Accounts Payable 2.0: the Power of Intelligent Process Automation

People working in financial services know this all too well: dealing with money can be tricky. When it comes to a company’s money matters, things have to move fast; effortless and seamless are key words. 

And though an accounts payable system is straightforward in its purpose, it’s easy to recognize how it can get really complicated for the people involved in it: there is a number of steps that have to be completed by a number of people, who can easily become blockers for one another in a number of ways. Some of the tasks are co-dependent and there’s a lot of manual work involved.  

See how things can get tricky? 

In what follows, we’ll explore (an example of) how a classic accounts payable system can undergo a much needed digital transformation through intelligent process automation.  

Key Pain Points of Classic Accounts Payable Systems 

There are some pain points that describe most processes out there. And our example of an accounts payable system makes no exception: 

accounts payable calculator

  • There’s a lot of manual work involved, which is time consuming and error prone 
  • Information doesn’t always make it in full from one person to another 
  • Again, manual data validation is time consuming and error prone 
  • Messy case documentation and overtime resolution due to collaborating with stakeholders via phone, email, printed and/or rescanned documents 

The human touch is vital to any business out there. But it’s not always beneficial, especially when dealing with large volumes of repetitive work. 

Challenges of Automating an Accounts Payable System 

The main challenge in automating the process of an accounts payable system is to keep track of all the variables involved and ensure that requirements are met.  

In our example, we had to deal with these requirements: 

  • All invoices are processed in 24h since their arrival 
  • All invoices are processed 100% accurately 
  • All invoices are paid on time 
  • All invoices follow the approval process 

screen 0 accounts payable system intelligent process automation

Given our previous experience with similar cases, we know that effective financial processes rely on 3 factors: 

  • Accuracy 
  • Good turnaround time 
  • Transparency  

A modern solution brought to a classic accounts payable system has to improve on each and every one of these factors, while maintaining a human-centered design. 

And that’s exactly what we did. See for yourselves: 

A Case of Intelligent Process Automation for an Accounts Payable System 

There’s only one way to tackle a multiple step process: one step at a time. 

Very fitting for cases of intelligent process automation is the Pareto principle – also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity.  

The Pareto principle states that, for a lot of events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Just like in 1896 Vilfredo Pareto showed, that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, it was Microsoft to give a good example for the software industry years later. They found that, by fixing the top 20% of the most reported bugs, 80% of the related errors and crashes in a given system would be eliminated.  

With that in mind, we understood that the best solution for the given accounts payable system is one that removes a considerable amount of the manual work involved, while boosting accuracy, turnaround time, and transparency. The new-and-improved app has to be easy to use and feature a user-friendly, user-centered UI/UX design. 

We decided for a cloud-based accounts payable solution, which allows automatic process management through Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Rule Management. Furthermore, the solution enables mobile approvals through a chatbot communication channel. 

Our automated accounts payable solution consists of 3 parts: 

  • Invoice inbox 
  • Invoice detailed view 
  • Business Process Management Studio 

Invoice Inbox

For the invoice inbox we shied away from the strongly color-coded, overcrowded layouts we usually see for systems like this one. We were set on following the principles of a user-centered UI/UX design. It only takes one look at the invoice inbox to establish the state of the work backlog. All this thanks to the new features we added: 

invoice inbox accounts payable system intelligent process automation

  • Sorting is available, including drag and drop 
  • Advanced filtering by: amount range, date range, case status, document type, or any other field available 
  • Quick actions: edit, delete, report 
  • Role based contextual dashboard 
  • Label tags for quick shortlisting 

The pros of this modern setup: improved visibility and control over the workload.  

Invoice detailed view

The invoice detailed view makes for a consistent user interface and a helpful asset overall. Instead of reading data from scanned invoices and manually entering it into the system, users can now rely on the machine learning AI features of this automated accounts payable system to automatically detect and migrate data from available data sources into the system.  

The document history feature has been expanded into a Case Timeline, which makes for a complete picture through: 

  • A past activities log 
  • Suggested actions 

invoice detailed view accounts payable system intelligent process automation

 

It’s easy to make the right decision when all the info is available. But, just in case, the screen also allows direct collaboration with external parties (vendors) on case disputes via: 

  • Communication channels integration: chat, phone, email 
  • Proactive notifications 

More often than not, the process owner has no means to directly control the process parameters (approval chains and approval limits). All cases have to be manually pushed through the process funnel (even the simple, standard ones), because there’s no mobile solution to deal with urgent approval requests. 

Business Process Management Studio

Hence, we designed the Business Process Management Studio based on a custom-made approval matrix to provide a solution to these difficulties.  

A new feature has been added to allow process owners and cost center managers to work together and efficiently micro manage the details of the process they’re in charge with: 

  • Company, department, team, process, project, ad-hoc centers 
  • Approval chain structure: approvers, order of approvals, and approval limits are easily customized 

 

business process management studio accounts payable system intelligent process automation

This new system speeds things up by allowing cost center rule based automated case processing with approvals and queue allocation.  

Mobile approvals are also possible via: 

  • Proactive notifications 
  • Communication channels integration: chat, email 

business process management studio accounts payable system intelligent process automation

Light color-coding provides transparency and data accuracy is easily recognized. 

Conclusion

Applying intelligent process automation to accounts payable systems fixes some of the most common dilemmas of accounts payable systems worldwide:  

  • The need for manual work is minimized, eliminating a lot of waste 
  • Human-centered UI/UX design makes for an efficient and effective workflow 
  • The integration of communication channels facilitates productive collaboration  
  • Low impact, repetitive work is automated, allowing people to contribute where it’s needed most 
  • Smart features – document management options, quick actions, and case timelines – make this app an easy to use and powerful asset 

The main purpose – and benefit – of using intelligent process automation is as obvious as ever: the weight of wasteful, repetitive tasks is lifted and people are free to devote their know-how and creativity to genuinely helping the company do better.