Preparing for the Implementation of an Accounts Payable Workflow Automation System

Anne Wheeler's Profile

If you manage an Accounts Payable organization, chances are you have heard the words “Accounts Payable Workflow” or “Automation”.  If you are part of an Accounts Payable trade association, you may have received invitations to webcasts promoting systems and perhaps have sat in on a few calls.  Is your company considering the implementation of an AP workflow solution?  If “yes”, that is great news.  I am a huge advocate of automation. 

Now the question is this.  Does your AP or finance organization know how to begin the process or document requirements?  There are steps that should be taken before potential providers on contacted.

Document the existing process:

Create Process Flow documents; from the time an invoice is sent by the supplier to the point the invoice is paid.  Take the first step in the flow.  Is it assumed all vendors send their invoices directly to Accounts Payable?  Confirm this.  Some vendors may mail them, others may email them and still others may send to someone outside of Accounts Payable.  To ensure invoices are received by AP or a workflow solution, all existing methods should be identified and only a few options should be considered/approved.

A company may need to create several Process Flow documents.  Determine how many different invoice types exist. For example, the procedures for processing a PO invoices are most likely different from managing a Non-PO invoice and posting a Credit Memo received from a vendor may not be addressed the same as either invoice type.  If the procedures are different then a workflow system may need to be configured to allow for these differences.

Consider compliance rules that are applied as invoices go through a manual flow, from receipt to payment. 

  • Delegation of Authority
  • Coding and Approval
  • Sales Tax
  • Freight
  • Payment Terms
  • Foreign Vendors
  • No PO, No Pay guidelines

Before meeting with any potential system providers:

  • Understand the manual steps being performed in your manual world and why they are needed.  Consider whether some of the steps can be eliminated in an automated world.
  • Identify “broken” processes.  Document details of the issues and thoughts on how to streamline the process.  For example, are all Non-PO invoices being approved?  By the appropriate person? What would be needed within a workflow tool to validate this process?
  • Be sure business rules are clear and concise. Back to the previous bullet.  Do Non-PO invoices just need to be approved by any approver or would the appropriate person be determined by the value of the invoice?  Are there different rules for PO invoices with variances?  What about credit memos?
  • Determine your reporting expectations.  What does the AP operation need to find a document in a filing cabinet?  What are some of the reasons invoices need to be pulled?  Are the Key Performance Indicators the company will want to track?  Remember KPIs in the automated world will be different from the manual world.

Be sure you have the buy in of the IT team.  They will need to create integration files to be sent back and forth from the workflow tool.  This task can make or break any workflow solution implementation.  Once the initial files are created, jobs can be scheduled to automatically send and receive files, but the time required during the build and roll-out of a system can be significant.

When speaking to the potential providers, take into consideration the feel of the working relationship.  A provider’s tool may have all the bells and whistles but if there is any strain on the relationship with the people working on the project, consider how this may impact the resolution of any issues down the road.

Once the company is ready to select a tool and a provider, do not skimp on the project, the change management or the training.  If need be, hire consultants and project managers experienced in workflow technology.  Yes, you may need to increase your budget, but the benefits will be evident almost immediately.

Want to learn more?  See the following courses found at Illumeo.com.

  • What to Consider in an Accounts Payable Workflow Solution
  • Selecting an Accounts Payable Automation Provider

Learn much more in Anne's course What to Consider in an Accounts Payable Workflow Solution.

***

After a 30+ year career in various accounting areas Anne Wheeler founded CS Process Flows. Her experience includes AP operations, identifying inefficiencies, and implementing solutions in existing teams.