Every year in the document imaging space there is a new central topic of interest. It usually changes substantial from distributed capture, to SharePoint, to BCR ( Business Card Recognition ). However, there is one topic of interest that never changes in popularity and that is accounts payable automation.
Invoices are one of the highest demanded documents to automate, yet AP projects have a HUGE failure rate. The biggest determining factors from what I can see are assumptions, expectations (they are different), and lack of planning. In this post, I break out the five must have considerations for ANY successful AP automation project.
Separate your commercial invoices from any specialized invoice types such as legal, manufacturing, telecommunications, etc. The reason you do this is because the low hanging fruit when automating invoices is commercial invoices. Boxed AP solutions have put the most amount of effort in fine-tuning for commercial invoices. Therefore, the greatest accuracy. Contrary to the popular belief AP automation is not a vertical. Certain invoice types have very specific methods for processing, making them a different document type all together.
Know how many vendors you have. Understanding the makeup of your invoices is very important. Your focus should be determined by those invoices that are easiest to automate and make up the greatest portion of your entire volume. So make a list of all your vendors and calculate the percentage volume they make up. Vendors that make up the greatest volume should have the greatest set of specific fine-tuning attributed them, perhaps even their own extraction template or layout. Low volume invoices might not introduce any value to automate.
Know if you want to collect line-item data or not. At first glance the majority of companies say they want line-items, only later to change their mind. Find that business process that mandates you collect line items. In your current process are you having line items entered? What database of existing information will you use to support your line-item extraction? It may be better to choose against line-items or choose to extract them for limited critical vendors. The difference in complexity between line-item extraction or not is significant, and amount of additional effort is usually five times or more.
Design your exception handling process before even looking at solutions. Know how you are going to check the quality of extraction. Quality assurance happens with human review, and business rules. Know beforehand how you want those to work. For example, a business rule could simply check that all line-items for a particular invoice add up to a total amount due, if they don't you have someone look at the entire invoice. Poor exception handling not only allows for false positives it also is an unnecessary generator of additional professional services. The more fine-tuning introduced to a system, the greater the risk of reducing overall accuracy and added complexity. For proper-fine tuning full regression testing is required.
Automate what you can accurately first. This is true for all capture projects, where companies are inclined to find all paper document types and throw them at technology. This forces companies to spend significant time at setup with no clear measures of success. By automating the clean documents with well understood extraction criteria first, organizations can spend little time on setup before production, get a win under their belts, and then add other variations to the system.
These five steps are not the end-all, but they are necessary considerations before entering into an accounts payable automation project and most importantly looking at boxed vendor invoice solutions.
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