From XU Magazine, 
Issue 20

How AI can revolutionise the accounts payable process for businesses

The accounts payable process doesn’t have to be time-consuming and monotonous; using AI technology, businesses of all sizes can revolutionize their legacy AP function through automation and do much more with less…
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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Gone are the days where accounts payable specialists must spend hours manually processing paper invoices and tracking this information through various spreadsheets and databases. Today’s modern accounts payable specialist has plenty on their plate and does not have the capacity to spend time conducting menial tasks such as manual data entry. AI and automation are two buzzwords that can cause confusion for accounts payable professionals as they are unsure if AI and automation will take their job or enhance it. The good news is, people have always been and always will continue to be at the heart of accounts payable, thus, the AI function is not meant to steal jobs, but is meant to enhance them and help the AP professional do their job more efficiently and effectively.

AI and automation are here to stay, and the finance sector must adapt these technologies or face being run out of business. Let me explain why. According to Documentation UK, the average cost of processing an invoice through a paper-based system for a US-based company costs approximately $25, and the time it takes to process said invoice can take anywhere between five to fifteen days. While this has always been the standard, this does not mean that this should be continued.

According to a study by the Aberdeen Group, they found that through using an automated system, companies were able to process invoices at a cost of just $0.17. By implementing a best-of-breed service, companies can allow accounts payable professionals to spend less time manually entering data and more time focused on meaningful tasks. Using an automated process will also help employees refrain from making costly errors that could cause harm in the short and long term. By keeping employees stimulated and engaged with their work, they should find themselves with a higher employee retention rate and spend less time worrying about employees leaving their jobs.

Although AI will assist some accounts payable professionals in their job, other companies may find they no longer need to employ these people to conduct these tasks, which will lead to a reduction in future employees and all the costs associated with this process. Should a company not need to hire more people, they will be able to spend more time investing in other areas of the business and if they wish, they have the capacity to spend more money on automation itself.

Time is money in the accounts payable department and if the average time it takes to manually process an invoice takes about 20 days, itís a no-brainer as to why companies with automation are then able to process an invoice in three days (according to Van Systems).

According to Medius, if the AP process is automated, it will save AP professionals an average of one hour per day, and with the volume of invoices increasing by 10% each year, it’s safe to say, accounts payable professionals need that extra time and energy to complete their tasks in the most efficient and effective way. Furthermore, say there was an error somewhere along the invoice process, this would then take additional time and energy to amend, whereas, with automation, errors could be quickly spotted and solved. By eliminating these outdated paper-based systems, companies can utilise their employees in a better and more meaningful way. The data captured in software would also give companies a more holistic view of overall spend and allow them to make better, more informed decisions.

AI has the power to change the entire accounts payable process and will help expedite the entire process, from purchasing of goods and services, to payment of a supplier. Although some of our best employees can do this all day long, without breaks and with little to no error, AI can do this at any time, faster and more accurate than your best employee. The way AI operates is that it learns from repetitive behaviour and tasks. So, if you teach it to process an invoice, it will do it often enough to continuously get better at it, thus, eliminating errors and creating a more effective process. AI can facilitate the accounts payable process in an accurate way with unlimited speed and capabilities and at the same time, it gathers valuable information that will enable decision makers to get better in the process. With the availability of data-filled and accurate information, they can make better decisions for their business and employees. Companies can even go a step further by continuously investing in AI and automation to undertake even more AP functions, allowing businesses to make even more accurate decisions.

It’s a well-known fact that employees whom are happy and engaged in their work are more likely to report higher levels of job satisfaction and remain at a company. If employees can focus their time and energy on meaningful tasks and responsibilities, they can increase their skills and interests and find more value in whatever they are doing. Having employees manually enter data into a spreadsheet and skim through piles of paper is one way to keep employees disengaged and bored with their role. If employees are not happy, they may make errors, forget things or simply may not complete their work at all. Using AI, employees can complete the same task but in a much more efficient, time and cost-effective manner.

Companies can implement AI into their AP department and watch the employees skyrocket from boring and menial tasks to inspiring and outstanding work tasks.

AI is being heavily implemented in the banking and finance industry with an IDC study suggesting that these companies spend around $3.3 billion on digital transformation projects in 2018 alone. This proves that automation and digitally transforming the AP process is becoming more of a necessary investment. Companies who are at the forefront of this change will see many rewards and will find themselves in a much better position than those who abstain from the change. There are many benefits to AI with increased accuracy and productivity to time and cost cuts, and all these benefits will help your company to be more successful and ready for an AI-obsessed culture.

Compleat’s invoice capture, purchase order and approval automation solution, iCompleat empowers accounting practices and SMEs to see substantial ROI from their accounts payable process and procedure. I believe using automation can definitely help the AP process for the better and will allow accounts payable professionals to put power back in their own hands. It is imperative that companies gain an understanding of AI and use it correctly to reap continuous rewards for their employees and customers.

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