The wonderful world of accounts payable automation…
It has more of what you want (accuracy, time savings, departmental efficiency), and less of what you don’t want (duplicate payments, strained vendor relationships, and soul-crushing work).
Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?
Accounts Payable automation (AP automation) uses the power of machines to streamline your accounts payable processes, and since we know machines rarely object to implementation, the question is:
Why haven’t you implemented AP automation yet?
If you’re like a lot of the mid-market firms we work with, it’s because you haven’t achieved a consensus vote for AP automation among your organization’s key stakeholders. While this can be frustrating for the accounts payable department, it’s actually an extremely common scenario. In nearly every mid-market firm there is a member of upper management, an IT director, or a staffer in the AP department who:
- Doesn’t see the need for AP automation
- Doesn’t think the software will integrate with the other systems
- Doesn’t want to have their job stolen by robots
The list goes on.
While the nature of these concerns is valid, most of them have no bearing in reality. We’ve written on the benefits of AP automation before, but this post assumes you’re familiar with how AP automation can not only improve your operational efficiency within accounts payable, but at the organizational level also.
So how do you get started with accounts payable automation?
Simply put, in order to start (and complete) an accounts payable automation project you need buy-in from your key stakeholders.
This needs to happen before you select an AP automation solution, before you design your workflows, and before you alert your vendors of any new processes.
Lucky for you, getting buy-in from the necessary personnel at your company isn’t that difficult or complicated, and we’re going to cover exactly how to get it, step-by-step, right now.
Let’s get started!
Step 1 – Identify Key Stakeholders
No need to overcomplicate this—grab a pen and paper (or a spreadsheet) and jot down everyone who’s involved in this project.
Yes, you’ll need to consider the end-users in the AP department, but there are several other positions who’ll likely be involved in this type of automation project, whether in the hands-on implementation, the approval process, or the funding.
Here are some common players in an AP automation project. These should look familiar, as one of these bullets likely describes your role:
- AP staff
- CIO or IT
There may be more in your organization, but you get the idea. Once you have your list together you can start to get a sense of how to best approach them—individually, company memo, in-person meeting, etc.
Don’t worry—we’ll cover the pitch in more detail later in this post.
Step 2 – Find each stakeholder’s ‘currency’
AP automation has the potential to help many facets of your organization outside of the accounts payables department. If your fellow employees (and supervisors) can understand how a new AP system will benefit them specifically, they’ll show a greater interest in the project.
The ‘currency’ or the perceived benefit of AP automation, of a staff member in the AP department is much different than somebody in IT.
The AP employee might be salivating at the idea of not having to track down invoice approvals from different departments and manually keying in the data from hard copies.
The IT employee might be looking forward to the day of not having a regular stream of support tickets in order to maintain an outdated system.
See how currency works?
Think of the benefits that each person on your list will receive upon completion of your AP automation project. Here are a few common scenarios to get you started:
Obviously, AP automation will have the most significant impact on accounts payables employees. To find what type of currency they value most, take a look at how a new system might affect their daily workload, but also their careers:
- Reduce manual data entry
- Reduce time spent chasing down approvals and less time spent answering vendor invoice status questions
- Two and three-way matching for purchase orders (POs) and delivery receipts
- Does the AP automation system connect to my accounting system so I don’t have to go through double the effort?
- Will the system work with existing approval processes?
Upper management and your executive team may not be involved in the day-to-day operations of accounts payables invoice processing, but they can be extremely influential in supporting and funding your project since management approves invoices. Therefore, an efficient and easy-to-use AP automation solution will increase support for a modern AP system.
- Operational efficiency and intuitive AP automation technology for each user
- Improved relationships with vendors provided by increased visibility of invoice status if controls allow
- Cost of implementation
- User adoption
As the person overseeing, and ultimately responsible, for the accounts payable department, the controller is especially mindful of automation. This role is directly involved with reporting and knows very well what goes into their production.
- Increased staff productivity and accuracy
- Better (and faster) reporting cycles for the CFO
- Interruption of service
- Integration with other tools
Money can be a powerful tool in business when used correctly, and every CFO knows this. In order to explain the benefits of workflow automation, take a step back from the day-to-day and examine the benefits of having a clearer view of the full financial picture.
- Increased reporting ability for liquidity management and cash flow analysis
- Risk mitigation through fraud prevention
- Does it support growth and is it scalable?
- Cost compared to manual invoice processing
CIO or IT
Depending on how your organization is set up, IT can have a huge impact on the successful implementation of an AP automation platform; perhaps even final say. With that said, turn this department into your ally by speaking their language.
- Fewer support tickets maintaining legacy systems means more time for innovation
- Cloud solutions generally require less manual updates
- Security and compliance
- Ease of use for end-users
- Having to build custom integrations with other systems
Again, these are simply ideas you can use to start thinking about how to present the AP automation implementation project in a way that will resonate with different departments. Please use your own knowledge of your organization and its personnel to come up with your own talking points.
Step 3 – Paint a Picture, Sell the Dream
At this point, your pitch should almost be writing itself. From an accounts payable standpoint, you know the benefits of AP automation. Beyond that, you know how it will affect the different departments within your organization and how to present the benefits in the currency that matters to each stakeholder.
Here are a few talking points you can use to put a cherry on top of your presentation.
Implementation budget and timeline
When you look at all the benefits of AP automation, it might even sound like a dream come true—especially if you’re a finance geek 🙂
One of the easiest ways to turn that dream into a reality, especially when negotiating with your stakeholders, is to provide an accounts payable automation implementation timeline and a budget.
Put yourself in the shoes of one of your upper management executives. She receives a meeting invitation for “AP automation project discussion.” Not really her area, and she’s already getting a bit bored, looking for reasons to de-prioritize this project. But she plays it cool—her first question during the meeting is:
AP automation sounds great—how long is this going to take, and more importantly, how much is it going to cost?
When you’re prepared with a succinct answer to that question, that allows you to show that you’re prepared, you value their time, and more importantly, you can seamlessly move onto the more important part of the discussion—the benefits of AP automation:
Note: Lean on your vendor for this information. Implementation of the Stampli AP automation platform can take as little as one day. Chat with one of our AP Heroes to find out everything you need to know about implementation.
Reduce Risk and Save Money
With a project budget and implementation timeline on the table, you’ve effectively grounded your dream of AP automation in reality. Your stakeholders have a good sense of the scope of the project, now tell them what they get.
There is always some risk of paying a fraudulent or duplicate invoice, but this increases with manual handling of each invoice through multiple people. Automation reduces the risk of duplicate payments by running checks, you guessed it, automatically before bills are sent to your payments system.
And even if your staff is incredibly diligent with their work, this can lead to late payments (or even missed payments) as they jump through all the internal controls. Late payments can increase your overall costs through late fees.
On the flip side, using accounts payable automation can save you time and money. You can find the ROI of AP automation by doing an analysis of your invoice processing volume, time spent coding and chasing approvals, and the internal cost per invoice.
How much money would you save by burning through that backlog of invoices at a rate much quicker than your current process? Again, another compelling argument to add to your implementation timeline.
Next-Level Accounts Payable
Now that you’ve got your audience thinking about the possibilities of saving time and money, drive your point home by adding a transformative vision of accounts payable.
- When your payables data is housed in a centralized digital platform there will be stronger and more seamless connections between AP and your other departments.
- When your accounts payable team members aren’t scrambling and chasing down late invoices, they can use that time to be proactive and improve vendor relations in addition to identifying opportunities for early pay discounts.
- When your CFO has full visibility into the cash flow of the company in real-time, they can use that information to enhance decision making and pursue opportunities.
And that’s the vision of a paperless, automated accounts payable system that works for you, not the other way around.
The actual implementation of accounts payable automation systems can take as little as one day. Implementation is not the issue—getting buy-in from the key stakeholders is the tough part.
With the proper preparation, however, you can finally get your co-workers and upper management excited about the possibilities of AP automation. Part of that preparation, of course, if choosing the right vendor. If you’d like to chat with one of the AP Heroes at Stampli, we’d be happy to assist! Learn more about our approach to AP automation here.