Accounts Payable Operations – AP Automation – A Phased-In Approach

By NE Docs | December 2, 2016

A phased in approach

When I first started managing an Accounts Payable team, the biggest challenge was managing the paper which included obtaining approvals and resolution for exception invoices from various locations. Too much time was being spent on opening mail, printing invoices received by email, sorting between Purchase Order and Non-PO related invoices then copying or scanning the Non-PO invoices to be sent out for coding and approval. Long term storage of invoices was also a time-consuming concern, especially if aged records needed to be pulled. Can you relate?

How could we become an efficient and effective world class operation when too much effort was spent on tasks that brought no value to the company? Were the service levels to our vendors and internal customers being compromised?

The financial management team wanted to leverage automation but the budget and IT resources were limited.

Most of the articles about automation addressed fully integrated solutions which include not only the collection and load of invoices into the system, the capture of invoice numbers and the routing of invoices to AP or appropriate reviewer/approver but also the auto-matching of Purchase Order invoices, validation of data and the direct upload of both matched PO invoices and approved Non-PO invoices into the company’s ERP. Although these systems also bring great benefits to a company, they may be out of reach budget wise and you may not have available IT resources required to implement a system of this magnitude.

Is there a solution that saves time and money year after year but that would not strap the current budget or IT resources?

Basic requirements might include the following:

  • Collection and scanning of Vendor invoices.
  • The capture/indexing of invoice numbers.
  • Application of the correct Vendor Number to the invoice within the selected tool.
  • Electronic delivery of all invoice images and related data to a task list assigned to Accounts Payable.
  • Ability for AP Processor to either manually process the invoice into the ERP or forward/route the invoice to the appropriate person, within the tool, for action.
  • All reviewers and approvers to have access to the tool to take appropriate action including coding and/or approving.
  • The ability to add comments to an invoice record when needed.
  • The tool is to send emails to those with invoices in their task list/queue to notify them action is required.
  • Ability to apply reporting hierarchy for escalation purposes; i.e. approver does not have sufficient Delegation of Approval so invoice auto-routes to next level up.
  • Field needed to enter the ERP/System generated voucher number into the tool once invoice is processed manually.
  • Search functionality for any invoice by invoice or ERP/System voucher number.
  • “Nice to Haves”:
    • Flag duplicate invoices.
    • Validate coding applied to Non-PO invoices.

During our search for the optimal solution, we learned that Accounts Payable Workflow systems can be implemented in phases!

Yes, IT resources might still be needed but only to create files, depending on final requirements, and to write a script to have these files created daily and posted to an FTP server. For example:

  • Active Vendors including name, number and remit to address details.

Yes, there would be a cost to implement this type of system but it would be much less than a fully integrated solution. Additionally, there would be a charge for each invoice loaded into the system to cover the cost of scanning, invoice number capture, hosting of the tool and long-term storage but this should be minimal when compared to existing document management costs.


  • AP processors are not dealing with paper.
  • Invoices can be easily tracked.
  • Reports can be run to identify aging invoices, outstanding invoices for one vendor, etc.
  • Bottlenecks can be identified
  • Vendor inquiries take less time. For the length of the retention period, all are available at the fingertips of anyone with access.
  • Moving to a fully integrated workflow system would be Phase 2 add-on to this Phase 1 rather than a replacement of this tool.

To close, implementing a software tool that performs the above could be all a company wants or needs or it could be considered the first step, or Phase 1, toward implementing a fully integrated workflow system.

Want to learn more? Contact New England Document Systems. They have the experience, and the resources to assist you; from answering your questions about available solutions to helping you to implement the right tool. Contact us to discuss just how much improvement you want to see in your Accounts Payable Operation.

This article is part of New England Document Systems’ partnership with industry experts. This contribution was written by Anne Wheeler of CS Process Flows, LLC. Anne is a Consultant and Project Manager specializing in Accounts Payable processes and systems.

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