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AI and the future of accounts payable

One of the hottest buzzwords in the majority of business sectors, artificial intelligence (AI), is often used as an umbrella term describing technology that simulates human intelligence. AI solutions have already become readily available in the market for business processes like marketing and IT. But one should expect the impact on the business to spread to further reaches of company sectors, such as human resources and finance. Accounts payable will stand to benefit significantly from AI, though the path to those benefits is one of polemical discussion.  

The specifics of how AI will change the way AP functions are still under dispute. However, it’s safe to say that the benefits of higher efficiency, faster processing times and more powerful data insights are inarguable effects from the oncoming AI revolution.  

Artificial Intelligence is changing the faces of AP and accounting 

Artificial intelligence is still a relatively new term in the dictionary of business technologies. And as such it often gets used as somewhat of a bucket for a variety of different solutions. As a basic definition, AI means that machines can perform tasks in a way that are “intelligent,” meaning they can adapt to various situations much like a human would under the same circumstances. In a recent survey, 80% of executives reported that they believe AI leads to a competitive advantage. In the same survey, 79% states they thought AI would increase their company’s productivity. AI is something that will have a lasting impact on businesses around the world.  

For accounting, however, the impacts of AI are perhaps even more powerful. For a branch of finance that deals with an enormous amount of data, often housed in disparate formats of paper, pdf, spreadsheets and emails, AI could be the engine that digests, analyzes and acts beyond what any team of people could manage in a timely fashion. Naturally, the human factor needs to oversee the process. But from a pure data-crunching perspective, the effects of AI are far-reaching for AP. 

The impact of AI on AP 

The offering for AI tools varies, each one shaped by the vendor and the vast quantities of data that create the foundation for the solution’s intelligence. Some offer natural language processing capabilities. This feature presents the opportunity for multinationals and companies with a global vendor base to have AI interpret thousands of contracts, with the extraction of critical terms and compilation and analyzation to perform risk assessments and more. 

AI also acts as a defense against fraud in a financial landscape that is facing more and more sophisticated attacks from cybercriminals, in addition to the traditional fraudsters. In churning through massive quantities of data from fraud and breaches worldwide, AI can pick up on barely noticeable traces of similar cases of fraud that would often be overlooked by the human eye and raise the red flag for further analysis. The organizations’ leaders can breathe a little easier, knowing they’re better protected against losses and more efficient overall.  

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s likely because AI evolved from current automation solutions that maximize AP efficiency and work to combat fraud in the modern workplace. More advanced accounts payable automation marketed today is still revolutionary in its capabilities, and it is unlikely AI will replace it. Most automation solutions are cloud-based. This fact means that as AI becomes more sophisticated and widely available, the leading automation tools will remain on the cutting edge of technology and integrate AI into their current technology to become even more powerful. 

Minimize IT reliance 

Most organizations cannot afford the luxury of a large IT staff, as their existing IT teams are already stretched to the brink of their resources. AI expedites the process, moving the need for IT support of internal technology upgrades and maintenance to intelligent machine operations. AP staff members can go through the one-time process of training their systems on the business needs and logistics via a user-friendly interface. From there on, AP is self-reliant as they act as the facilitators of intelligence back into the tool, which eliminates the need for IT resources.  

AP as a complement to AP human resources 

With the influx of automation and machine learning, there is apparent pushback over how computers are taking the place of human jobs. But there are equally as many ways that AI can improve the lives of existing personnel, particularly in AP. As AI increases in power and provides further value, AP professionals will have the opportunity to handle more responsibilities, using their days in the office (or out of the office, for remote workers) to focus on more strategic tasks, utilizing the data provided to them in-hand by the AI solutions. 

And this same propulsion of AP staff from clerical work to strategic business employees goes beyond the day-to-day work. AP teams working on the cutting edge of automation now, and eventually with AI when it becomes more widely available, are leaders in innovation, opening far more doors for meaningful positions further on in their careers. Understanding the value of using technology to proactive in making your AP process more efficient and productive are critical skills that can transcend beyond accounts payable into nearly any business area.  

The many possibilities of AI in AP 

The possibilities for AI in AP are endless. And fear not, there’s little risk of them taking the place of actual human jobs anytime soon. More likely, AI will further enhance the responsibilities of the AP department and the finance organization as a whole. Likely, we’ll find that AI can cover and improve tasks such as the auditing of expense reports, going so far as to apply a company’s expense policy so that only the most critical claims get escalated to humans for approval. Another job suited for AI is clearing invoice payments. Rather than tasking an AP staff member to sort through multiple invoices or missing invoices, machine learning can analyze possible invoices, clear out short payments or automatically generate an invoice to handle the process in a touchless manner. And the list of possibilities goes on - bank reconciliation, risk assessment, data analytics and calculations, month-end closing, self-service chatbots - AI will have powerful effects on AP’s efficiency in dozens of areas.  

As AP automation becomes the new norm for finance departments around the globe, AP should begin to assess how to implement a scalable solution that can transition to AI as an evolution of efficiency and productivity. In the meantime, there's no doubt that automation and machines will help the AP department make smart, fast decisions and more impactful analysis of big data.

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