Accounts payable (AP) has long been an inefficient and primarily paper-based process. More recently, however, advances in technology have it easier to automate and digitise your AP department.
It’s no secret that paper-based processes are associated with numerous drawbacks. They require significant resources, are time-consuming, and are prone to loss or failure. The latter point can be particularly egregious with paper invoices which, when misplaced or lost, require both parties (the buyer and the supplier) to spend time resolving the issue or reissuing the invoice. The manual data entry needed to capture information from paper invoices is also prone to human error and, to top it all off, paper invoices are fundamentally wasteful and therefore non-compliant with increasingly important ESG principles.
So there’s much to be gained by going paperless with your accounts payable processes, from lower costs to reducing the environmental impact of your operations. If you automate your AP process and workflow, you can also reduce the risk of fraud and human error. And while switching suppliers to paperless invoicing can be challenging, it also opens up the possibility for significant efficiency improvements.
Benefits of a paperless accounts payable process
A paperless AP process can bring many benefits, including:
Reduced processing costs
The faster invoice processing enabled by a digital system generally results in lower processing costs.
Reduced storage costs/space requirements
Digital AP processes also reduce the need for physical storage, resulting in cost savings and meaning that less space is taken up by invoices.
Easily accessible records
If your invoice processing system uses cloud-based digital storage, you can ensure that invoices can be accessed anywhere and anytime by users who have the right permissions.
Improved security and reduced errors
When you use a system that offers centralised digital storage, you reduce the risk that invoices will be lost or misplaced. It’s also easier to ensure that only authorised users are able to access invoices, reducing the risk of fraud – and if you automate your accounts payable process and workflow, you also reduce the need for human input.
Adopting paperless accounts payable can also reduce the environmental impact of your AP department, particularly if you process a high number of paper invoices.
How to go paperless
The process of going paperless can be challenging – but the benefits that can be achieved as a result mean it is a worthwhile exercise. Here are the steps you need to follow when embarking on a paperless AP exercise:
1. Take stock of your AP department
At the outset, it’s important to gain a clear view of your current AP processes. This should involve carrying out an audit to measure different KPIs, such as how long it takes to process an invoice and how many mistakes are made. This exercise will give you benchmarks that you can later use to measure the efficacy of your new paperless system.
2. Get buy-in
There are many different stakeholders to the AP process and department. As such, it’s important to gain buy-in and support for the project from all relevant stakeholders, including other finance teams, IT, and the C-suite. As part of this exercise you should ensure that all stakeholders’ concerns and questions are answered at the outset, as this will give you the best chance of achieving a smooth implementation process.
3. Select an accounts payable automation solution
Not all AP automation solutions are alike, so it’s important to choose the solution that is the best fit for your needs. For example, an accounts payable automation solution that scans and captures paper invoices can deliver automation benefits, but won’t help you move suppliers onto paperless invoicing.
When you’re looking at possible solutions there are a number of points of differentiation to consider:
- Self-service invoicing – suppliers can submit invoices quickly and easily.
- Batch processing – for suppliers that submit multiple invoices at once, you may need a solution that allows suppliers to upload batches of invoices in a variety of formats.
- Supplier onboarding process – a lengthy onboarding process may slow down adoption, so you may be looking for a solution with a quick and easy supplier registration process.
Taulia’s automated invoice processing solution offers all of the above and more. We also offer Cognitive Invoicing – a feature that means invoices in any format can be read and parsed directly to your ERP system.
4. Plan the implementation
The final step is to implement your new paperless process. This should include informing suppliers about the new system and process, and onboarding them onto the new system. This process is often made significantly easier with a centralized supplier management solution, facilitating seamless communication and tracking of onboarding process. The implementation should also include training all internal stakeholders on the new system, and adjusting settings as needed to ensure everything is working correctly.
5. Track your progress
Once the new process is up and running, you can use the information gathered during the audit phase to quantify the improvements achieved as a result of the project, and identify any areas where further improvements or fine-tuning may be needed. By carrying out regular audits, you can also address any inefficiencies that may arise in the future.
In conclusion, adopting paperless accounts payable delivers multiple benefits: you can automate your workflow, reduce the risk of error and fraud, and make it easier for authorised users to access records whenever they need them. Last but not least, paperless invoicing reduces the environmental impact of your AP department.