With over 50,000 customers, Microsoft Dynamics – Great Plains (GP) is one of the major success stories in the ERP industry. Organizations have achieved great benefits from its deployment due to its scalability and versatility. Now paperless automation, once reserved only for ERP systems geared towards large organizations, can be embraced by middle-market organizations using GP.
Research shows that organizations constantly seek ways to streamline processes and increase real-time visibility in finance while also reducing the strain on the required resources and costs in AP. With the implementation of paperless automation, organizations can achieve these goals with a rapid ROI, usually in under a year. While this article focuses on AP process automation, these paperless solutions address the entire enterprise and support a wide variety of disciplines.
There are numerous solutions on the market with a variety of offerings for AP automation. From addressing POs and invoice receipts to payments and reconciliation, there is an offering for nearly every AP need. While it may seem daunting to decipher which solution is the best fit, this article will help GP users identify the solution that best integrates with their ERP—while also taking advantage of the powerful features that GP already offers.
Common AP Pains
Regardless of an organization’s ERP(s), size, or geographic spread, there are common pains for almost every AP department that manually processes invoices, including:
- Voluminous data entry of receipts and invoices
- Matching of POs, receipts, and invoices
- Processing document and payment approvals as well as other related workflows
- Retrieving documents based upon variable selection criteria across the enterprise
- Supplier inquiries into invoice and payment status
Supplier inquiries are particularly troublesome for organizations that have siloed customer service and payables departments. Often, suppliers inquire about the status of submitted invoices or payments to the customer service department, which then has to contact the payables department since customer service does not have access to the ERP. This multi-party communication process slows both departments down by increasing the workload for a task that could be quite simple with an AP automation tool.
Another common pain of manual processing is a lack of visibility into cash flow and DPO. Because manual invoices and checks take significantly longer to reconcile against the general ledger, it is more difficult for treasurers and CFOs to make accurate budgeting and forecasting decisions; their projections could be days—or even weeks—off. As a result, they often play it safe by keeping additional cash on hand to compensate for any last minute check runs or wires. A common example of this is the loss of a utility or service invoice, resulting in the provider threatening to “cut the power” if a same-day payment is not received. An AP automation solution can prevent this situation in multiple ways. First, the treasurer has real-time access to outstanding invoices and DPO, so he or she knows what’s coming. Second, the CFO and controller can see remittance detail in real time when an electronic payments solution is coupled with electronically submitted invoices.
Each organization has unique workflows, and most products have limited flexibility, often requiring expensive customizations. Obtaining a system that instead allows an organization to easily define its own workflows is a cost-effective and highly-functioning solution.
Not All Solutions Are Created Equal
A crucial factor in solving common problems created by manual processes is real-time reporting between the AP automation solution and an organization’s ERP. However, not all providers offer this level of integration. With many solutions, the user does not leave the AP automation platform; from invoice receipt to payment, all functions are completed within the solution and at the end of the day, week, or month, a batch communication is sent to the ERP. In these cases, many of the advantages of automating AP are not fully realized. For example, real-time visibility into accruals is only as accurate as how often the batch communications are sent to the ERP.
For organizations looking to reduce delays associated with paper based invoices, finding an ERP-integrated solution is key. ERPs are used to store physical backups of transactional data, so unless an automation solution allows a user to pull a scanned invoice or document directly from the ERP, it is much like replacing a filing cabinet with a computer—the user still has to take many steps to solve an inquiry, manage a dispute, or look for a mismatched PO.
Another important consideration in choosing between a basic AP workflow and archival system and an integrated solution is the challenges of user training on alternate systems. Most AP professionals are highly skilled in using a particular ERP system, and have trained themselves to employ the powerful tools provided by ERPs like GP. Removing users from this ERP environment is both costly and inefficient. Training professionals to use an entirely new solution outside of the ERP requires far more investment than training them to use a tool that augments the power of their ERP.
Ultimately, the AP automation solution an organization chooses will depend on the specific pains and goals of their organization. For many mid-market GP users, the choice to go with a solution that offers direct real-time integration with GP will lead to the greatest ROI in the shortest amount of time.