Financial controllers today are required to both manage the financial health of the business, and the daily tasks of getting invoices paid on time.
In most organizations the daily workload of invoice processing, generating reports, and issue resolution consume more than their fair share of the day. In Deloitte Touche’s 2018 report, “Stepping Outside the Box: Elevating the Role of the Controller:”
- Of the 800 controllers surveyed, participants report spending 70% of their time on daily tactical activities (like paying invoices) and 30% on proactive planning.
- Those surveyed also reported that they’d prefer a 50/50 split of their time between tactical and strategic work.
At the same time, the role of the controller is changing. The Ernst & Young’s report “The Changing Role of the Financial Controller” cites the following challenges in the evolving role of controllers:
- The finance organization’s role has shifted from tactical record-keeper to strategic business driver.
- There’s pressure to bring both better management insights from and efficiency to the finance organization.
- New regulations and global reach are driving increased complexity.
- The CFO (whose role is also evolving) is passing more strategic responsibilities to the controller.
To be successful, controllers must find ways to focus on the important strategic parts of their role and minimize the time spent on lower level processing tasks.
Automating the AP process has given many controllers the freedom to do just that. Automating tasks such as data entry, invoice matching, and approval routing will help controllers shave off big chunks of time, reduce errors, improve vendor relationships, and even earn money where early-payment discounts and cash-back rebates are available.
Here are 3 ways automating accounts payable can help controllers shift the balance from tactical to strategic:
1. Offload Invoice collection and Data Entry
The first bottle neck in the AP process is the collection and data entry of invoice data. Today organizations receive invoices in the mail, through email, and other methods. Some are sent to AP directly, some are sent to the person who purchased the goods or services. First, set a standard of electronic submission of invoices and enforce it! Most vendors, if they want prompt payment will comply and those that won’t you can make exceptions for. The exceptions become easier to manage when the majority follow a standard process. Having invoices submitted electronically whether through emails or EDI set you up to automate future steps in the process.
For the paper invoices, you can outsource the collection and scanning of invoices. While it might not seem like a big task, it is one more thing keeping your team from their real work. Outsourcing this function is easy and inexpensive.
Now that you have electronic invoices, lets get rid of the data entry. For those vendors submitting paper invoices, use your outsource provider to perform the data entry. It takes a little coordination and training, but once things get rolling, you can save a lot of time, money, and headaches for your team. Those providers have the technology available to process data collection automatically which will drive down your transaction costs.
Prefer to keep data collection in house? If you have enough volume you can also acquire the technology to extract invoice data electronically. The technology has been around a while and continues to come down in cost.
2. Centralize AP and provide a structure everyone can count on
Offloading the collection and data entry of invoices started you on the path to centralizing your AP functions which is a great thing! You will have some people that will buck the system, but trust me, we are going to make their lives easier too.
AP Automation moves the process away from juggling a mess of separate email chains and transforms it into one, centralized, online workflow. Invoices are automatically uploaded and routed to approvers. Approvers can see a list of invoices that need approval and quickly take action. If a vendor calls to check the status of a payment, AP staff and department heads alike, from any location, can easily log into the AP Automation platform to find out the status of the invoice in real time. Managers can track status and due dates and provide executives real time data.
Centralized AP processes help with month-end close and audits as well. Eliminating invoice errors and duplicate payments means no more re-balancing of the books when you find a last-minute error, and no more interrupting employees around the company with fire drills to track down missing documents. Audits become much more streamlined when invoices live in one central location.
3. Power to the people! Make information available outside AP
In a manual AP world, AP holds all the information and thus requires the AP staff to answer all questions. Inquiries from vendors and employees take time to answer and take time away from more valuable work.
Automated AP workflows remove accounting staff as the single point of failure in the process. Vendors can take any concerns directly to the approver, and approvers can rest assured that invoices won’t get lost in the shuffle. Security functions allow you to control what can and can’t be seen by both internal and external people.
AP Automation Allows Controllers to Establish a More Forward-Thinking Mindset
When all this extra work is handled by an AP Automation solution, controllers now have time to focus on more strategic activities. That means getting ahead of the seemingly constantly shifting compliance landscape, staying on top of new regulations, proactively evaluating vendor relationships for cost savings, and sharing their vision for how the finance function can positively impact the business.
There are several strategic decisions that controllers must make to automate AP successfully, some of which we outlined in this article. DTI’s team is your trusted partner to guide you through the process of determining what to outsource and what you should keep in-house, what technical solutions are best-suited for your use case, and more. Schedule a quick call with Russell to start the conversation.