP automation implementation. For example, a business function looking for more data might implement several processes at once to gain access to that data. With AP automation, both processes and data are available and automated so identifying what your current process is and how it can benefit from automation will help you better understand your landscape.  

Consider current bottlenecks and business goals to look for quick wins before implementation. 

2. Engage Stakeholders 

Gaining approval to implement AP automation and getting buy-in are two different beasts. Ensure key stakeholders understand not just the how, but the why. When C-suite executives, team leads, and AP staff understand how this shift will increase productivity and provide more controls in addition to visibility for management, the switch is more likely to be successful. 

3. Establish a Project Team 

Who will be responsible for implementing AP automation? Do you need assistance outside of accounts payable, for example, from management or IT? Depending on the size of your company, team liaisons and single points of contact for separate departments may help reduce repetitive communications. 

4. Select the Right AP Automation Provider 

Research AP automation providers and choose the solution that fits your business needs, automation goals, and long-term business objectives. We’ll cover other factors to keep in mind during the selection process in the sections below. 

5. Define Implementation Phases 

How will you roll out AP automation? How will the AP automation provider be involved? Depending on the size of your company and your current needs, on-boarding may begin with a set up call or separate internal session for invoice approvers.  

How to Choose the Best AP Automation Provider 

There are dozens of AP automation providers on the market — how do you know which is the right provider for your business? The reality is, every business has unique needs, which means there is no one perfect AP automation solution. 

How to Choose the Best AP Automation Provider

Here are a few factors to keep in mind when comparing the options: 

  • Consider your goals for AP automation: Are you hoping to save time, reduce data entry, gain access to management dashboards, or take advantage of early-pay discounts? Look for a solution with the critical features you need, such as automatic invoice capture, robust reporting tools, and data storage. Keep in mind that not all AP automation solutions offer true automation, rather, outsourced AP centers that code your invoices manually which delay the process and are prone to errors.
  • Compare pricing carefully: Look at prices carefully — consider the cost and features each platform offers. The cheapest solution may limit data storage and invoices per month, or restrict access to critical features such as support. To get the most accurate pricing for your needs, you should take the steps to obtain a pricing proposal so that both the provider understands your needs and you understand what you’d get with said provider.  
  • Look for fraud prevention features: Ensure the solution you choose also reduces your risk of fraud by increasing communication and restricting access to sensitive information through built-in internal controls for accounts payable. Businesses lose an estimated $7 billion a year due to fraud — this is one way to prevent those losses in your own company.  
  • Consider your security needs: Cloud-based solutions tend to be most secure, but your business may have special needs based on your industry or the type of customer information you handle.
  • Make sure it is future-proof: The right solution should work both now and in the future. What happens if the number of invoices you process increases by 25%? Will the system you selected still be viable, or would you have to switch to another platform? Will the AP automation solution work with other ERPs if you switch? Then, on the other hand, some AP automation solutions are payments first and invoice processing second. Therefore, it’s suggested to understand the provider’s focus now and in the future to see if the investment is worthwhile for your business’s needs.

Choosing the right AP automation solution is a critical step in the implementation process. We’ve created this detailed guide to choosing the right AP automation solution to help you compare different solutions. 

Best Practices in Accounts Payable Automation 

Even with a solid AP automation implementation plan in place, you might have concerns about stumbling blocks. Follow these best practices to prepare for the shift and reap the benefits of AP automation without throwing your company into chaos. 

Get Employee Buy-In 

You’ve already obtained buy-in from stakeholders — but what about your staff, your billing department, and AP employees? Do they truly understand the benefits of the software — or do they think their job is at risk? 

Make sure the boots on the ground employees understand how this tool will improve their day-to-day work — and reassure them that their jobs are not at risk.  

Make Training a Priority 

If you want to get the most out of AP automation, it is critical that your team understands not just the reason for the switch, but also how to leverage new features. Features such as setting automatic reminders for invoice approvers who might require additional reminding aren’t helpful if AP isn’t aware of the feature.

Make sure to include key stakeholders and AP users during the set up and training calls with the AP automation provider. Also ensure the software includes hand-holding support all along the way for new, current, and future users. 

Use Software Customized to User’s Needs 

Change is hard — and that is true whether your accounts payable department is one or two folks or several dozen. Rolling out changes slowly makes it easier for humans to adjust to the changes — but the best thing to consider is a modern and intuitive AP automation software that speaks the language of AP users and those that use the software.

Better yet, the software should be custom to each user role so an approver doesn’t gain access to information they don’t need or become overwhelmed with the complexity of something they may not understand. This will better ensure user adoption across the enterprise.   

Monitor Key Metrics 

Most businesses focus on how AP automation will improve the invoice management and payment processes. But, AP automation tools can do so much more than just save time on data entry. With Stampli, Management Dashboards provide access to key metrics that allow you to track accounts payable metrics for invoice processing, payment forecasts, user activities, and approval times.

For example, with 365-degree visibility into invoice status, you can identify potential bottlenecks holding up invoice processing or approval laggards. 

With built-in reports, you can view the total number of invoices in process and days they have been in process, which also includes the dollar amount of invoices, and can improve cash flow management. 

Payment forecasting is another measure available in the Management Dashboard, where you can view payment forecast reports for invoices on time, overdue, processed, and the total payment forecast. 

These key metrics provide insights into the overall health of your business and can help you prepare for the future. 

Align Automation With Your Business Goals 

You wouldn’t launch a marketing campaign without matching it to your business goals, right? Don’t just go with any old AP automation platform until you understand how it will help you reach your overall goals. You might be surprised to learn how different every AP automation application is to the next, and how some more than others can better improve your business.  

In addition to reducing manual tasks and improving workflows, AP automation can drastically streamline the audit process, provide insight into cash flow opportunities, reduce fraud risk, and help your business take advantage of early-pay discounts. 

Final Thoughts 

Recent solutions have allowed accounts payable departments to become strategic profit centers rather than cost centers. Tools like AP automation are not designed to take jobs away —- but rather enable AP automation staff and focus on strategic planning and cost-savings tasks. 

Shifting a critical process like AP to automation can be overwhelming; however, preparation and creating an implementation plan can minimize stress and help your business soar through the challenges. 

Ready to take advantage of the benefits of AP automation? Talk to an AP expert today to find out how Stampi can help. 

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