The modern approach to invoice approval represents an accounts payable process improvement that can strongly improve invoice approval time. As such, this is a huge relief to companies who face countless hours of frustration over a mostly manual and labor-intensive AP process. The process, in its current state, lacks standards and controls, is prone to human errors, increases the company’s risk for fraud and lacks clear communication between all parties involved. The result is a slow and painful process that can leave invoices waiting in limbo indefinitely.
We at Stampli are leading the way in modernizing invoice approvals. Our proprietary system gives invoice approvers, AP personnel, managers, vendors and other employees a centralized location to communicate about invoices. This increased level of transparency facilitates accountability and encourages a level of active participation that keeps invoices moving along the approval chain at a quicker pace. Let’s explore some of the key AP process improvement features we bring to the table and how those features are paving the way for faster invoice approvals.
The Traditional Accounts Payable Invoice Process
Each year, many companies embark on accounts payable process improvement efforts to eliminative the frustration with a mostly manual and labor-intensive process. In many companies, the AP workflow can be a frustrating ordeal that only seems to get worse with each new invoice. Every day, invoices arrive in AP via a variety of channels including email, fax and postal mail. Keying the data into the system is often a human effort that lacks any standardized process which often leads to errors. Sometimes the mistakes are small such as entering the vendor information incorrectly. Other times, the errors are more significant such as entering the wrong amount for an invoice. Regardless of the nature of the problem, just one mistake could mean hours tracking down the issue later in the process.
What’s even more troubling is how this lack of standards in the accounts payable process increases the company’s risk for fraud. With so many invoices arriving daily, AP departments are already too taxed to give each invoice the level of review necessary to spot potential red flags. As a result, hundreds if not thousands of fraudulent invoices slip through the cracks.
Once entered into the system, the invoices are routed from person to person for approval. Often, there is no checking to ensure that the appropriate individuals are included in the approval chain. What’s more, there is usually no monitoring to ensure the approvals are provided in a timely fashion. As a result, invoice approvals linger which leads to delays in making payments, which in turn can lead to late fees.
Communication: Collaboration is The Missing Link
With such a lack of controls and standards, it isn’t surprising that communication in the accounts payable workflow suffers. Imagine how much time is wasted during the accounts payable process when an employee has questions about an invoice. In many companies, communicating between departments about an invoice takes place via lengthy email conversations. Sometimes, the discussion happens over the phone or via voicemail messages. The process is so disjointed that any information received isn’t always transparent to all parties involved. Thus, each person only gets a piece of the information needed to make an informed decision regarding the bill. In this manner, communication is a slow feedback cycle that barely provides enough real insight to keep the invoice progressing along the necessary channels for approval.
Should an invoice require input from the vendor, the problem only intensifies. Who is responsible for reaching out to the vendor? Is there a point of contact with the vendor who can answer the questions? How is the vendor supposed to provide the requested information? With no clear standards, getting the vendor involved in the communication channel is frustrating at best. The result is voicemails that often go unanswered or emails that get routed from person to person to track down the correct information.
Supercharging Accounts Payable with Centralized Collaboration
We give companies an accounts payable process improvement boost in the collaboration department because all communication takes place directly within the system. If an approver has questions on an invoice, they can send an email to the appropriate party right from the invoice. The requested party can then log into Stampli and provide their answer.
It is important to note that this feature isn’t limited to AP personnel. Companies can grant access to any employee who might be involved in the accounts payable process regardless of their department. For example, AP personnel can communicate with the department that placed the order to determine if the invoice is valid and if the items were delivered. Another key feature that sets us apart from competitors is that it incorporates vendor communication into the AP process. Vendors get access to a special portal in the system where they can see their outstanding invoices and get a history of items that were paid. Should the company need to communicate with the vendor, they can do so from the invoice, and the vendor can provide their update directly in the system.
This new approach eliminates lengthy email chains, one-off phone conversations and lost voicemail messages. In effect, this approach becomes the central point of contact for handling all communication for the invoice. By increasing transparency and creating a centralized communication channel, companies can minimize the waste that gets invoices bogged down in the approval process.
Streamlined Approvals with Our Automated Gatekeeper
In the traditional accounts payable process, monitoring approvals is sometimes a haphazard effort that causes invoices to bypass necessary approvers. With our approach, routing invoices for approval are automated. Once an invoice arrives, the system automatically assigns the required approvers and sends an email notifying them of the pending invoice. It can also send automatic reminders for invoices that have not been approved in a timely fashion and send notices to management if an invoice is nearing critical deadlines. This ensures that all appropriate signatures are provided on the invoice before payment may be made.
Unifying Disparate Systems
Sometimes, companies can realize significant accounts payable process improvements by leveraging opportunities to synch data across systems. Sometimes, the lag in invoice approvals is a result of the manual effort required to manage invoice data between disparate systems in the company. For example, the AP process may depend on data from the CRM system, the ERP system, inventory or other systems. When employees must navigate multiple systems to perform their job, the risk for errors between one or more of those systems increases. Our approach eliminates this problem by allowing companies to integrate their existing systems into the workflow seamlessly.
Oracle NetSuite users will appreciate only having to make updates in one system. Any updates performed at the bill level in NetSuite will be automatically updated in Stampli and vice versa. Also, AP personnel can easily open NetSuite purchase orders directly from Stampli allowing them to remain in one system for most of the process.
Companies using Sage Intacct as a part of the accounts payable process can synch with Stampli to streamline their workflow. Any updates made at the bill level in Sage automatically update to Stampli and vice versa. Companies can directly access Sage purchase orders from Stampli. All updates are in real-time, so there is no lag in information flow between the two systems.
Companies using QuickBooks Desktop can import all bill-related master data into Stampli and export the related bills to QuickBooks Desktop. Once an invoice is paid in QuickBooks, it is automatically tagged as paid. Those companies using QuickBooks Online can also incorporate Stampli into their workflow. Once an invoice has been approved, it creates the invoice in QuickBooks Online. After the invoice is paid, the information is updated within Stampli
What’s great about integrating with us, is that there is no lengthy data conversion process. Companies can simply link their systems to initiate the synch. Once linked, companies will no longer need to rekey data between linked systems.
The Intelligent Accounts Payable Process Improvement Opportunities
Centralized communications is the tip of the AP process improvement iceberg. In addition to improved collaboration, we offer a host of additional features to help speed up the invoice approval process.
Using AI, ML, OCR, and other advanced technologies, our software offers “Intelligent AP” with the following capabilities:
- Automated Invoice Capture- Invoice images are immediately available within with key invoice data automatically populated into the system.
- Automated Coding- Based on invoice data and machine learning, key data is automatically populated, such as GL, cost center, and other coding data. Over time, the accuracy and pre-populated data increases
- Automated Workflows- Based on previous invoice processing, Stampli suggests next steps for an invoice — whether sending to approvers or individuals for questions or verifications so AP can send invoice to the next stage with just a click.
The accounts payable process is undergoing drastic improvements due to software like Stampli. Our creates a centralized platform that makes for easier collaboration throughout the process. Click here to talk to one of our AP experts to learn how Stampli can modernize your businesses Accounts Payable.