As we wrap up the first half of 2021, several parts of the world are still reeling under the impact of the successive waves of the pandemic. Maintaining business continuity and building resilience for predictable growth is an imperative for businesses across the world. With industries gearing up for bullish economic weather, business leaders are leaving no stone unturned to remove all process bottlenecks that could pose hurdles in their resurgence strategies. Your Accounts Payable team plays a central role here, maintaining transactional integrity, ensuring sustainable cash flow, and powering your core business, often with limited and restricted resources.
Process modernization and optimization are key priorities for Accounts Payable teams that have already embarked on this transformational journey. According to the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic survey by the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP), 65% of businesses will move from paper payments to electronic formats, while 38% will rewire their internal procedures. Digitization will pave the way for smarter, more efficient processes, where employees need to spend far fewer person-hours to complete routine tasks, thus unlocking savings as well as ushering in an overall culture shift.
If your Accounts Payable team is already on this superfast transformation highway, here are five key takeaways for you:
1. Consolidate the digital forays of the previous year
The first step towards building a futuristic invoice processing strategy should be consolidating the fragmented digital transformation initiatives undertaken last year. In 2020, businesses had to adopt remote-friendly processes and support Accounts Payable teams as they started to work from home almost overnight. In some cases, this added to process complexity as simple in-person tasks (e.g., paper-based approvals) were no longer possible. Supplier/vendor network management also went digital, which has its own risks in the long term. At this point, it is vital to consolidate any point solutions you might have in place, take stock of vendor sentiment and any user experience bottlenecks they might be facing, and evaluate the projected total cost of ownership of your Accounts Payable systems beyond the pandemic.
2. Optimize cash flow to prepare for unexpected challenges
The pandemic left very little room for error in cash flow management, and this trend will continue in the second half of 2021 as economies recover and businesses return to their growth trajectory. A report by the International Labor Organization found that cash flow was the #1 problem faced by 4500+ companies in 45 countries worldwide. Improving Accounts Payable efficiency and modernizing your invoice processing strategy could help optimize cash flow. For instance, recommendations generated by cognitive technologies could suggest changes in the order of supplier payments that would maximize your cash on hand. These technologies can assign risk scores to every vendor and make sure that you gain from early payment discounts.
3. Upskill your AP team to perform and innovate
The year 2020 marked a tectonic shift in how we work, and this will have a lasting impact on workplace culture, how employees approach routine tasks, and their aspirations for the future. In the absence of a physical office and the physical presence of a professional community, inefficiencies in business processes became starker. Your employees are now less likely to be satisfied with repetitive, high-volume tasks in this ‘work from home’ season. There are two major action points for businesses through the year 2021. Eliminate mundane, iterative and non-fulfilling work wherever possible (this has typically been a chronic challenge for the Accounts Payable team). Employees who are freed up can be up-skilled to focus on more innovative work, such as in decision-making, the use of advanced technology systems, and discretionary problem-solving: essentially, tasks that machines cannot perform.
4. Adopt agile workflows to gain from dynamic economic weather
Through the rest of this year, businesses can look forward to a largely optimistic economic forecast, albeit with occasional regional curveballs on the way. In the last couple of quarters, we saw the International Monetary Fund revise its predictions several times, underscoring the need to stay agile and adaptive. In this context, rigid Accounts Payable workflows and monolithic processes will make it difficult to keep pace with fluctuating conditions. Instead, businesses must establish processes that are easy to configure – onboarding new suppliers with minimal risk or delays to support renewed demand, reconciling invoice exceptions and corrections seamlessly, and scaling up without adding complex approval red tape.
5. Leverage intelligent invoice processing automation to scale sustainably as you grow
The best-case scenario to look forward to this year is a rapid return to the original growth trajectories, aided by a resurging economy in 2021-2022. Businesses cannot afford to let speed-breakers such as inefficient processes, errors arising from human fatigue, and the risk of non-compliance, slow down this journey. The Accounts Payable function as a whole — and invoice processing, specifically — is part of the core of any organization. As the throughput of your Accounts Payable team increases, its invoice processing capability must focus on increasing straight through processing capacity. That way, it can scale in tandem to make profitability truly sustainable and mitigate the impacts of any further unprecedented disruptions. Strengthening this function using cutting-edge technology, helping your AP team and the supplier network, and the business as a whole should be a key agenda item in your strategy.
Your top strategic priority for the emerging future should be to remove the bottlenecks in the invoice processing function, and intelligent automation can play a key role here. Here are a few points to ponder:
- An intelligent automation solution can centralize the steps taken to digitize invoice processing in specific business units, regions, and teams amid the rushed switch to remote operations.
- It can equip your AP function with customizable supplier portals, AI/ML insights, and suggestions for decision-making based on your business rules, thus optimizing cash flow.
- It can ingest invoicing data from EDI file formats, XML/JSON files, mailbox attachments, and scanned images, making life simpler for your AP team working remotely; automated data extraction, validation, and exception handling further reduces repetitive manual work and probable errors.
- An end-to-end intelligent automation platform makes touchless processing a reality by supporting highly configurable workflows, where you can specify thresholds for manual approval, fraud signals, vendor prioritization and more, depending on changing market conditions.
- Invoice processing costs can be optimized as your business operations scale (thanks to a scalable solution architecture and volume-friendly pricing model), making the investment in digitalizing your Accounts Payable function truly sustainable for the long term.
Learn how JIFFY.ai’s intelligent Invoice Processing HyperApp has been enabling customers from various industries to prioritize these five capabilities. In fact, these are a part of our central value proposition to future-proof the Accounts Payable function. Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org today.