Stampli
Implementing AP Automation

How to Successfully Implement AP Automation: A Step-by-Step Guide

AP automation can help businesses save money, reduce errors, and even lower the risk of losing millions of dollars due to fraud.

It seems like a no-brainer, yet the implementation process can feel overwhelming.

You might be experiencing push back from managers and executives, or you might be unsure where to start when choosing an AP automation software solution. Ideally, the path to implementation will be unique to your business.

The following guide will help demystify the process and help you create a customized implementation plan.

Getting Buy-In From Stakeholders

Change is hard — and convincing managers and C-suite execs to change a decades-old process can be painful.

But it really doesn’t have to be. Here is how to convince stakeholders at your company that now is the right time to dive into AP automation.

Understand Barriers to Implementation

Your first step to getting buy-in from managers, owners, and C-suite folks is to understand why they are resistant to change.

For example, do they believe your current process is working well? In this case, highlighting how the paper process is holding your firm back would be beneficial.

Do they think implementation would take too long or cause too many problems? A pitch that heavily addresses the implementation process may help sway them.

Once you understand why they are resistant to change, you can begin building an argument that addresses those challenges and highlights specific benefits.

Highlight the Benefits of AP Automation for Your Firm

There are an incredible amount of benefits to AP automation, many of which you may already be familiar with if you’re reading this post! However, it is beneficial to have a concise list — and stats — so you can layout the benefits clearly.

  • Cost Savings: Manually processing invoices can cost as much as $30 per invoice. On average, AP automation can cut those costs to $3.50 per invoice — saving up to $26.50 per invoice.
  • Time Savings: That average company takes 16 days to process an invoice. AP automation reduces approval times and streamlines the entire invoice processing timeline, which could save time and allow you to take advantage of early-pay discounts.
  • Decreased Risk of Fraud: In 2018, AP fraud cost businesses a total of $7 billion. AP automation software centralizes communications, making it far easier to spot when something is off. For example, you are notified  when a vendor changes their billing address, and can easily verify the information or remove that functionality for your vendor through the AP automation software

Highlight the Benefits of AP Automation for Your Firm 

Try to tie the benefits into specific figures within your firm. For example, reducing manual data entry tasks may allow AP staff to focus on forecasting cash flow or improving other KPIs that are critical to your CFO or CEO.

Present a Plan for Implementation

If the implementation is the main source of pushback, layout a plan for how the implementation process will go. Who will oversee the change? What types of fail-safes will be in place? Who will need to be involved? How long will the change take?

Showing you have thought implementation through will inspire trust and help convince stakeholders that this change will be beneficial to your bottom line, not an unnecessary disruption.

How to Choose the Right AP Automation Solution for Your Company

What is the best AP automation software on the market? The truth is, there is no one size fits all solution. Every business is different, and there is no reason for a small- to medium-sized firm to pay for enterprise-level software with features they may never need.

Here is what to consider when comparing AP automation solutions.

Perform a Detailed Assessment of Your Needs

The first stage of selecting the right AP automation solution is performing a detailed assessment of your business’s needs. Taking the time to identify specific challenges in the AP process can give you a clearer understanding of which software will work best.

Before making a selection, consider the following questions:

  • How many invoices does your business process per month?
  • What does your approval process look like?
  • How do your invoices come in (paper, email, fax, etc.)?
  • How are payments rendered (ACH, credit card, check, etc.) and does the software work with any payment method?
  • What is the most significant bottleneck in your current AP process? Will the solution you are considering fix this?

Get Clear on IT Requirements

Once you understand your firm’s AP needs, it is time to look at the IT requirements of the software you are considering. For example, does it meet your security needs? Will the software grow with you? Will your current IT structure support the software? Cloud-based AP automation solutions are secure and can reduce IT requirements, but may still need input from IT.

Before presenting AP automation to stakeholders, IT must sign off on the software you are considering. Otherwise, you may go through the pitch process just to be told it isn’t possible with your current technology, or you may find that the investment required is far higher due to additional IT costs.

Depending on the solution you choose and your current IT environment, this process may take a few weeks. A cloud-based AP automation solution can simplify this process, as file storage is in the cloud and not on a local hard drive in your server room. Moreover, this enables secure invoice processing to take place anywhere at any time.

Consider Your Budget

When considering different AP solutions, it can be easy to gloss over the long term costs, particularly when you are focused on the amount the company might save. However, it is critical to consider all the costs. For example, will servers need to be upgraded? How much labor will be required to digitize your AP records?

In addition to the monthly cost for the software, make sure to consider additional costs when considering your options.

How to Implement an AP Automation Solution

Once you have received approval to implement AP automation and selected the software that fits your company’s needs, it is time to implement the switch. Here is how to do just that.

Hold a Kick-Off Meeting

Before implementation begins, hold a kick-off meeting to define roles and layout specific deadlines. When will roll out begin? When will implantation be 100%? Discuss particulars such as who is responsible for specific tasks and when certain deadlines must be met.

Make sure that all team members understand the benefits of AP automation and reassure AP employees that this process will make their jobs easier, not more difficult.

Launch a Training Program

As IT and AP work in the background to implement your new software, work to get all other employees trained with the new software. Cloud-based AP automation solutions often provide hand-holding assistance every step of the way and can help with your roadmap to onboarding new users.

Some useful questions to prepare your launch:

  • How will this impact their day-to-day work?
  • How does each user interact with the AP automation software (i.e. approvers, AP, management)?
  • What tasks will they need to know how to complete?
  • Who should employees reach out to if they are struggling with the software (i.e. support, AP, IT, etc..)?

Adequate training is critical, as it can have a significant impact on user adoption rates.

Launch a Training Program 

Implement IT Changes

The next step is to make sure your IT department has reviewed the specifications and understands what your firm needs for a successful transition. For some this may include switching payment processors but most AP automation solutions should work with any payment method you have in place now or decide to use in the future. Other IT changes to consider are the integration with your current accounting system or ERP, which is often a simple API connection.

Stampli, for example, integrates with Oracle NetSuite, QuickBooks, Sage Intacct, and a number of others. 

Process Integration

How will AP automation impact AP workflow? This needs to be documented and reviewed during the implementation to make sure your company is getting the most out of the software.

For example, many software systems can automatically send reminders to approvers; however, approvers may need to be reminded that they will receive an email rather than a paper in their inbox. Solutions also enable you to set the frequency of the email reminders system-wide based on user-role or by individuals who require fewer or more frequent email reminders.

Testing

Before sending the solution live, set aside time for QA to make sure all the systems work correctly. Verify integrations are properly connected and check details such as whether reminder emails get caught in current email filters, and if your GL codes match those in your accounting system. This can also be provided by the AP automation solution as part of the on-boarding and integration process.

Once testing is complete, you are ready to take your new AP automation solution live!

Implementing AP Automation: Best Practices

When it comes to business, implementing any new process can be a drawn-out, complex task. These best practices will ensure you are ready to take on the challenge and modern AP solutions today remove the implementation burdens from the past.

Establish Accountability

Implementing AP automation may require input from several departments, including IT, accounts payable, and accounts receivable. Who is responsible for each step in the process? Establishing a single point of contact in each department can help streamline implementations. When shopping for a solution that works with your unique processes, it will be easier to identify a match by bringing in stakeholders across these departments into the conversation sooner rather than later.

A RACI matrix (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) is one way to outline who is responsible and accountable throughout the process. However, if RACI is overly complex for your needs, there should still be at least one person who is accountable for each part of the process, even if responsibilities go to the AP automation solution.

Verify User Acceptance

Once the process has begun to roll out, set aside time to ensure users are actually using the software. Users may fall back into old habits if there are hiccups in the process, so make sure to audit the process to ensure notifications are being sent out appropriately, and payments are being processed on time. Features like management dashboards can provide analytics into user adoption and activity. This will help you make sure users are trained and understand how to complete their tasks.

Get Vendors on Board

Vendors and suppliers may be frustrated by any change in the AP process, so it is crucial to make sure they understand the reason behind the change and how AP automation will improve the process on their end.

This is also an excellent time to review contracts with vendors and ask about early payment discounts, which may be easier to take advantage of as your streamline the AP process.

Track Your Automation Success

Tracking metrics allows you to see what parts of the process are running smoothly and what areas may need to be adjusted. For example, if invoice processing time actually goes up, you have a good indication that there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The relevant metrics will vary by business, but consider tracking the average time it takes to close an invoice, cash flow, increased efficiency, money saved on late fees, mistakes that were prevented, and other value-added improvements that came as a result of AP automation.

Final Thoughts

Implementing any new process can feel overwhelming, particularly when it requires changing a long engrained process and getting input from multiple departments. However, careful planning and using a cloud-based AP automation software can drastically reduce the amount of time and energy required to make the switch.

Considering AP automation? Find out more about Stampli’s 1-Day Set-Up that works with your existing systems and processes.

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