Watch the Webinar: The Evolution of AP Automation for 2021

Last year many organizations were forced to embrace software and technology that could enable teams suddenly working from home. Now in 2021, your teams are over the initial shock and your business has largely adapted to the realities of remote workforces and a higher reliance on technology.

However, the ability for your business to get “back to normal” – let alone back to competitive – depends largely on how quickly you can accelerate automation projects that make employees more efficient while reducing resource costs. Accounts Payable Automation is a relatively low-effort, high-return initiative that empowers employees to be more efficient and leverages existing software investments your ERP, CRM, ECM, and other Accounting Systems.

Watch this webinar on February 3rd to learn how you can accelerate Accounts Payable Automation this year and see immediate results by:

* Eliminating Manual Entry for Header/Footer and Invoice Coding
* Eliminate Coding, Routing, and Approval Errors
* Seamlessly Integrate Invoice Images & Data into your ERP or Accounting System
* Enable Employees to be more
* Effective Working-from-Home
* Eliminate Costs & Challenges Related to Disruption

Find the transcript of this webinar, and all our previously recorded webinars, online at www.rpic.com/knowledgebase.

Transcript

Mason Auch:

Alrighty everyone, good afternoon. My name is Mason Auch, and with me today is Sherri Nettles. Just as a little bit of a housekeeping before we jump into this webinar today, all of this will be recorded and will be available to you guys at a later date, along with the PowerPoint slide deck as well. That way you can share it with any of your colleagues, coworkers, or even some friends if you have someone who’s interested in AP Automation. So, with that let’s go ahead and jump in and talk about our webinar today.

Mason Auch:

So, today’s topic is The Evolution of AP Automation for 2021. So, with me today is going to be Sherri Nettles. So, Sherri, would you take a moment to introduce yourself?

Sherri Nettles:

[inaudible 00:00:52] be happy to. Good afternoon everyone. I am a Senior Financial Consultant for RPI Consultants. I specialize in Lawson/Infor implementations, as well as AP Automation solutions and full Finance Suite assessments. I’ve been in the marketplace about 25 years in the Lawson/Infor healthcare market, implementing Infor products, and as well as AP Automation solutions. Fun facts about me, we like to throw in some little fun snippets too. I’m the proud mom of two teenagers. We’re sort of online learning here at home, it’s a lot of togetherness. We’re currently building our dream beach home in Fenwick island, Delaware. I live here in Maryland about half hour north of the Baltimore office, RPI office. And I love AP Automation, and I know I need to get out more but I get really excited about this topic, and love presenting on this topic with Mason. So, we’re really excited to dive in and teach you what we know. Thank you.

Mason Auch:

Awesome. So, my name is Mason Auch, I’m a Accounts Payable and Automation Guru. So, I’ve worked on multiple different implementations, I’ve worked a lot with the Infor ERPs system, but I’ve also done a lot of work with Microsoft Dynamics and SAP as well. Where my specialization is specifically within the integrations for our AP solutions, so that is just making sure that everything is talking together, allowing you guys to have one place where you can view all of your information, and generate all of your reports out of. With that as well I’m our Yoga Connect product donor, which is a software that we’ll talk about a little today, which helps drive a lot of those integration points.

Mason Auch:

A fun fact about me is, I’ve actually raced on the Michigan International Speedway in a formula One style over rail race car. And obviously I had to put my lets go Chiefs down there at the bottom, I’m in our Kansas City office here. So I had to make sure I gave a little shout out for our Chiefs for this upcoming weekend.

Mason Auch:

So, our agenda for today. So, we are going to first take a look at last year, so a year in review for the challenges that we faced in 2020, and some of those temporary workarounds that we’ve put in place to be able to at least try to continue our jobs as much as possible. And then after that we’re going to take a step back and talk about this year. So, what are some priorities that we should be addressing for 2021, and how do we help relieve some of those workarounds that we had to come up with on the fly last year.

Mason Auch:

After that we’re going to take a moment and actually analyze the anatomy of the Accounts Payable Automation solutions. So talking about the entire automation process, from the beginning of the invoice being either emailed or received, all the way through the payment process. So, where are areas that we can automate, where are areas that we can relieve stress from our teams.

Mason Auch:

After that, one of my favorite things to do is an actual Live in the Wild, as we tend to call them. But it’s going to be a demo of invoice processing, and then specifically we’re going to be utilizing Kofax ReadSoft Online and Infor Financials for this, today. And then at the end we’re going to do a quick summary and then open up for your guys’ questions. And those questions can be anything from just basic, “Can you elaborate on X, Y, Z?” To even some more complex questions on how some of this would work in your guys’ current day solutions. So, as Sherri has shared earlier, both her and I have spent a lot of time in Accounts Payable and actually we enjoy it a lot. So, those questions are very rewarding because we get to help you guys relieve some of that stress that you guys have today.

Mason Auch:

So, with that, let’s go ahead and let’s jump into our year in review, so those challenges that we faced last year and the workarounds we came up with them. So, I’m sure if we ask every single one of you guys on the line that you need to element to some of the challenges that you faced last year, but these are some of the biggest issues that we ran into last year that we heard from our clients. So, how did we retrieve and capture those physical invoices that were coming into the office when we had to go to a remote workforce? We’re going to continually receive mail into our offices and we still need to make sure that those invoices are getting paid on a timely manner. So, how do we approach that and how do we solution around that?

Mason Auch:

After that we’re going talk, one of the other big challenges was the manual invoice that had to be routed for approval. A lot of people don’t realize how much physical paper is being moved in their AP processes, until they had to take a step back and go to that remote workforce. So, how do you get those invoices still approved, but also when you are working remote? After that, one of the big challenges that we faced was the physical check requests and expense reports. This is still very much a paper process, and almost in the majority of healthcare and other organizations that we work with a lot. So, when you no longer executives, or anything along those lines, to approve these you tend to run into some issues there.

Mason Auch:

Another challenge that we ran into was just around our vendors. So this was vendor maintenance, vendor documents and vendor communication. When you’re no longer in the office and you can’t grab that W-9 or you need to make sure that you get documents updated, when you’re just not in the office next to that filing cabinet it becomes really difficult unless you have an electronic content management. But even with those solutions we still had a really hard time communicating with those vendors, because everyone was just playing phone tag with things along those lines.

Mason Auch:

One of the biggest challenges that we ran into this year was just general communication, specifically inter-department communication. So, this can be anything going from an AP processor out to and executive needs to sign off on an invoice, but this can also go down to just communication both within our AP teams, and our AP teams and our supply chain. We rely a lot on those conversations that could happen more naturally, but when we’re not in the office to have those conversations and we actually have to pick up the phone, it just tends to add additional frustration.

Mason Auch:

And then, finally, one of the other big challenges that we ran into this year was processing those check-runs. So, being on site, sitting next to that printer as those checks are being printed, and then getting them into the mail as well. So, like I said, these are just some of our big challenges that we faced, I’m sure there is an onslaught of other issues and challenges that each one of you has had to work with as well this year.

Mason Auch:

So, what were some of the temporary workarounds that we did to get these challenges addressed? So, one of the first one was, is a lot of departments ended up having to send people into the office to retrieve the mail, or do those check runs. And this is especially risky to our staff and to our team, especially risky if your AP departments are located inside the hospitals as well, because now you’re having to go through where potential patient exposure is and things along those lines.

Mason Auch:

The other thing was a lot of people spent money on postage and shipping. So if you no longer can take that invoice down and put it in someone’s desk, or if you relied on that inner-department mailing, all of a sudden instead of being able to leverage on those we’re now having to leverage actual mail. Putting it in the mail, sending it out, and then now we have a lag time between that. So, from whenever that piece of mail get shipped to whenever it’s received, is additional time that that invoice is not getting approved, and then they have to approve it and then mail it back. And now you’re looking at additional time there as well, which just does not allow for invoices to get approved in a timely manner.

Mason Auch:

One of the other big workarounds that we had to come up with this year is just converting those general conversations that we would have in the office to emails and phone calls, which just tends to add a lot of frustration. Specifically around, with your emails they just tended to be endless strains going back and forth with really no resolution, and you’re having take 15, 20 different responses to get an invoice fixed, which is just not time effective for anyone.

Mason Auch:

On top of that there was also phone tag, trying to call someone and leave them a message. And then they’ll try to call you back and leave you a message, and this is just part of that process when you’re trying to stay on top of invoices and you don’t have good visibility into the system. And these are things that just really start to add to frustration to our staff. Instead of being able to walk down and have that five minute conversation, you’re now looking at an hour to an hour and a half to fix this one single invoice. So add an additional stress to our teams.

Mason Auch:

And the biggest workarounds that we saw this year were some of the remote desktop and access for those on-premises softwares. So this is your Citrix, your remote desktops, any of this type of stuff. Trying to access that from home, you’re having to try to get into the firewalls, and if there’s any issues now you have to open up and take it with your IT help desk. And depending on your IT help desk you can range that from, I’ve had some really good clients where you have quick responses, I’ve had some other clients where you have two or three days with access issues. And this just, like I said earlier, adds to that general frustration of you’re just trying to get your job done, and you’re just not able to move forward.

Sherri Nettles:

We had, actually, Mason and I were just on a called suite implementation together that just went live in the fall. And one of our big challenges was, they didn’t even have working equipment for the teams. They had desktops in the office, but they didn’t have laptops for their staff to be able to even work from home, so there’s a lot of basic, even, equipment challenges with making sure that the team has proper equipment to be able to work remotely.

Mason Auch:

Yeah, and one of the issues that we saw there was just the slower performance as well. So, now they’re waiting for pages to load and it just slows everything down.

Sherri Nettles:

It’s very frustrating, yes.

Mason Auch:

Yeah. So what do these workarounds do to our teams, though? The number one is definitely fear of getting sick. This was a very challenging year that we’ve just concluded here, and there’s definitely some lingering issues into this year as well. But that’s one of the biggest impacts on our teams. Another one is about the confusion about the processes and technologies. If you had a standard procedure on how you log into a system, or things along those lines, when now you’re having to add some sort of a Citrix or VPN, or any of that type of stuff on the front end. It just adds more and more steps to those processes, which just tends to add additional stress on our teams.

Mason Auch:

As we talked about a little bit on that last slide, missing our inadequate software or hardware. So, if you have slow computers that’s just slowing down the process. I’ve had a lot of clients talk about, they’re able to use Citrix but they’re IT has it locked down, so they can’t copy files back and forth. So, they have to do all of their work on the one machine, which I totally understand the IT restrictions to that as well, but that’s just one more thing that impacts your guys’ teams. All of this leads to additional hours and stress due to these manual processes.

Mason Auch:

Like I talked earlier, instead of being able to walk down and have a quick conversation about the invoice, you’re now in a long string, or phone tag, which just turns that one invoice time dramatically up. And these manual processes just bring frustration, and it’s frustration about limited access, it’s frustration with communication, and then just frustration with support as well. And when our teams are frustrated they’re not performing to what we need them to be, and we definitely want to address those as quickly as possible.

Sherri Nettles:

And we saw that as an issue too, where teams were having to divide and conquer. So, because of COVID restrictions the teams are having to split in half, so half of the team would be on-site in the office, half the team is remote working from home. And then trying to coordinate tasks and get any kind of efficiency within your department, obviously, is really tricky when your people aren’t all in one physical location.

Mason Auch:

Yeah, and that’s a big one as well, because even when you’re trying to divide up some of those tasks it might not be a task that person had specialized in as much. So, now they’re also having to learn new processes. So, just general frustration. If I could summarize all of 2020, it’s just frustration.

Michael Hopkins:

Yeah.

Mason Auch:

And these are-

Sherri Nettles:

It should be the title of our slide.

Mason Auch:

Just the frustration, that’s what I should just put on this next slide here.

Michael Hopkins:

There you go.

Mason Auch:

So, we want to fix these issues going forward. So, what are our priorities for next year? And I’m going to replace the word frustration with automation. So what are some things that we can do to begin to remove those frustrations? So the first thing we can do is we can start looking towards our next solutions here, which are going to be cloud-based solutions and softwares. They’re no longer going to be on-prem, so that way you don’t have to rely on remote desktop Citrix, your VPNs, things along those lines. As long you have a computer that has a web browser, they can login, they can just do their job. They don’t have to worry about all these IT restrictions.

Mason Auch:

With that as well, it also simplifies the remote workstation hardware. So, as long as you have the laptop you’re good to go, you don’t have to have a laptop that has had the software installed, and if that specific software wasn’t installed now you have to take it in to IT to get it installed, or any of those type of things. We just want to get to down to a more simplified system, and that’s really what some of these cloud-based solutions are working towards, is a simplified element there.

Mason Auch:

Another big one that automation can help tackle is reducing the manual interventions and tasks. So this is really where we’re really going to start talking about some of the AP Automation portions. So this is capture, process and route those documents digitally. We don’t want to walk around anymore and try to take invoices to individual desks, if we need to have a conversation with our supply chain team we don’t want to have to take that invoice, scan it, put it in an email, send it over to them, wait for them to respond back, and then do whatever you needed to in the system. We want all those conversations to just happen in the system, that way everyone has the same visibility into exactly what we’re talking about.

Mason Auch:

And the biggest thing with automation is just also increasing the transparency and, like I said, that collaboration as well. So, with automation we want to provide that real time visibility into exactly where our invoices are, and what is going on with them as well. So this is, if it’s out for approval we want to know how long it’s been out for approval, who is it currently sitting with? So, who are we waiting on? That way, if I take a look and say, “Oh man, I have a whole bunch of invoices that are out for this approval, and are waiting on the same person.” That’s where we start to gain that visibility into the system there.

Mason Auch:

And then with the collaboration we just want to connect our users. There’s still going to be a lot of remote work going forward, and we want to try to future proof ourselves a little bit to have that conversation easier, rather than playing constant phone tag back and forth.

Sherri Nettles:

Yeah, and that’s a great point, Mason. The cloud variation tool within Cloud Suite gives you the ability to collaborate within the application, so then you’re not losing track of things that you’re trying to research in an email trial that buried in your 5,000 email inbox. So, it’s really a great tool we can look at.

Mason Auch:

Yeah. So, what are some of the specific Accounts Payable Automation that I’ll be speaking to? So, the first one which is one of the easiest ones to get knocked off right at the start is automating that invoice capture. So, this is either emails are coming in to a system, and right now you’re saving off the PDFs into whatever process you’re doing, or you’re printing them and then… Whatever that process is we don’t want that anymore, we don’t want to have to have another person touching that invoice.

Mason Auch:

We want that invoice to come into an email, we want that attachment to automatically be taken off and either brought into an OCR or brought into some sort of queue where we can begin to index them. If we can’t get to email there’s always going to be vendors that are sending us actual mail in the mail. So, how do we speed up our mail room scans, and how do we make sure that the quality of the scans are still there? A lot of times when we speed up that mail room scanning we start to see a lot of, we call it, noise on the invoice. So, there’s those little black specs, things like that, it’s just not getting a good capture.

Mason Auch:

And then another thing is, we start to leverage EDI more. There are more and more vendors that are working with our EDI providers, that you can get set up and remove their fax numbers, or anything along those lines, and just get them over to EDI. You’ll still have to work some exceptions with EDI, but it’s no longer having to either manually index or go through an OCR, which is just a big win.

Mason Auch:

Another Automation step that we can do is we can automate to check requests and those expense requests that are coming in right now on those papers. So, some of our ERP systems are beginning to include these type of forms in their out of the box implementations. Infor, which is the one that Sherri and I have worked with a lot here recently now has what’s called the request new invoice payment form, which is supposed to fill in that hole a little bit with check requests. And it’s all IPA-based, so any of your consultants or tech people can work with that to tweak it a little bit to work for you guys’ companies.

Mason Auch:

But if you’re not looking at a full ERP or you want to stay with your ERP that you have now, we can also take a look at digital forms. So, these are just forms that allow our users to fill out information, and then there’s an area where we can review those and then automatically create records and things along those lines in our systems. So, If you’re using the N4 V10 still, that where your digital forms would come in to play a role there.

Mason Auch:

The other big one is, we can start leveraging OCR. So, OCR is optimal character recognition. So when we scan our invoice into the system it will read all of the words that are on that invoice, and will start to pick out the data that’s needed for that. So, there’s the two areas that you can do with OCR, there’s your header and footer data, so this just capturing your vendor, your invoice amount, your invoice date, your primary key fields. But then there’s that line-item matching, which takes this one step further. So, this is where we actually do some sync up, and with master data we can do validation as well. And we’ll talk a little bit more about that, we have a whole slide dedicated to OCR here in a little bit.

Mason Auch:

And then one of the other big automation steps we can do is, invoice approval matrixes and routing. So, it’s no longer, “Oh, I know Joe is in charge of this department, I’m going to send it to Joe.” This is, you choose the department off the GL structure, you press go, and it just goes. So, a big automation step there as well.

Mason Auch:

So, we talked a little bit about some of the things that we can do in the process, so let’s take a look at the anatomy of the Accounts Payable Automation setup and see how this would look from the beginning to the end. So, here on our far left we have that invoice capture. So this is that scanned invoices, emails, fax, things along those lines. And we have a slide for each of these afterwards, so this is just [inaudible 00:22:09]. So, after that it would move on to our data capture, so it’s going to pull that data off of the invoice for us and present it, if it has high confidence it would just proceed. If it needs some verification or need some exceptions it would bring it up for our AP staff to review.

Mason Auch:

Our AP staff then can fix whatever they need to or send it off to some exceptions and workflows. So, those exceptions and workflows can be anything for invoice, vendor, depending on what your company’s needs are. After it’s gone through those workflows we want to get it out for approval, if it’s needed for approval. So, getting it out there through automation so they’re no longer picking through ghost tomb, and then also one big thing we’ll talk about there is escalation as well.

Mason Auch:

And after we’ve received the approval, we want to make sure all of this information is stored. So we want to make sure the invoice image is stored, we want to make sure the invoice data is stored, we want to know who approved it, all of that. So, for the actual images we look at storing that in an OnBase, a perceptive image now, or Infor document management if you’re part of the CloudSuite Financials element. And then at the end we want to make sure that we’ve marked that invoice for payment and get it out the door. That way we’ve seen it through the process and we’re done now.

Mason Auch:

So, let’s take a little bit more of an in-depth look at invoice, document, capture. So, when document captures two main ways that we can take documents. So, there’s your email capture, so this what we talked about earlier, pulling those exact invoice attachment off form an email inbox and automatically putting them into the workflow. You’re not having a human save those images of, you’re not doing anything along those lines, it’s all automated. And that way we can take our staff and put them to more valuable [inaudible 00:24:05].

Mason Auch:

If you’re still trying to look for faxed images there’s also fax elements that we can do, in how to support these. Where we receive faxes, their generated images, and then they go through this process anyway. There’s also the scanning of those mailed or hard copies. So, with some of the automation we want to use automatic separation. So this is, if you have a 10 page invoice, and another 10 page invoice, it’s not scanning them separately. It’s either sliding a blank piece of paper or a barcode in there, and just throw it all on the scanner and letting it scan, and letting the system do that document separation for you.

Mason Auch:

It’s also all about having it automatically do color correction, noise reduction, any of that type of stuff to make sure that the quality of the im