How to Implement an AP Automation Solution
- 02 May 2019
- AP Automation
With the growth of cloud technology and standard best-of-breed solutions that do not require quirky customizations, the introduction of a new system is a quick and straightforward deployment.
To implement an AP automation solution takes just weeks rather than months or years. The key to a successful and rapid accounts payable project is spelled preparations - as in ensuring the organization is ready to embrace the new system.
Clear Requirements Are Key to AP automation Project Success
Getting clear and complete requirements together is a necessary task to ensure a successful accounts payable project. There are two sets of requirements to consider when vetting and selecting an AP automation solution.
- Business requirements
These are the requirements for AP automation functionality based on business needs. An excellent way to identify the business requirements is to shadow the AP team and document “a day in the life” to understand the need for features and functionality of the new solution. Then discuss with the business users which features are “must-haves” and which are “nice-to-haves.” Business requirements for a typical accounts payable project will include:
- 3-way invoice matching
- Mobile invoice approvals
- Automatic coding and distribution
- Reporting functionality
- Line-level invoice data capture
- Best practice workflow templates
- Experienced vendor
- IT requirements
The IT requirements are just as essential to ensure the new solution fits well into the existing IT infrastructure and does not add complexity or high maintenance for the internal IT department. IT requirements will include:
- Standard connector to the current and future ERP system(s)
- Compliance to the organization’s security policies
- Scalable solution to support future growth
- Minimal reliance on IT for on-going maintenance and upgrade projects
- Thorough technical documentation to support the implementation
- Predictable implementation project timeline and resource needs
- A trusted vendor with a proven track record of delivering high-quality implementations
The Typical Timeline to Implement an AP Automation Solution
Once a provider has been selected based on the requirements list, the AP automation implementation project begins.
It’s crucial to ensure all project members have a shared view of the project goals and what is expected from each party. During a kick-off meeting, walk through all requirements to make sure everyone understands them and how to achieve project success.
Setting the IT Scene
Your IT team will review the technical specifications and documentation to understand how the AP automation solution connects with existing business systems, especially the ERP system. In many cases, the provider can provide a plug-and-play integration package or standard connector to the ERP. During this phase, it is essential to walk through the master data set up to ensure the right data fields from the ERP, and potentially procurement system, are synchronized to enable high automation levels in the AP process. The result of this phase is a deployment in a QA or sandbox environment to facilitate testing.
In a best-of-breed AP automation solution, most of the configuration is already done with best-practice workflow templates set up as default. For many organizations, the standard set-up will cover up to 80% of the business needs. Any remaining or specific process needs will need to be configured in the solution either by savvy super users or with the help of the solution provider experts. During this phase, define organization-specific rules and logic within the solution that will be the base for automation, such as tolerance levels for PO-matching, automatic coding, and distribution.
User Acceptance Testing
As with any system implementation, set aside time for quality assurance and testing. The main task here will be for daily users within the AP function (super users) to test all different invoice processing scenarios and identify any fine-tuning needed in the configuration. Make sure the super users are properly trained in the solution before the testing begins.
When the testing and fine-tuning is completed, the IT team will deploy the solution and integration in the production environment. The solution is now ready to take on live invoices and all users. It is recommended to prepare internal communication and user training sessions to ensure everyone involved is aware of the new process and tool.
Depending on the complexity of your IT environment, business requirements and the flexibility of the solution selected, the process described above can take a few months. But it is also quite possible to do this in a few weeks if you’re organization is ready and the solution provider offers a structured implementation methodology.
Which Roles Will be Involved in an AP Automation Project?
IT’s involvement is mainly needed during the first phase of the accounts payable project and, to some extent, for the go-live in the production environment. They will work with the solution provider experts to ensure connectors to existing systems are set up correctly. In a cloud-to-cloud environment, this work can be done relatively easily.
AP users are obviously involved during the entire project period, but most heavily during the testing and fine-tuning phase when their expertise on typical invoice processing scenarios is critical.
The procurement department will also be involved in the testing and configuration phase to ensure purchasing data, including purchase orders, are correctly synchronized to the new AP automation solution to ensure high levels of automation of PO-based invoices.
What’s Next? Beyond Implementation of AP Automation
It is essential to understand that work does not end with the go-live of a new AP automation solution. Remember to closely monitor important AP process efficiency KPIs to identify process bottlenecks and areas for improvement. Set clear and measurable targets for your AP automation project and leverage industry benchmarks to understand how your organization stacks up to peers.
To conclude, don’t put your accounts payable project on hold because you feel it will be a complex and lengthy implementation. The benefits when you implement an AP automation solutions are immense and definitely worth the limited investment in time and resources.