If you’re the Accounts Payable Manager chances are you’ve heard of “accounts payable automation”. You’ve probably seen marketing materials or even done some homework to find out what this is all about. When you hear or read about AP automation the idea sounds magical, almost too good to be true! No more paper invoices to process! No more back and forth getting invoices approved! No more manual data entry into the ERP! All with a savings between 60 to 80 percent of costs! Sounds too good to be true, right? Wrong! And here’s why.
When it comes to AP Automation there are two types of savings, “hard dollar savings” and “soft dollar savings”. AP Automation encompasses both hard and soft savings which allows business to sustain long-term continued savings as opposed to one-time short term savings.
Hard Dollar Savings: relates to reducing the costs from the current cost to a new lessor amount or a change in process/technology/policy that directly reduces expenses, and process improvements. Hard dollar savings are generally easier to calculate and quantify.
Soft Dollar Savings: Soft savings relate to those areas that reduce costs through less labor, more efficiency, productivity increase, usable information, better compliance, better work environment, and other related areas. These types of soft savings are generally hard to calculate and quantify because there are so many variables and activities involved.
What many organizations fail to understand and do not realize or accomplish is how to continue sustainable improved cost savings through both hard and soft cost savings.
According to the trade associations like, Aberdeen Group, PayStream Advisors, IOFM and many other organizations who have studied accounts payable processing over the last several years have determined a few very important facts:
* Source: Aberdeen Group and PayStream Advisors Accounts Payable Report
The best way to identify all of the potential costs is to create a “flow” or “map” of your current accounts payable process. This will help you to think through the entire process and identify areas of concern and bottlenecks which can be identified as areas of improvement and savings.
In determining your own hard and soft costs to process supplier invoices there are a few things to consider i.e. the tasks involved, how many people within the AP department that are involved in each task, the amount of time it takes to complete each task, are there any people outside of the AP department, what is their task, how much time is needed etc. Also include any monetary costs or penalties caused by tasks that are not completed on time or incorrectly, i.e., fines, penalties, late fees, overtime, temporary help, etc.
Typical tasks associated with processing supplier invoices:
These steps represent tasks that are accomplished typically within the AP department and don’t extend to others outside the department so it is important to consider and calculate those costs as well and how others are impacted, the amount of time involved, costs, etc.
For each task quantify the amount of time it takes, i.e. if it takes 1 person 20% of their time to open and sort the incoming invoices from the mail and they are being paid $45,000 annually then the cost to open and sort the mail is $9,000 dollars.
Task # of People % of Time Salary Total Cost
Open & Sort Mail 1 Person 20% $45,000 $9,000
If it takes 2 people 60% of their time to key invoices into the accounting system and they are being paid $45,000 annually, then the cost to manually enter invoices in to the accounting system is $54,000 dollars.
Task # of People % of Time Salary Total Cost
Manually Key Invoices 2 People 60% $45,000 $54,000
If it takes 1 person 40% of their time to file paid invoices into the paper filing system and they are being paid $35,000 annually, then the cost to manually file invoices away s $14,000 dollars.
Task # of People % of Time Salary Total Cost
File Paper Invoices 1 People 40% $35,000 $14,000
Without quantifying and calculating the entire accounts payable process from start to finish you can at least see that just by quantifying the three key areas of 1) opening mail and sorting invoices, 2) manually keying invoices into the accounting system and 3) filing away the paid invoices we’ve calculated an annual cost of $77,000.
Once you quantify and calculate all of the costs associated with the tasks of processing supplier invoices and also take into consideration the monetary costs caused as a result of inefficient, error-prone manual processes the annual cost to process supplier invoices RISES significantly and fast.
Here are five additional facts to help you in calculating your costs to process supplier invoices and potential ROI.
1) The average number of invoices with errors is approximately 3.6% (per IOFM).
Now, that number may not seem like a ton, but consider if you organization has $100MM in payables pumping through it over the course of the year. If $3.6 MM was paid to the wrong vendor, or for the wrong invoice, or in the wrong amount...you get the picture. The sum of these errors equals a total nightmare for reconciliation in the accounts payable process and unnecessary extra work to unscramble the eggs.
2) The industries with the highest average cost to process an invoice are Non-Profit / Education at $16.78/invoice and Government at $15.86/invoice.
While this doesn’t really come as a surprise, it underscores the need for accounts payable process improvement across all manner of organizations. With many corporate leaders having no actual clue to how much their inefficient invoice processing is costing them, it’s high time that they wise up to these AP process leaches and identify ways to make AP strategic and profitable (and no, that is not an oxymoron, it’s entirely possible).
3) Nearly 62% of invoice processing costs are made up of staff labor (per APQC).
The real issue here is how much time is needed to advance an invoice in process. This includes data entry, data validation (matching the data from the invoice against disparate information like vendor master, PO table, and receiving data), GL coding, and approving. The bottom line is that the accounts payable process is very fat from a time consumption standpoint and needs to be leaned out if you have any hopes of dropping your processing costs and improving your AP process cycles.
4) For the average company, over 50% of eligible early payment discounts go uncaptured because of inability to process invoices and execute payment in a timely manner (per Aberdeen Research).
This means that significant opportunities to pad the bottom line are squandered, again because of a grotesque AP process. Ironically, it’s our belief that, given the option, most CFO’s and Treasurer’s would likely want to capture discounts as they tend to be free monies to the payer, when done properly. This again is a compelling reason to pursue automation.
5) On average, only 32% of companies harness Accounts Payable process dashboards to monitor and optimize performance within their AP departments (per Aberdeen Research).
This only serves to underscore just how in the dark most AP and finance leaders are. When you consider that most sales and marketing executives have rich insights into their customer and prospect pipelines you can understand that there is a definite gulf between investment in top line revenue generation systems and bottom line, back office systems. This kind of thinking must be challenged, because AP automation need not be a financial boondoggle, but instead could be a transformative organizational profit center, that catalyzes further finance and operations improvements.
In addition to the costs saved there are a number of additional ROI and savings that are often overlooked.
The ROI of Control: Though many in the AP industry feel they are giving up control by automating their AP process that just isn’t true. When you introduce these new found efficiencies into your AP department you’re not eliminating your role in the process. Rather, you are automating aspects of that process that unnecessarily consume large amounts of your time, cause errors and are simply inefficient. With AP automation, you are still in control of coding invoices, approving invoices and promoting them to the general ledger. You and your AP team will have greater visibility and insight into the entire AP process and with greater visibility means greater control.
The ROI of Time: Once the immediate savings are realized and the process is automated, you might wonder, “What’s next?” After all, you just saved your AP department a lot of work. What will they do with their new time? With their new time, many companies have transformed their AP department from an expense to a profit center by pursuing higher-level tasks, such as: early vendor payments, performing more analysis, spend control, working with vendors, electronic payment incentive programs, and rebate programs. They are now generating revenue for their company.
The ROI of Scalability: As captivating as the aforementioned immediate savings are, one of the greatest returns found through automation occurs years down the road. As your company grows, as invoice volumes increase, you will be able to retain the same AP staff, handle more invoice volume WITHOUT the need to add more AP staff.
In a recent AP Department Benchmarks & Analysis survey conducted by the Institute of Finance & Management, only one-third of companies surveyed have implemented document capture and only 25 percent use some form of e-invoicing. This indicates that many companies are still tied up in manual paper processing. The same study notes that those companies that have implemented automation systems are twice as productive as those that haven’t.
Part of the reason a surprisingly large number of companies are still manually processing their AP transactions is they are often not aware of the factors that are sucking time from staff and costing the company money. One of the more costly elements of getting an invoice paid is the waiting involved in gathering all of the necessary approvals and associated paperwork. This workflow typically runs across multiple departments and requires the attention of busy decision-makers. By automating the AP workflow, most of the waiting periods are shortened as the system simplifies, automates, and secures approvals and decisions. But saving money and by saving time is just the start of the benefits of AP automation.
Vision360 Enterprise Accounts Payable Automation Solution by BlueCreek Software reduces time wasted chasing down paper invoices by automating invoice approvals, eliminating manual data entry, eliminating paper invoices and reducing processing costs.