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By: Jacqueline Guarino on February 22nd, 2017

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7 Tips for Defining Your AP Automation Requirements

Document Management  |  Accounting

Accounts payable operations can be chaotic, but AP automation solutions can help.

First off, there’s the chaos of lost invoices, errors during data entry, and invoice duplicates that comes with the analogue version of accounts payable. Then, you have staff members banging their heads against the wall doing the same monotonous tasks over and over again. And if you’re considering implementing an AP automation solution, the daunting task of researching, integrating, and training your staff can seem like too much to bear.

Automated accounts payable operations have huge upsides and doing your homework can help the selection and rollout of a new system a lot easier. Properly researching and presenting your case for AP automation means you’re more likely to get what you need.

Here are seven steps to prepare for actually implementing AP automation at work.

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1. Define Your Current Process

AP automation is designed to transform the entire accounts payable system by removing the burden of monotonous tasks from humans by giving those tasks to computers or robots. If your current process is getting the results you need, i.e. people getting paid on time, there might be certain workflows that you want to preserve. AP automation, when implemented correctly, should do just that, and enhance those processes at the same time.

But before you can hand off the mundane tasks to an automated system, you need to list your current tasks from soup to nuts. Your situation may vary, but here is a general framework for summarizing the accounting process:

  • How do you receive invoices?
  • How many invoices do you process in a month?
  • Define the types of payments you receive.
    • How are payments received?
    • How you are currently handling this information?
    • How are you handling archives?
  • What is your current approval process?
    • How many tiers of approval do you have, and how is that accomplished?
  • What is your current payment processing structure?

If you have answers for all these, you’re in a good spot to start mapping out the workflows and bottlenecks.

2. Identify Areas of Weakness

With your current processes in hand, it’s time to get them out of list form and into a visual map of directional workflows. We suggest a whiteboard, several fresh dry erase markers, and plenty of coffee.

Going through your list of AP tasks, outline how they connect to each other, who’s responsible for the coordination, the average time to deliver, and common objections or recurring issues with each step. You’ll want to pay close attention to any areas that do not have adequate backup for auditing purposes.

This processes accomplishes two things:

  1. It shows the relationships between tasks and identifies common bottlenecks
  2. It sheds light on any areas of risk for auditing

By now, you should have a good idea of where your inefficiencies and risks are within your current AP system. Now it’s time to look at the reality of technological solutions in the context of other systems.

3. Identify the Systems Your AP Solution Needs to Integrate With

Accounts Payable doesn’t work in a vacuum; there’s always a few systems you need to collaborate with. Common examples are other accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

Ideally, you want to use an AP automation system that can integrate with what you’re already using. Training your staff on one new system has minimal impact, but issuing three new systems at the same time can be taxing on your resources.

Since you have options for AP automation, we suggest looking for one that integrates smoothly with your current software.

4. Determine Your AP Workflow Weaknesses and the Ideal Process

Going back to your whiteboard diagram, have you found all your bottlenecks are recurring issues? Make sure to include the cause of the problem and how you’re currently solving it. From there, the big question is: How do you avoid that problem all together?

If you have a good idea what the ideal solution is, the way that you can avoid the problem, that’s a feature you need to look for in AP automation. If you’re not sure, we recommend asking that question directly to the software provider—their answer may very well determine if it’s a good fit!

5. Get Buy In From Key Team Members

In our experience, it’s rare for the AP department to be able to make the decision for new software all on their own—the staff may have input, board members, executives, or other departments that will be affected may want to weigh in.

We suggest accepting this from the start and proactively seeking their input—make sure they know that their input is valuable and will be considered in the final decision and the process will go much smoother.

Pro Tip: Not matter which department you work for, everyone can understand that if an AP automation system can save the company money, it’s definitely worth looking into. Check out our ROI calculator to see a dollars and cents visualization of how much money AP automation software can save you.

6. Create a ‘Must Have’ List of Features For Your Solution

So you’ve done research into your current processes, you’ve talked with other departments, and you have a pretty good idea of what you need in a perfect system. Now it’s time to pair that vision with the constraints of the real world.

One example of a constraint is the budget you have available for an AP automation system. Even though an AP automation system should actually save your company money (sometimes in as little as 2 months!) you may be bound by a budget. Additional constraints might be timeline and internal deadlines.

That said, take your cumulative research and start weeding out the ‘must haves’ from the ‘nice to haves’ and prioritize them. By the time you’re ready to start vetting service providers with demonstrations and phone calls, you can save time by skipping the providers that don't suit your needs. Additionally, you can guide the conversations toward the imperative features for your business instead of talking at length about an extraneous feature.

7. Make Time for Training

Proper training is the key to success with AP automation—even though the purpose is to remove monotonous tasks from your employees, they need training to be able to get the most out of the system. This will not only help the transition to the new system, but it will enlighten your staff as to what’s possible with AP automation and ensure they get value from it from years to come. Good training will be a part of onboardign that includes steps to transition, routine service, and continued support.

Companies aren’t really “moving toward the digital era” anymore—they’re fully immersed in it. Things like electronic invoicing and AP automation aren’t technological advances on the horizon, but instead the standard. As discussed, integration is typically one of the most challenging aspects to automating your AP process, which is why Uplevl has worked hard to create a seamless integration experience so you can get straight to the benefits.

Ready to learn more about what Uplevl can do for your accounts payable processes? Schedule an Uplevl demo today!


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About Jacqueline Guarino

Jacqueline supports Uplevl clients through partnering closely with development, sales, and marketing to identify and deliver solutions to meet customer needs.