Key Ways to Simplify Your AP Invoice Processing with Automation

February 13, 2024

ICaaS Blog Image

Making changes to a familiar business process like accounts payable can be both exciting and frustrating. With more than 25 years of experience digitally transforming companies using intelligent data, document management and email automation, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly about how businesses go about solving everyday challenges!

That’s why today I’m thrilled to be a guest author and be able to share some valuable lessons I have learned throughout my career, along with practical advice on simplifying your AP invoice processing with automation. In fact, recently I had the honor of being a guest speaker in a webinar dedicated to this very topic.

If you are interested in delving deeper into the insights beyond what was covered in the recording, please read on! However, if you prefer a visual experience, you can watch the webinar on-demand at your convenience.

Where to Start: Strategic Planning and Facing Challenges Head-On

Whether you’re at the helm of an organization, a department or a team, the quest for continual improvement is a common challenge. Even when you know that improvement is needed, and possibly even where it is needed, deciding how to go about it and which tools to use for what can be overwhelming. But don’t worry, because there’s a path to success! By focusing on your specific requirements, along with what’s feasible in your organization, and by embracing a mindset of continual improvement, you can overcome the challenges and unlock new possibilities.

That’s why we recently held a webinar with automation experts and industry leaders. We brought together like-minded professionals to tackle one such scenario – invoice processing – and provided some actionable insights, which I’m going to walk you through below. Let’s delve into them.

Addressing the Most Prominent Challenges Faced by AP Professionals

During the webinar, we conducted several poll questions to gather valuable feedback from attendees, and discuss strategies to overcome the identified challenges. The first insight we gained was that according to thirty-eight percent of the audience, the biggest hurdle in their current invoice capture process was the lack of automation. Similarly, 30 percent expressed concerns about slow processing times. So, over two-thirds of the audience are not happy with the way their workflows are currently set up – and trust me, that’s not surprising.

These findings align with the fact that more than 61 percent manually enter data, while only 15 percent rely on Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). It’s widely acknowledged that automation yields faster and more accurate results compared to manual data entry or EDI. However, integrating automation can pose its own set of challenges, which is why we also asked what successful integration means for leaders.

Upon further exploration, these individuals emphasized the need for seamless integration with existing systems and improved accuracy in data extraction. Sounds good to me! Let’s take a look at what needs to be done to achieve that.

Eliminating Manual Invoice Processing for Improved Operations

Let’s talk invoices. We all have them, we can’t escape them, but it’s no fun to deal with them. With automated systems, invoices can be effortlessly submitted, processed and tracked, eliminating the need for manual data entry and paper-based processes. This not only improves accuracy but also enables faster payment processing and better cash flow management.

I’ve been privileged to be an instrumental leader in digitally transforming companies, and at the core of each transformation is the need to leverage automation and digital data to streamline operations. Although infrastructure limitations can present complex challenges, there’s also an excellent opportunity to use what you have and streamline your invoice-related processes.

There are different ways to go about this, so here’s my breakdown for you:

  1. Optical Character Recognition (OCR): OCR technology scans physical documents or digital invoices and converts them into searchable and usable data. This technology reduces manual entry errors while speeding up the invoicing process.
  2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML): More advanced systems use AI and ML to learn from previous invoice processing actions, enabling them to make intelligent decisions about categorizing and routing invoices. Over time, these systems become more efficient and accurate, requiring fewer exceptions and human verification.
  3. Robotic Process Automation (RPA): RPA utilizes software to replicate the manual data entry tasks typically associated with invoice processing. It uses what they call “bots” (short for robots, but contrary to popular opinion and visuals across the internet, there are no physical robots at all!) These bots can handle repetitive tasks with precision, freeing up valuable time for employees to focus on more strategic work. The bots don’t get bored or tired and are not constrained by an eight- or ten-hour workday.
  4. Cloud-based Invoice Management Systems: These are comprehensive platforms that automate the entire lifecycle of an invoice – creation, delivery, tracking, approval, payment and auditing. They offer real-time visibility into the invoicing process and enable easy access from anywhere. Plus, you don’t have to own, install, manage or maintain the system.

While all of these are good in their own right, today I want to deep dive into something called Invoice Capture as a Service (ICaaS). It’s a cloud-based solution that leverages built-in OCR and ML to get 99 percent accurate data provided back within 24 hours. And speaking from experience, I can say that its performance is better than 99 percent and turnaround time is often a lot faster than 24 hours.

How ICaaS can Increase Productivity and Reduce Costs

As I mentioned, I implemented ICaaS here at Konica Minolta, and in the webinar I explained how and why. Here’s the lowdown for you, too.

First, knowing that there were better, less manual ways to process our invoices, I made sure to work with the AP Department leaders to gather their specific needs and requirements, then evaluated how the different capture and handling methods met their needs. The most important things for us were accuracy and efficiency.

When considering data accuracy, I came across an intriguing statistic: approximately one out of every eleven keystrokes requires correction! While this statistic may vary depending on the profession and purpose, one thing remains clear – automation with 99 percent accuracy, which ICaaS offers, surpasses manual data entry, which is more prone to errors.

We also considered the ease of implementation and integration with our current accounting software. In this case, we completed the ICaaS setup in less time than it took to set up just one invoice template and one supplier template in another solution!

Once we streamlined the ever so critical – but tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone OCR part of the process with IcaaS – we were able to focus on downstream improvements. We automated approvals based on invoice type and dollar value, auto-approve invoices that are sourced from other pre-verified applications, automated entry of approved invoices directly into our ERP and are looking to eliminate HITL (Human-in-the-loop) for small dollar and recurring, expected invoices.

I also discovered that ICaaS is agile – more specifically, it is extremely effective for evaluating all different types, formats, colors and fonts of documents. Although many of our AP documents are PDFs, we occasionally get different file types that need to be processed and typically cause hold-ups in the system. The ICaaS solution handles it easily and works on all standard file formats, such as PDF, TIF, JPG, PNG, GIF and IMG for the input. The key index data is securely provided back to us in our required CSV or XML file format for the output.

To add to the security theme, it’s definitely part of the equation with ICaaS. The intuitive dashboard confirms what’s been received, processed and available to the team. When it’s time for us to use the extracted data, we can access it with a unique encryption key assigned for each processed file batched. This encryption key is used to secure the files and transmission of the files uniquely, and provides the peace of mind that is so important when allowing a system to do this tedious work for us.

Unlock Efficiency and Save Time with ICaaS Automation

With the automation provided by IcaaS, our AP team has significantly reduced the amount of staff needed to process invoices, significantly reduced overtime, improved accuracy and reduced turnaround time.

Prior to ICaaS, AP had one person 100 percent dedicated, plus three additional people routinely taken off their duties to handle invoice volume – 50 percent of their time on invoice processing. After ICaaS, it has been reduced to one person only (who now has more intellectual decision-making tasks rather than route keypunching) and the other three staff members have been freed entirely from the process, enabling them to focus on other AP duties.

Even better, we no longer need to constantly retrain the capture tool for new layouts, fonts, vendors or color-paged invoices. It’s a simple set-it-and-let-it-run system, which is especially important for my small team.

There’s no need for me to do all the time-consuming regression testing when there’s an upgrade, a new version or a new ERP system going in. Our concerns about infrastructure limitations are now a thing of the past. Long story short, ICaaS is incredibly user-friendly and has shown me how to unlock efficiency with effective technology.

Is it Time to Make the Change?

I hope my run-through here has shown that optimizing your workflow can be easier than it may seem. Modern solutions offer plug-and-play configuration, and automation can streamline your operations. Please visit our website if you’d like to know more about how ICaaS can help you streamline your AP Invoice processing.

Stephanie Hughes
Corporate IIM Applications Manager

With more than 25 years in the software business as Director of Applications and Development, IT Manager, Business Analyst and Project Manager, Stephanie Hughes has been instrumental in digitally transforming (DX) companies with intelligent data, document and email automation. Currently responsible for the rollout of Digital Transformation (DX) applications across Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc., she has implemented dozens of solutions touching nearly every business segment including AP, HR, Marketing, Operations and more. Stephanie has an MBA, PMP, CSM, degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics and numerous Hyland certifications.