In the past, Accounts Payable (AP) teams opened the post, attached coding and authorisation tickets to the invoices, sent them for approval, then chased for the invoices to be returned. They then entered details onto the mainframe or mini-computer system, which paid the invoices, and they archived the documents in the filing cabinet.
Now, we face a situation where we have radically smaller AP teams, but the number of invoices remains the same and is likely to have increased, as the company has grown.
What we need: some sort of Invoice Automation to help AP teams manage. Many of the customers we work with find integration with EASY the best way to deliver that, and in this short article I want to be clear as to why that approach has benefits.
First off: invoices need to be printed, read and processed, even if most of them now come via email, as attachments. If you have all email invoices sent to a document management system, it will open, read and extract the important information and display on a screen for verification, and you will save a lot of time and track and keep the information you really need. This process also works with paper invoices – you just need to scan them into the system first.
Second, invoices need to be approved. If your DM-powered Invoice Automation system can decide who should approve it, that’s efficient. It can do that by reading out the Supplier and the Purchase Order and you can add in the business logic to tell it who raised the order and who should approve it, and which cost centre it applies to.
Your Invoice Automation can then automatically route the invoice to the correct person for approval – and that person can see the image of the invoice on their screen. There’s no need for any paper to cross a desk or get lost or overlooked. The system can also remind approvers, if they have not done what’s needed in a defined timeframe.
What does a good Invoice Automation system have to have?
There’s more to discuss here on how the invoices still need to be loaded into your finance system, electronically, paid, and archived – but you can start to see how sensible it is to integrate your invoicing with your finance processes in a joined-up, digital fashion.
Now I want to offer a quick check-list of what you should be looking for in a good invoice automation system, then close with a look at how all this looks like in real life via a customer example.
So, only ever look to automate your invoicing system via a document management system:
* reads attachments on emails, as well as scanned images (otherwise you’ll have to do that step yourself)
* tackles the whole image file – so can look for data on the whole page, not just in zones in templates that you need to define (some systems only look at defined regions and so can miss important data that is obscured or for some reason is in another area of the file)
* interfaces with data from your other systems to find suppliers from other data. So it should really be able to find things like VAT Registration Number, Purchase Order details, can validate account numbers, and so on. It should also be able to create transactions within your own internal accounting system
* flexible enough to be easily tailored to work with your processes and can be set up easily
* where you can easily retrieve invoices and documents later
Cross-referencing of data
Finally, a real life use case of this technology bedded in. One of our customers in the sports and leisure industry ten years ago had to deal with 16,000 invoices – but now, it’s nearly 40,000. That’s a 250% growth in the past 10 years and it managed through an AP team of just two individuals.
This volume of invoices means that the team have only 5 minutes to spend on each invoice – that is, to receive, scan, enter and send for approval, chase approval, pay and archive. This would simply not be possible manually. It was only through the move to Invoice Automation that it’s coping, with a system in place able to open emails and process the invoice attachments. (Where paper invoices are received, they are scanned into the Invoice Automation Queue.)
This successful, fast-growing customer’s Invoice Automation then processes the invoices by looking at the whole document, extracting information such as Purchase Order number, tax registration number, Item Numbers and so forth. Through cross-referencing this data against the data from its accounts system, it is able to present the image on a screen to the AP staff with the important fields needed for integration already filled in.
Once the staff release the invoice into the Archive, the details of that invoice are integrated into the Accounts system, with a link always attached to the image in the Archive. All Invoices are automatically linked to the Purchase Orders and Goods Receipt Documents on the Accounting system, and rules in the Accounting system are then able to route the invoices for approval.
Chasing for approval is now 100% automated with email reminders – and once approved, the invoices can be posted by the AP staff ready for payment.
Not only can the AP staff always reference the image in the archive through the link in the accounting system, but internal stakeholders can see the image when approving, with that invoice image always available to be retrieved through the powerful search capabilities of the Invoice Automation software web interface.
That is an example of a hugely useful, time-saving and friction-free digital finance system. It’s possible only through the close dovetailing of market-leading systems like EASY and Microsoft Dynamics ERP – but whichever specific tools you choose to archive it, the synergy between DM and the finance platform is demonstrably there – and there for all customers to access, and affordably.
To find out more, please download the new EASY and Nolan ebook, ‘Creating A Friction-Free Digital Finance System’ here.
Colin Smith is Technical Director at Nolan Business Solutions, a UK-based company providing business systems utilising the industry’s foremost ERP platforms, NetSuite and Microsoft Dynamics, developing and supporting Microsoft Dynamics GP for over 20 years and its products are used worldwide. It is a Microsoft Dynamics Independent Software Vendor (ISV) and Silver ERP level Partner.