Reflections of an AP manager’s journey to true automation.

Lessons and tips for AP teams ready for more.

Today’s AP looks different than yesterday’s.

Meet Sarah, AP Manager.

Meet Sarah. She’s a fictional AP manager, but her story is anything but made up. Instead, her story reflects the thousands of customers and prospects we’ve worked with – rooted in real-world testimonials.

Today’s journey to true automation looks different from 5-10 years ago. Technology advancements can now help you reach unprecedented levels of efficiency and deliver a holistic end-to-end automated process.

If you're starting from scratch or even partially automated, take a cue from Sarah. Her journey toward accounts payable automation has been full of milestones, and she's shared insights on common pain points, valuable lessons, and what technology can do for you and your team.

AP for Finance

Reflection #1: Pre-automation frustrations.

So frustrated. Doing our best with what we have.

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Another late payment because we are drowning in invoices. Paper and emails – which we need to print anyway. We’re trying to keep them sorted, but there’s only so much organization in a filing cabinet.

Last year, we saw a small bump in productivity with scanning solutions, but honestly, it doesn’t work well for most invoices and only captures header-level information.

And approvals? Forget about it. Hundreds of emails are out to different branches, and most are unanswered unless I chase them.

The sheer volume of emails is overwhelming. Suppliers want to know when they’ll be paid. Our invoices have no context, random attachments, and the demand for reports have us scrambling to assemble.

I do my absolute best, but I just don’t have what I need and worry it reflects poorly on my team.

  • Manual AP processes are a big pain and a blocker for productivity in the AP department.
  • A Medius study of 2,740 Finance and Procurement professionals found 45% of supplier payments are late, causing relationship strains and delays in closing the books on time. These systemic issues spawn from a lack of invoice and payment automation, visibility, and limited support from leadership
  • Businesses must prioritize AP for continuity and effective working capital strategies. Even prior automation efforts may need reevaluation.
  • Industry benchmarks – like the ones below – can help organizations determine the potential for improvement.
    • $8.93
      Cost to process a single invoice
    • 10.9 days
      Time to process a single invoice
    • 22.5%
      Invoice exception rate
    • 30.2%
      Invoices processed straight through
    • 43%
      Suppliers electronically enables
    • 22.5%
      Staff time spent responding to inquiries

Get more stats

“Approvers are very happy. It’s a huge time-saver for them - they use their laptops, cell phones, tablets - for access to review and approve any invoice from anywhere. Users get a report in Medius, see the document, who approved it and all supporting documentation. For managers, the tool supports their budget review process. They’re ecstatic. And AP isn’t constantly fielding questions about why certain things are in their budget.”

Elise Byrd
AP Manager, Silver Eagle Distributors

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Reflection #2: Looking into AP automation.

Finally, a break in our battle for AP technology.

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We finally got approval to look into AP solutions, but so many providers seem to offer the same thing. We need to tread carefully with a priority list of all the “must-have” items.

We have to improve our capture rate and customize routing rules without IT help. But we also want invoices automatically connected to POs and goods receipts so my team won’t have to touch every single invoice. So, priorities include:

  • Header and line-level capture
  • Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence capabilities
  • A user-friendly interface
  • 3-way matching

The last mile of the AP process –payments– is also an issue. As we get more suppliers on e-payments, a solution covering all steps and payment types is crucial.

A cloud-based solution would be best because we are growing fast. Flexibility with ERP integrations will help us get new business units into the same streamlining process. Plus, we need updates and features to happen automatically so we don’t have to pay for upgrades or wait on IT.

I’m also getting IT pressure to ensure our vendors can support ERP integrations quickly. Our project is really hinged on speed to value, so the solution will need to connect with our existing business systems with a short implementation, or else it’s a deal killer.

  • It may be overwhelming at first, but take time to understand the landscape of AP automation. Many vendors claim to automate the AP process but fall short of true end-to-end automation. Ask these key questions:
    • What is the basis of their technology?
    • Does AI/ML back it, or is it a simple Robotic Process Automation (RPA) workflow tool?
    • Can it cover the full extent of the invoice-through-payment process?
    • What does the ERP integration look like?
  • Make a list of the most important features you’re looking for and stick to it, holding potential vendors accountable for what really matters to your business.
  • Aside from solution capabilities, vendors should prove their dedication to partnering with your business. Customer success, proof of exceeding adequacy, and valuing client feedback is necessary, along with innovative tech like ML and AI in product roadmaps.

“Team members can log in anywhere, even on their phones, to process approvals. There are so many benefits to go onto a fully automated system, it is user friendly, and a huge improvement to the system we had prior. Cost was also a consideration and factored into the decision-making process. Feedback from the business has been very positive.”

Katrina Ena
Accounts Payable Manager, Fluidra

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Autonomy allows for the right actions to happen no matter what.

AI/ML addresses the short comings of rule-based automation by creating autonomous engines for invoice management. Where automation dictates that a certain set of actions happen when the trigger event occurs, autonomous, through AI/ML, dictates that the right set of actions happen when triggered, even when the underlying details shift.

It is a subtle but powerful difference. Consider how an autonomous system allows approvals to flow to the appropriate person even when certain aspects of the approval flow shift and change due to absence, job changes, project team movement, and so forth — all without human intervention. Powerful.

Read the Report

Reflection #3: Deciding on AP automation.

We’ve made our choice. Time to get buy-in.

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A month into vendor reviews, countless demos and hours of research, we’ve finally narrowed our selection. Now, we need approval from our CFO and executive stakeholders.

We worked with top vendors, who helped build our business case and ROI calculations to clarify expectations. IT also weighed in– having the strongest integration to our ERP and a proven deployment model are priorities for their department.

My team has compiled the tangible benefits:

  • Hours saved with AI and ML.
  • Profits earned from early payment discounts and favorable payment terms.
  • Ability to scale without headcount reduction, and more.

And the soft benefits of:

  • Bringing more focus to our strategic work in AP.
  • Saving time for business users in the invoice approval process.
  • Ability to support remote work – a must in today’s environment and more.

Bonus: Through this process, we discovered the opportunity to bridge the gap between AP and procurement. Instead of constantly blaming each other, we can use a solution that understands the role of procurement and easily match complex POs, which helps ease our relationship—a big win.

Now, it’s time to get the ultimate buy-in for our chosen AP automation solution.

  • A proper AP automation business case should include proof of the return on investment for implementing AP automation to get stakeholder buy-in. Note that cloud-based AP automation helps companies save money, boost profits, and improve vendor relations.
  • Work with a vendor with proven methodology and fast speed to value for instant benefits and a fast break-even/ROI.
  • Prove tangible and soft benefits of AP automation, including supplier and procurement relationships:
    • Paying on time and securing payment discounts improve efficiency and visibility and boost the bottom line.
    • Audits become more straightforward, and overtime is reduced.
    • On-time payments build trust with vendors, lead to cost savings, and more.

“The team was great to work with and the whole process of implementation was very smooth. Very happy with this project and excited to be using Medius. Thank you!”

Joanne Kime
Polaris Sales Inc

Are you working with or against procurement?

A healthy relationship between procurement and finance can transform an organization. The relationship between finance and procurement is a necessity to doing good (and accurate) work. A poor relationship between the two teams mean more mistakes are made, and supplier relationships are harmed.

Learn More

Reflection #4: Implementing AP automation and change management.

Rolling out AP automation with ease.

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Our amazing vendor has answered all our questions and holds education sessions for power users. In addition, they’ve set up training for business users, and we have weekly emails with short videos to assist in the rollout process. Their hands-on support is one of the reasons we chose them.

I can also find help on the online portal, which is regularly updated with new information and features. They even have FAQs and video tutorials, making on-demand learning fast and easy. Amazing.

It’s also reassuring to have the support of other business areas, like IT, which had set a goal about 5 years ago to be completely cloud-based. IT is thrilled with our new AP solution because the go-live will be completed 100% remotely, and all future upgrades will happen in the cloud. Knowing they don’t have to deal with a clunky on-premise solution is a big win.

  • The handoff after signing with a vendor shouldn’t surprise you. During the vetting process, clear expectations from both sides for responsibility and legwork are critical to making the go-live process as smooth as possible.
  • IT should feel comfortable with expectations, and your organization should document and clear integrations to prevent any unexpected roadblocks.
  • AP Automation offers quick implementation and immediate, significant benefits. The vendor you choose must demonstrate the ability to get you through go-live in a reasonable time, prioritize customer success, and provide unequivocal customer references to back up their claims.

“The Medius team provides us with insights into industry norms and best-practices, which we had no clue about nor any access to before. The combination of modern technology and industry expertise has been very valuable to us.”

Alden Senteney
Project Manager, Briggs Equipment

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Reflection #5: Reaping rewards from true AP automation.

Success. AP automation as it should be.

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We are now six months in and so happy. We’ve cleared our backlog of invoices and launched a strategic initiative with our biggest suppliers to start making revenue back.

The visibility is incredible.

  • We can see supplier exceptions and work with them (now that we have the time) to help mitigate errors.
  • The analytics are super-sharp. Out-of-the-box dashboards for leadership support business-critical decisions day-to-day. Our CFO is absolutely thrilled (and stresses less).
  • The reports I’ve built and scheduled are clear, up-to-date with the latest cloud data and easy to customize.

We have collaborated more than ever with procurement – working on internal policies and procedures. I heard they are talking to our new vendor about rolling outsourcing and contract management modules for further efficiencies in the P2P process.

Our business approvers are happy, too. No matter where they work, they get the information they need to approve non-PO invoices on their mobile app.

Looking back, I cannot believe we didn’t fix our process sooner with AP automation. It’s honestly like my job description is finally in the 21st century. My team and I work on strategic initiatives and continuous KPI improvements, and we actually feel like an asset and drive value for the business now.

I see the benefits so clearly. This is really AP as it should be – autonomous AP technology helping us focus on what really matters to the business.

  • Remember those “low-hanging fruit” benefits mentioned in the last reflection? What you read from Bob is just the start of what you can expect with a modern, touchless AP process.
  • Automating your payment processes can generate cost savings and guarantee dividends through electronic payments. And the increased efficiency brings back valuable time which can be better spent focusing on unclogging bottlenecks in the process and optimizing your invoice-to-payment operations.
  • With robust control and visibility, you can concentrate on continuous improvements, using data-backed benchmarks to gauge progress and set realistic goals for the future.

“We like to see how many invoices are actually touchless and see how much more time we have now. Before we only had 12 branches and we’ve been able to grow all the way to 18 and we haven’t had the need to hire more people.”

Mayra Perez
AP Manager, Chadwell Supply

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Want a holistic view of spend?

Dashboards and reports are great, but finance teams require data at the point of decision. The value in visibility comes when you can spot potential risks or duplicate invoices as they occur so you can quickly resolve issues. A holistic view gives you the answers you need when you need them.

Read our short guide to achieving an autonomous, AI-backed AP and unlocking a crystal-clear view into all of your important financial data, something that you might consider as “AP nirvana.”

Download Guide

Medius for truly autonomous AP. The way it should be.

Why Medius? We are a leading global provider of cloud-based spend management solutions, helping organizations drive their business forward by enabling best-in-class process efficiency, cost-saving opportunities and greater financial control.

Ready to transform your AP? 

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