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Are the robots coming by 2020? Automation and invoice scanning and the AP Team

When people think of robots, they often remember the television show “The Jetsons,” and their automated maid Rosie. While the robots of today may not look like Rosie, they are handling a wide variety of tasks in various industries, including accounts payable. Indeed, the robots are coming and getting a warm welcome due to improved efficiencies - but are they the best solution for the AP department? For generations, AP processes were handled manually, which was a tedious and time-consuming process.  

While robots, or Robotic Process Automation (RPA), are a viable option for modernizing, RPA  is not modern automation. The latest AP automation software streamlines processes, improves accuracy and operations, and brings the AP team out of the back office to be strategic partners with key financial data to save money and improve working capital at the company. Invoice scanning and other routine tasks are now simple.  

The buzz about artificial intelligence (AI) 

Big businesses around the world are all buzzing about the possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI). These updated technologies are in small devices, computer systems, and the cloud. AI includes innovative technologies and their components, primarily machine learning algorithms. Companies seek to integrate AI into their daily operations to streamline processes, improve efficiency, minimize errors, and reduce costs. Companies use AI for:  

  • Order processing 
  • Dispute resolution 
  • Invoicing 

AP departments are looking for a best-of-breed hybrid to face the automated future, such as cloud-based automation that provides data in real-time and makes accessible to anyone, anywhere, using any device that connects to the Internet. Robotics and machine learning are features of automation solutions, but are not the entire solution. In fact,  RPA on its own is not a true automation solution though robotics do have a role in the real automation solutions, lending a hand to what is a complete, robust system from scanning and invoice data capture all the way through invoice process

Are robots taking over the AP world? 

More than 20 percent of finance functions have adopted RPA on a mainstream or limited basis and that number is expected to increase to 80 percent within the next three years. Automation is definitely the wave of the future. The face of AP is changing due to the integration of automation and robotics into daily operations. Rather than handling routine tasks manually, they are done touchlessly through the use of smart automation. 

While RPA has many benefits, it cannot be confused with true automation. True AP automation solutions are configurable to the company’s business requirements and budget. The efficiency of cloud AP automation makes robots and RPA nothing more than a starting act while AP automation takes the main stage in 2020! 

Robots lending a helping hand 

AP robots don’t have actual hands, but automation can provide a helping hand the AP team needs to be efficient and productive. AP automation takes care of manual, repetitive processes that can impact a company’s working capital. Intelligent data capture and cognitive automation technologies are used to optimize the execution of knowledge-based, transactional, and decision work.  

Companies must find the “sweet spot” when it comes to combining technologies, such as automated approval processes and self-service portals. The ideal automation solution improves communications with business partners and helps the company perform reliably. Saving time and money, reducing manual labor, minimizing errors, and maintaining positive vendor relationships are just some of the many benefits of using best-in-class AP automation for invoice scanning and processing. Those containing thoughtful invoice data capture software are the most efficient options available today. 

Robots - the good, the bad, and the ugly 

RPA alone is a development toolkit that has significant cost, takes time to learn and implement, and has other notable disadvantages that make it less desirable than true AP automation, such as: 

  • No intelligent invoice data capture included at line level 
  • No way to improve matching that may exist and be limited in the ERP 
  • Heavy IT resource requirements to build and maintain the automations 
  • Not delivering meaningful results for true AP automation 

These are the differentiators between cloud-based AP automation and RPA/robotics. However, an ERP system can be built, unlike robots. The cost to build, deploy, integrate, and maintain RPA is prohibitive when best-of-breed applications exist within the marketplace. Benefits of these applications include: 

  • Point and click configurability for ALL invoice processing scenarios; matching, coding, routing, approvals etc.. available across client and mobile. 
  • Hosted in the cloud, they require no building or maintaining on your part. New features and capabilities are added at no additional cost to you. All invoices are stored in the cloud as part of the service, with no limits. 
  • Providers deliver integration and deployment as well as ongoing maintenance of the integration 
  • Access to a matching engine that is a very complex set of algorithms that have been designed to address the needs of very complex matching requirements, able to be configured by the business user, not IT. 
  • System is designed and deployed for invoice capture and generic document scanning.  Again delivered from the cloud. No build of templates or on-boarding suppliers need, and you can leverage the suppliers that are already using the tool.  
  • The capture process is designed specifically and automated for invoices, not generic, clunky document workflows. 

While the fascination with robots can be irresistible, there are notable differences between RPA versus AP automation.  Its flexibility, cost, and ability to meet the business’ needs make AP automation the top choice for companies around the globe. 

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