AP Automation Myth #5: It Can’t Handle Complex Workflows

Accounts payable automation is an increasingly popular way for businesses large and small to create positive change; its benefits are real, proven and repeatable. Unfortunately, a few persistent myths are holding many companies back from automating AP. In this exclusive BerkOne blog series, we’re investigating one each month; this entry explores whether or not AP automation can handle complex workflows.

The road from invoice to cut check isn’t always a direct one. Like many administrative workflows, the accounts payable process can depend on many factors, involve many people and take quite a bit of time. That’s why people who are familiar with a complex manual AP process are sometimes hesitant to hand the reins over to an automated AP system. How will the system know when an invoice must be approved by Barbara versus Jon? Or that Sandy always handles that vendor’s account? Or that a certain invoice must be prioritized because of an early payer discount?

When the system captures data from its source, it captures indexing information and categorizes the invoice so that it is assigned a pre-defined workflow. And here at BerkOne, we have seen some complex workflows. But the truth is, while we call it automated AP, the beauty is that the system can handle switching between provisional and total automation when necessary. With the proper processes in place, here is just a preview of what automated AP is capable of doing on auto-pilot.

Controlled Viewing and Approvals

The bills that come through accounts payable can range in gravity from notepads to a new building lease. When an invoice is scanned and the header info (e.g., vendor number, name, basic payment information) is captured, the system can apply pre-determined rules around who can view this particular invoice. For instance, while you might want your operations manager to be able to view office supplies being purchased, that may not be necessary when a new building has been leased and the company’s COO must approve the payment. The system will utilize the vendor master file to grant permissions, utilizing fields and associated rules, such as custom amount thresholds, to ensure that only necessary – and authorized – personnel view documents.

Standard Workflows and Exception Handling

Every invoice that comes through the system requires approval, but how can you ensure it makes it into the proper hands? Again, the system references the vendor master file to obtain the information needed to execute a workflow given an invoice’s particular features. For instance, purchase order invoices can be matched to POs in the system, facilitating a fully automated process. But in other cases, the AP workload can be set up for custom distribution, like alphabetically by account name, so that Clerk 1 is routed invoices for accounts beginning with A-H, Clerk 2 sees accounts I-P, and so on. A workflow can also be programmed to manage outliers, so when an account name begins with a number or a critical piece of header info is missing, a different workflow is applied for exceptions.

In addition, queries can be managed directly with the automated AP system, so if the clerk is unfamiliar with a new vendor, they can send the invoice to the project manager to get more information. Once the information has been obtained, the clerk can apply an existing workflow to route the invoice for payment.

Custom Payment Scheduling

By streamlining your AP process, your approvals happen more quickly, ultimately shortening your payment cycles. For companies with multiple locations or subsidiaries, this means no more time wasted in transit and no more invoices getting lost or delayed. This may even help you avoid penalties or earn discounts from your vendors. On the flip side, the system gives you the option of holding a payment until an optimal time for your company. With automated AP, you can better manage corporate finances by creating a custom schedule that is agreeable to both your vendors and your bank account.

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