Digitization and Automation Can Help AP Teams Operate Remotely

Digitization and Automation Can Help AP Teams Operate Remotely

Times like these, where the COVID-19 pandemic is causing many businesses to shift to remote work, highlight the importance of companies having the right technology and processes in place to keep operations running as close to normal as possible. Increasing the possibilities of remote work is important not just for getting through this crisis, but also for preparing for future events like extreme weather that causes disruptions, as well as for embracing the general shift toward more flexible work.

Functions like accounts payable (AP) may seem less urgent at the moment, but companies should not overlook the importance of tasks like processing invoices and paying suppliers in a timely manner. Many vendors are going through hardships of their own during times like these and want to focus on how they can still run their businesses relatively well, rather than spending time chasing down payments.

At the very least, vendors want to know what’s going on with their clients, and if payments need to be pushed back to a later date, that should be agreed on mutually, rather than AP teams simply falling behind and not communicating with suppliers. Otherwise, once things get back to normal, suppliers left in the dark are going to be less willing to work with certain clients, let alone extend them favorable terms.

Enabling Remote Work

If AP teams need to work remotely, then they can’t rely on paper-based processes or systems that can only be accessed via office computers. Instead, they need to be able to access what they need by logging in to their workstations remotely through a VPN and/or by accessing cloud-based tools that can be used across essentially any computer or mobile device.

For example, if a supplier sends in a digital invoice, AP teams need a digital system that can be accessed remotely to approve, process and pay that invoice. Yet if a company still relies on a manual process like matching paper-based purchase orders to invoices, that may not be possible if employees are working remotely and do not have access to those physical papers stored in their main office.

Digital tools can also allow AP teams to do other value-added activities while working remotely, like analyzing spend data to identify risks. Having a centralized, cloud-based platform for collecting and analyzing spend data makes it easy for remote teams to see the same information at once to get on the same page.

Streamlining for Success

Even if a company is largely digital already, they might not be prepared for the changes that come with remote work. For example, managing invoice approvals through email can work to an extent, but it can be hard to keep track of where all invoices stand, and it’s easy for some to fall through the cracks. Especially as inboxes start to pile up because employees need to communicate online rather than having in-person meetings and discussions, missed emails about invoice approvals can cause payment delays that frustrate vendors.

Instead, AP teams need a way to streamline and automate processes, such as consolidating multiple invoices into one statement through an e-procurement platform. From there, certain tools can also automate approvals and set workflows for ones that qualify as needing additional review.

AP teams can also automatically schedule payments digitally through some platforms so vendors can get paid on time, rather than trying to produce paper-based checks that can be a slow process, especially if employees don’t have the ability to generate these checks when working from home.

Embracing Change

Many companies are getting a crash course right now in letting employees work from home, but once more businesses can safely re-open, that doesn’t mean that the growing desire to work remotely will disappear. A  2019 Owl Labs survey found that the majority of on-site workers would like to work remotely.

Embracing technology and processes now that enable AP teams to successfully work remotely can pay off in the future, especially as employees not only want to work from home, but also want to be able to work from wherever they are. For example, if employees are traveling, being able to approve invoices on a smartphone while in an airport can help them do their jobs without having to miss a full day of work or wait until they get home or to an office.

To learn more about how your AP team can embrace the benefits of digitization and automation, download our checklist — Overcoming Invoice Processing and Expense Report Nightmares: A Checklist for AP Teams