From exasperated colleagues saying “you’re on mute” (yet again) to constant pet and child video call cameos, the nearly instantaneous and global shift to remote working situations in 2020 presented businesses with a tipping point: adapt immediately or risk significant business interruption.

Unlike many isolated factors that impact businesses, one of the things unique to the pandemic is the widespread and blanket impact it’s had on businesses of all sizes and in all industries. In fact, the latest ePayables survey from Ardent Partners which polled financial professionals across North America and EMEA, found that 63% of respondents experienced a significant to extraordinary impact due to COVID-19. With only 5% reporting little to no impact.

Which way did your business tip? What about your peers and competitors? And perhaps most important, what are the long-term ramifications? These are questions worth answering for the 95% of businesses that experienced disruption.

To automate or not to automate – that was the question

Payables automation is simple at its core – replace manual, paper-based payments processes with automated, electronic ones. But even though the advantages of automating accounts payable processes are proven (e.g., greater efficiency, improved visibility, and better security), pre-pandemic adoption rates were still slower than you’d think.

When asked what held them back from digitally transforming their payment processes, organizations often cited any number of reasons. Some of the most common were not understanding the technology involved; concerns about integration into existing systems; and a belief that electronic transactions were generally less secure than physical ones.

But as 2020 progressed and the importance of liquidity, cash flow, and uninterrupted supply chains were brought to the forefront as essential to survival, many of the barriers to transformation lessened in significance – ushering the ‘age of automation’. And with the benefits of automation AP becomes a value driver within the enterprise, providing a greater level of reporting and data analytics to inform strategic cash management decisions; reducing errors when rekeying paper invoices; and improved efficiency that leads to early pay discounts and better relationships with suppliers.   

“Automation is the key to improving operations…the most encouraging thing is that AP figured out how to get things done over the last year, even those who started out in a manual environment.”  Bob Cohen, VP of Research and Marketing, Ardent Partners

The question shifts from ‘Do we?’ to ‘How are we doing?’

The performance gaps between best-in-class AP teams and all others paint a clear picture of the advantages to automating payables. According to Ardent Partners, organizations that have successfully leveraged a holistic ePayables strategy achieve:

  • An 80% lower invoice processing cost
  • A 73% faster invoice-processing time
  • A 60% lower invoice exception rate

Best-in-class AP teams can also be confident in the greater payment security that comes with most AP automation platforms. Protecting your suppliers’ financial data and stopping fraud In its tracks.

Other advantages include better supplier collaboration, greater perceived value of the AP function within the organization, and improved employee morale as teams are freed up to perform more strategic and satisfying tasks.

“There is so much fraud that comes with paper checks. Automation provides the ability to make payments effectively, efficiently, and more securely.” Gunita Bindra, VP of Product Management, Bottomline

What have you done for us lately?

So now that your AP processes are automated and running smoothly, it’s time to take a deep breath and develop a roadmap for continued success. Leverage partnerships with fintechs that will help your organization stay up to date with future payments innovations. Frequently collaborate with your key stakeholders to understand how AP can support strategic objectives. Integrate with other critical business teams. And understand enterprise growth goals to prepare for seamless scalability integrations.

It’s also important to not lose sight of the role a well-honed AP team plays in business continuity. Developing a comprehensive plan that outlines contingencies in the event of a disaster will go a long way to minimizing threats to business interruption. Indeed, the ‘rise of AP’ is just beginning.

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Posted by Germaine Lang

Germaine Lang is the Managing Editor of SmartPayments with a strong creative and technical writing background across many industries. She also works to engage customers and relate their experiences with vendor products and services, positioning them as innovative thought leaders.