Every AP Department Needs to be Asking
By Jack Shales
With the advent of more and more automation technology, the average Accounts Payable department has likely had to take a hard look in the mirror at how efficiently it is processing invoices and invoice-related documents.
Inefficiencies can exacerbate stagnant bottom line revenue, so it would be in the best interest of every efficiency-seeking AP Manager to begin asking some questions…
1. Do we have a long-term document storage/management solution?
Often when we think about the full Accounts Payable life cycle we are thinking in terms of dollar amount and transactions, putting us in the mindset of thinking first and foremost about the data. As the volume of invoices increase companies soon find that managing the original document image is just as important and so must plan accordingly.
Without prior thought, invoices can quickly fill up local hard drive space and be completely divorced from the metadata associated with the image. Through a true document management system like OnBase the invoice images and metadata are treated together as the ‘document’ and document storage space can be optimized in the cloud or on-premise to provide a robust and secure backbone for the AP invoicing process. indexing up to and including handwritten fields.
2. Does our current document storage/management solution have the necessary tools to automate document retention policies?
The benefits of a robust Document Management system like OnBase extend to the ability to start retention periods automatically when invoices hit the system or reach a particular status in a workflow. Therefore no one will have to manually purge invoices every 5 years (or whatever your policy is) because OnBase will take care of it. Optionally you can add a manual review queue before documents are either purged or made read-only.
3. Does our current document storage/management solution provide an easy way to package up related documents for backup billing or other purposes?
Using OnBase as the primary Document Repository also provides the ability to create dynamic document packaging templates. With the click of a button an invoice and all its related documents (Purchase Order, Packing Slip, Delivery Tickets, Statements, etc.) can be compiled in a searchable PDF with a clickable table of contents that can be automatically sent to the Vendor or placed in a self-service portal for their external review. Searching for any document will also yield all related results in an intuitive cross-references panel.
4. Does our current solution provide powerful, filterable, customizable searches to maximize the speed of researching the history of a transaction?
The ability to perform robust, targeted, yet flexible and filterable searches is something OnBase excels at. Whether it is pulling all documents related to a specific Job or running a full-text search across a Vendor contract for important terms OnBase provides a one-stop shop for all transactional research with the ability to integrate to multiple systems and present data across all technologies in use to give a full picture of the invoicing process form capture to payment. Easily identify bottlenecks in visual reporting dashboards with drill-down capability into documents, workflows, and more.
5. How are invoices and related documents being captured (e.g. scanned, emailed, uploaded through a portal, etc.)?
Most companies continue to have a variety of ways that they receive invoices, typically involving a combination of manually scanning mailed invoices, printing and scanning or otherwise capturing emailed invoices, and sometimes electronic methods such as EDI. Even if this hybrid style continues there is still room for optimization and automation, especially when It comes to scanning and email capture. data across all technologies in use to give a full picture of the invoicing process form capture to payment. Easily identify bottlenecks in visual reporting dashboards with drill-down capability into documents, workflows, and more.
If someone in your AP department currently spends a significant amount of time pre-sorting paper invoices before loading them into a scanner this effort can be automated through technologies such as CloudOCR, where you can just set a stack of invoices on the scanner, press START and let the CloudOCR service separate the documents and classify which are invoices and which are supporting documents.
If emailed invoices are being manually handled in any way, whether being printed and re-uploaded or even just saved locally then uploaded into the ERP or other system of record, these steps can be automated as well either through bulk mailbox import or automated forwarding to the CloudOCR service.
6. Are invoices and related documents’ metadata being manually indexed in any single or multiple systems?
Indexing of pertinent invoice information such as the invoice number, total amount, vendor, an others are crucial to being able to tie them together and find them and at a later time. This is one of the most time consuming efforts on the part of the AP Clerk and is almost always the first target for automation.
This is where CloudOCR can step in and provide all of that indexing, even a layer of human verification, as a service so that you get the benefit of dynamic data capture with machine learning (i.e. it gets better as more invoices go through) and your AP Clerks only have to deal with exceptions.
7. How are errors in the invoice data currently evaluated and determined?
If manual indexing is happening currently an error may not be found until attempting to enter it into the system of record. With CloudOCR providing automated document splitting, sorting, and indexing we can leverage the OnBase workflow to automatically evaluate issues or gaps in the data as captured against the ERP to see if it needs further work or review (like a missing Vendor, duplicate invoice, closed Job/PO, etc.) and automatically notify the responsible person.
8. Are we utilizing Purchase Orders?
Utilizing Purchase Orders can be a good business step toward spurring automation. Even if no new software is introduced in the short term, Purchase Orders set up an expectation that something will be purchased and then received. Just starting there from a philosophical standpoint will set up your company for future automation if and when a system like OnBase is implemented and allow things like automated 3-way matching.
9. Do we have a dynamic approval system with automated routing or is it much more manual involving several emails and phone calls back and forth?
Some organizations will have spent many hours setting up approvals directly in their ERP and have likely found limitations or opportunities for improvement. Others may be completely manual, still making phone calls to gather the information required to approve an invoice.
OnBase provides all of the tools to automate approval routing based on ANY invoice data element such as total invoice amount, company, or even invoice type. Imagine an invoice gets automatically indexed from CloudOCR then gets evaluated by the OnBase workflow and is found to contain no errors so it goes into Approval, automatically identifies the approver, and sends them an email where they can review and approve from Outlook!
10. Are we manually uploading invoice images into the ERP or otherwise performing document searches in multiple systems to find the original images that relate to the transaction?
OnBase can serve as the hub for document retrieval integrations across multiple systems. Let your users work in one system of record, even if it is directly in the ERP, and automatically link OnBase documents to the records for dynamic document searches based on the screen. To the users it will just seem like your ERP got a more robust document search with easy access to related documents. Also allow users to click and drag documents from their desktop into the ERP for automated archiving in OnBase.