For most of us, the internet has become an integral part of our everyday lives. We can either choose to utilize the numerous advantages it affords such as social media, online learning, e-commerce, information resources and good entertainment; or we could ignore it and lead a slower, and far less productive existence. Because our world is undeniably becoming more tech dependent, it would be foolish not to recognize that business processes are also on the same trajectory as the rest of our internet-centric world.
So why aren’t more organizations fully committing to advancing their processes at the same rate as the rest of the world? Doesn’t it make sense that companies become more “E”-centric and use technology to enhance efficiency and increase profit margin? The Accounts Payable department is no exception. Companies like iPayables have made it possible to automate the payables process by which an organization can approve an invoice in a matter of minutes using the cloud.
Recently, I was on LinkedIn and I posed the question to my discussion group; “why is E-invoicing so important to the modern Accounts Payable professional?” One respondent, David Kallsen, the Assistant Project Leader at Lourdes University, replied with the following post:
“The short answer is, companies are under intense pressure to do more with less. ‘Less’ typically means ‘less staff.’ E-invoicing and other A/P automation and systematic tools help allow companies to meet this challenge and stay competitive. A few years ago, I had read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. In it, Mr. Pink discusses the three A’s—abundance, Asia, and automation—three competitive pressures of our current economy. In the section on automation, the author uses the stories of John Henry and Garry Kasparov to illustrate that, simply put, there are some tasks better suited to today’s machines compared to human beings.
It has been my experience that fear drives many, if not most, people who work in Accounts Payable to prefer processes that are based on clear-cut rules with no exceptions and are documented with detailed, step-by-step instructions. However, is that not the very essence of a computer program? Strictly by the bottom line numbers, compared to their human counterparts modern computer systems can often perform rules-based, sequential tasks in much higher volume, with significantly fewer errors, and with significantly lower material costs.”
I particularly agreed with the point he made about how some tasks are just better suited for machines rather than humans. Case in-point, iPayables customers (who are now fully automated) have reported a dramatic reduction in invoice errors and exceptions with AP Automation compared to the manual processing of the past. David expounds on this point stating:
“Many so-called exceptions can be included as part of the rules. Those few transactions which violate the assumptions of the programming logic may be loaded into a queue for manual processing. In one example from my past, EDI allowed us to drop the manual processing portion for a 40,000-invoices/month-supplier from 100% to only a few invoices/month. A hard-nosed management team might also subscribe to the concept that, when properly implemented and maintained, such systems do not take sick days, lunch and bathroom breaks, or succumb to fatigue. They typically do not chat at the water cooler, feel threatened or slighted, play politics, experience performance anxiety, or fall prey to any of the myriad other human productivity drains which play out in the typical work environment. Certainly, this is all true.
However, beyond that, I would propose such automated techniques bring the opportunity for improved resource management. Many tasks (e.g., resolving supplier complaints, troubleshooting GRNI issues, collaborating on continuous improvement projects, etc.) in A/P require human interaction and judgment. Freeing employees from the daily grind of mindless processing permits them to engage in tasks which are more appropriate and satisfying to today’s knowledge workers, and (I believe) benefits an organization with a more productive allocation/ratio of equipment and human resources to the discipline of Accounts Payable. Certainly, there is much more, especially as one gets into the details of implementing e-invoicing systems, but this gives you a general overview of my philosophy on the topic.”
I would like to thank David for his participation on this topic. I wish more AP decision makers could recognize how positively impactful a conversion to automation really is. If you need more convincing, please refer to our library of informative blogs or feel free to ask us questions by calling 1-866-874-7932 or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Dave Cheney
Manager of Implementations for iPayables.
For over 12 years I have worked with a plethora of customers, moving them from paper to an electronic invoicing process. Each customer is unique and often have very specific business processes and therefore, iPayables customizes the InvoiceWorks platform to fulfill a customer’s specific needs (unlike most other providers). Rarely do we encounter a new customer, who does not need at least some kind of customization. We purposefully built our application (InvoiceWorks) to be incredibly flexible and we continue to expand its base functionality with each new client.
When implementing a customer we follow an “80/20 rule” in which we segregate vendors into groups so we can target getting (a minimum) 80 percent of a customer’s invoice volume into an electronic invoice format. We focus first on the top group of vendors who have the largest volume of invoices. Letters are sent out from the customer to their vendors, explaining the process change and providing information on how to set up their accounts online and the iPayables help desk information is provided should any questions arise.
These letters are then followed up by emails and calls from the iPayables vendor adoption team. Securing the customer’s commitment to get their vendors to use the iPayables InvoiceWorks platform is obviously essential in the vendor adoption phase. The more support the customer can provide the iPayables vendor adoption team, the better and quicker the results.
Large vendors that do more than 70 invoices a month have the option to submit their invoices via EDI, CSV, and XML file formats and can do so either manually online or automatically via various forms of FTP. The larger vendors tend to choose the automated process. Midsize vendors that process between 20 and 70 invoices a month, predominantly prefer the online method of submitting invoices.
This two-pronged approach to vendor adoption, has proven effective in getting vendors up and running quickly as well as increasing electronic invoice volume significantly within the first few months. Large file upload vendors tend to take a month or two to set up the automatic file transfer and finalize testing of the CSV, EDI, or XML file formats they will be using to send their invoices. Mid-size vendors simply need to log in and start invoicing online with a user-friendly web form that validates their invoice information before they submit it.
For the smaller vendors who process less than 20 invoices a month, the iPayables vendor adoption team uses various methods of contacting them, including assisting the customer with instructional letters on how to set up their account online and providing help desk information if they have any difficulties. Most of the smaller vendors will set up their accounts online with the information they obtained from our letters or emails. If problems arise, vendors can call the iPayables help desk to receive assistance with online setup.
It is important to note that large or small, there is no charge for vendors to use the InvoiceWorks platform! This is a huge benefit when a customer attempts to get vendors on-board with the new process, as most vendors shy away having to pay to submit their own invoices. Many of iPayables competitors either charge their customers extra for the vendor adoption service or simply charge vendors to use their Payables Automation application. This can be detrimental to vendor adoption success and thus, we offer it for free!
Finally, for those vendors that aren’t able to send invoices electronically for whatever reason, we partner with various imaging companies or we do the imaging at iPayables for the remaining paper invoices (depending on volume). This allows iPayables’ customers to take advantage of the InvoiceWorks workflow and payment processes even though the invoices are being submitted via paper.
Under this scenario, each invoice is scanned and indexed via a double-blind keying method. Then they are sent through InvoiceWorks edit checks to again validate the invoice data. Invoices that need further attention, go to an imaging work list which the customer has access to within the InvoiceWorks online application. Most of the imaged invoices are submitted and flow through the standard InvoiceWorks workflow automatically without requiring any additional attention.
As a company standard, iPayables strives to capture most, if not all, of invoice volume for each of our customers, helping them move from a once cumbersome paper invoicing process; to an efficient electronic invoicing method of approving and paying invoices.
Contact us today to get started www.ipayables.com.
September 17, 2014 Tangible Benefits of AP Automation – A Survey of iPayables Customers, September 2014
Why AP Automation?
The gap between companies utilizing full payables automation verses those using more traditional AP methods like manual paper processing or OCR is becoming fairly noticeable. Benefits like improved workflow, reduced costs, discount capture, visibility, control, environmental impact, and faster processing times, are being missed by many organizations that have difficulty adopting more modern technologies.
With that said, we polled our own clients in order to better quantify exactly how and in what ways they have profited by implementing a robust and comprehensive AP Automation solution like iPayables InvoiceWorks. We targeted managers and Accounts Payable professionals from our customer base who had knowledge of before and after implementation metrics.
We started by asking all of our current customers to complete a simple survey:
- On average, about how many invoices per month does your company process in AP?
- How much are you gaining (on average) a month in discount capture?
- About how many days did it take to process an invoice (from submission to payment) prior to implementing iPayables InvoiceWorks?
- How long does it take now that your organization is fully automated?
- How many people did your company have in the Accounts Payable department processing invoices before implementing iPayables?
- How many people does your organization have in Accounts Payable Now?
Here are the results:
For confidentiality purposes, we cannot explicitly identify who participated in this survey. However, some of the more notable organizations gracious enough to respond include:
- The world’s largest airline
- The world’s 2nd largest airline
- The world’s largest office print & ship services
- A major film studio
- The world’s largest restaurant chain
Dynamic Discount Gains in Accounts Payable
The most interesting and certainly the most telling aspect of the survey revolves around the dynamic discount gains iPayables’ customers are currently generating in AP. Some gains are generated in the form of p-card rebates gained through payments being processed via purchasing card in InvoiceWorks. But the majority of the discount capture reported in this study is obtained using the Dynamic Discounting feature of iPayables InvoiceWorks.
Dynamic discounting is a popular offering in the iPayables AP Automation solution. Those who participate, consistently generate substantial gains by offering their vendors the ability to be paid early for a dynamically calculated fee based on a customer determined discount rate and the number of days the vendor would like to be paid early.
This is possible because with electronic invoicing, the entire AP process of matching, approving, and paying invoices is greatly reduced down to an average of about three and a half days (more on this later). Whereas, with traditional paper invoicing, the process can take anywhere from 30-45 days.
|Customers||Monthly Discount Capture|
According to the survey, the average iPayables client obtained nearly $50K a month in discount capture. One of the survey respondents, a Fortune 500 airline; reported an average monthly discount capture exceeding $115,000. This equates to over a million dollars annually gained by using the dynamic discount feature of iPayables InvoiceWorks. In most cases, the gains generated by discount capture more than offset any costs associated with the payables automation service.
Headcount Reduction / Reallocation
As organizations constantly evaluate how best to allocate their resources to better maximize profit margin, the first question usually asked is: “do we have redundancy in our labor force and can we do more with less?” Naturally, once the AP process is effectively automated with InvoiceWorks, far fewer people are needed to process and approve invoices. However, this does not necessarily mean that people will lose their jobs, but it does mean that AP departments can run more efficiently with fewer workers.
In most cases, companies rely on natural attrition over time to reduce the size of Accounts Payable or they can re-allocate staff which enables them to fill other areas of need in the company with in-house talent. Regardless, this study shows that the implementation of payables automation solution can dramatically reduce the number of people in AP, which is a direct indication of dramatic cost savings.
|Customers||Pre-Automation Headcount||Current Headcount|
|One Major Example||72||21|
|Average (rounded)||29 People||11 People|
According to the survey results, iPayables customers were able to reduce headcount by an average of 62%. A noticeable example of this, is a Fortune 500 airline client who reported to have had 53 people manually entering and filing paper invoices pre-automation. Currently, with AP automation, they report that only 5 people hold those responsibilities. This represents a reduction of 91%.
Another example, a Fortune 500 shipping service who, pre-implementation, had 72 people working in Accounts Payable and now they only have 21. iPayables estimates the savings from payables automation for this organization to be upwards of $2,295,000 per year.
Payables as a Profit Center
Traditionally, payables is a cost center. It costs money to operate the department and the department does not generate revenue or income. However, with payables automation and dynamic discounting, modernized payables groups have reduced costs below the amount of discounts being gained; effectively becoming a profit center rather than a cost center. Consider the response from the following Fortune 500 client:
With the client’s stated $50,000 monthly discount capture (which was only $2,000 prior to automation), the department actually nets over $15,000 per month for the company instead of costing it an estimated $65,000 prior to automation.Case in point, this Fortune 500 company, after adopting AP Automation with iPayables, was able to reduce headcount by 54% bringing their monthly costs to under $35,000. With an aggressive supplier adoption strategy, they were able get their suppliers to send invoices electronically and make them aware of the option to be paid early, even when a contractual discount didn’t exist.
Further benefits of implementing accounts payable automation include workload and error reduction, greater visibility and substantially faster invoice approval times. The reduction in approval/processing time is fairly easy to quantify and thus, we asked our current customers (individuals who have been with their respective companies long enough) to give us an estimate of how long, on average it took for an invoice to be processed (from supplier creation to customer approval) prior to the implementation of InvoiceWorks.
The survey shows invoice processing times decreasing from an average of 14 days down to 4 days. This is a processing time reduction of over 71%. A large airline, prior to automation, had an approval processing time of nearly one month, effectively eliminating any option of discount capture or even quality cash management. After automation, that client has reduced approval processing time to less than a week enabling greater discount options and better cash management.
With reduced processing times, automated payable departments don’t have to pay any earlier, but they have more options available. Even without contractual discounts, the dynamic discount option becomes very attractive to suppliers who have 30 or 45 day terms and see that their invoice can be paid on day 8.
The survey overwhelmingly affirms that AP Automation is not only viable, but is an effective approach to accounts payable. Automation has proven to dramatically increase discount capture, drastically reduce headcount and costs. It streamlines the approval process and increases visibility resulting in much more efficient and timely processing.
The results of this study concludes that iPayables customers are operating faster, more efficiently and with fewer people as a direct result of adopting AP Automation. All of these organizations have reduced costs and, in some cases, have actually become profit centers within their respective companies.
iPayables is an industry leader in the automating of accounts payable departments, optimizing workflow and streamlining the invoicing / payables process. By using our advanced internet invoicing system (InvoiceWorks®), organizations can process invoices electronically, make changes, and can track payments all while eliminating phone inquiries, data entry, filing and the scanning of documents.
The world’s largest airline, largest grocer, largest restaurant chain and other Fortune100 companies use iPayables InvoiceWorks® because of its functionality, flexibility, and unmatched value. iPayables provides supplier tools for invoice web-entry, file upload, EDI, PO flip and paper invoice capture; which integrate seamlessly with our robust and dynamic workflow, purchase order matching, dispute resolution, payment and dynamic discounting capabilities. www.ipayables.com.
Recently, I was speaking with a colleague of mine who asked me “why are so many airlines are using iPayables? Is it because of specific features that the airlines use? Is it because of a federal mandate to use an American business? Is it because the founders of iPayables were all ex airline executives?” The answer, of course, was none of the above. But the real reason is fairly interesting.
The first airline to adopt iPayables was American Airlines in 2001. At the time and over the next few years, the industry was suffering from rising fuel costs, increased government regulation, passenger safety concerns and in general; decreased passenger revenue. If you have been around as long as I have, you might remember how strange it was flying in planes that were less than 40% full during that time.
To combat this, most Airlines mandated a heavy emphasis on cost and head count reduction in order to survive and become profitable again. Inefficient processes in AP was one area of concern for carriers who were looking to streamline their business model. As an example, most of the airline’s AP Departments tended to pay their suppliers only after the invoice was fully approved by everyone and their dog, which usually took an absurdly long time (usually over a month)! On top of that, those departments needed dozens and dozens of people to process, verify and audit mountains of paper invoices.
It’s no wonder that when American Airlines first discovered iPayables at an industry conference way back then, and contemplated the ridiculously positive financial and efficiency impact it would have, for them it was a revelation! Even though electronic invoicing was at that time, in its infancy (iPayables was one of the early pioneers) many other airlines and even the International Air Transport Authority almost immediately, got on-board and the solution really took off!
Unfortunately, even though most of the major airlines have adopted iPayables as their AP Automation solution, others have been reluctant. Interestingly enough, there was at least one airline who had deep and detailed conversations with us about how our application works and about the possibility of adopting us. They then used the information gathered from us and attempted to build their own E-invoicing platform. Needless to say it did not go as well as they hoped, and they are no longer around.
Another airline decided to go in a different direction. They wanted a more European feel and went with one of our competitors across the pond. Eventually, that company got bought by a larger American company shortly, which you would think would be the end of the story.
However, that bigger American company decided to sunset (kill) the old invoicing product they were using and try to replace it with their solution which is even more overpriced and less functional.
The story takes another turn as that company recently got bought out by another American company and it is probable that they will turn to us for their AP Automation needs. It’s kind of funny how things come around! With all of that said, I told my colleague how lucky we were to find those airlines when we did and have been able to cultivate partnerships that have endured and been profitable for all parties involved. Currently we serve more than 2/3rds of the world’s major airlines which represents about 25% of our revenue. We appreciate them and they have enjoyed partnering with us.
He was pleased with my answer and asked if any additional airlines were coming on board for which I answered that I am confident we are about to close another major US carrier shortly, but that’s another story.
An electronic invoicing wave is currently engulfing enterprise organizations causing lower invoicing costs and faster processing times. Yet a similar, larger and more powerful e-invoicing wave is nearing shore, headed towards small to mid-market companies which make up the backbone of the US economy. Recently, iPayables has been surfing into mid-market, offering an enterprise level solution without the Fortune 500 price tag. But don’t let the vast enterprise-level capabilities of InvoiceWorks scare you, iPayables InvoiceWorks is configurable around how you do business… and we just have a lot of features available.
Small to mid-size companies who have narrower profit margins will certainly place a strong emphasis on cost reduction when setting company goals for the fiscal year. With a robust solution like InvoiceWorks in-place, those organizations can swell efficiency, and coast to additional revenue streams. In fact, with our Dynamic Discounting capabilities, we can actually transform your payables department into a profit center! If keeping your suppliers happy is important to you, just wait until you see the impact Early Pay has on your relationships (and your Income Statement). iPayables has three methods which we employ to capture discounts that provide an average return of 32% on our customer’s working capital which we are utilizing to pay suppliers early.
Discount capture is just one hook in our tackle box. We have best-in-class Workflow and PO Matching, as well as offering numerous options to your vendors for submitting invoices electronically. It is a complete package from invoice submission to payment and archiving. As costs are receding, AP Automation solutions like InvoiceWorks are attracting more small and mid-market customers. Especially considering that many companies are making accounts payables automation a requirement due to inefficient processes or the need to reallocate headcount. Indeed, the payables automation tide is rising faster by the year.
However, the biggest challenge facing companies who are ready to make the switch from paper to electronic invoicing, is the plethora of providers who claim to offer ”The Complete” AP solution. When in fact, most only offer a watered-down version. Separating the OCR solutions from the Workflow solutions, then the Workflow solutions from the other automation solutions; is like getting caught in a rip-tide and pulled out to sea – it can be difficult to swim in the right direction or find the ideal solution before you get sucked into something potentially hazardous.
We feel the pain of these customers because when they eventually get around to talking to us, we hear about the journey they have endured. Naturally, we do take some responsibility in that regard, as we don’t spend near as much money on marketing as our competitors do, and for that we apologize. Most our proceeds (we are self-funded, organically grown and privately owned) are spent on R&D – building new applications and features that help out our current customers and expand our offerings for our future customers.
Luckily, we also have the flexibility to change pieces of our business model to accommodate a mid-market price point while offering the same enterprise level AP solution. All of our customers have seen a year 1 ROI when embarking on this initiative… and we certainly don’t plan on changing that aspect of our model in the mid-market. I hope this post has been enlightening to our future customers, helping them find the ideal automation solution. Regardless of your company size, we can transform your AP process into smooth sailing!
ADAM LEVIN is a SALES MANAGER for IPAYABLES and contributed to this months post.
Tags: AP Automation, Discount Capyure, Dynamic Discounting, E-invoice, Early Pay, Electronic Invoicing, InvociceWorks, iPayables, OCR, Payables Automation, Payables Department, PO Matching, ROI, Workflow
I come from a consulting background doing process redesign and large IT Implementations for a major consulting firm. One of the areas which I greatly enjoy is finding solutions to problems. There is usually a better, cheaper, faster, more enjoyable, more profitable way of doing most anything and electronic invoicing is no exception.
One of the questions I get is how to implement an electronic invoicing solution. How you implement really depends on the type of solution you are going to use. The number of features requested and the complexity of your needs are key items driving the answer to these questions.
I like to break it down into the 4 general areas:
Step 1: Understand the scope of what you need and what you are implementing.
You may start with a limited solution which includes only up-front imaging, no workflow, no payment, with invoices loaded into your ERP system for processing.
You may instead be doing a more comprehensive solution which includes a vendor portal, up front-imaging, multiple file imports, workflow, PO matching, payment processing and invoices loaded into your ERP system for processing.
Step 2: Establish a realistic time frame for the type of solution and level of change management.
A limited solution may have little configuration required and few users involved from a processing perspective and therefore can be accomplished in a shorter time frame.
A more comprehensive solution while providing many more benefits, generally has additional configurations so that the system meets your specific needs and this may take some additional time. The number of users involved, generally from a review or approval perspective, also plays directly into change management activities.
Step 3: Configure the system for your specific requirements.
The service provider you have selected should discuss with you the solution best suited for your company and how the various options available will best be able to meet your needs.
This is the part I feel is most important. Automating a bad process leaves many of the benefits left on the table. Having a knowledgeable team who has seen both the best and not-so-best practices at numerous companies will be able to share with you what has worked with companies like yours. This is an invaluable opportunity. In addition they are undoubtedly cheaper than what most consultants would charge just for a review of your processes alone.
So look for a service provider who will work with your staff and help you apply the best-practices for your company’s situation. In this way they can help you achieve the benefits you are looking for.
Step 4: Roll-out, ramp-up and enjoy the benefits and fruits of your efforts.
Electronic invoicing is, at the end of the day, a tool for Accounts Payable. It is not outsourcing, it is not giving up your role, not giving up control and not a replacement for account payable.
It is a tool; it is a resource for you to make your department an even greater asset to your company. One key way that you can do this is to take advantage of the partnership offered by your provider. Think of them as an extension of your department. Their goal should be to make you successful and this is best accomplished by effectively rolling out and gaining participation of this effort. You do not need to do this alone. They are there to help make you successful.
As I said earlier, there is usually a better, cheaper, faster, more enjoyable, more profitable way of doing most anything. Electronic invoicing is here and ready for those Accounts Payable departments ready and willing to make the change. Pick up the tool, become a partner and see what we can accomplish together.
Robert Ripley is Chief Operations Officer at iPayables. His experience at iPayables and previously at Accenture includes IT Integration, business process design and AP Automation with Fortune 500 companies.