When companies transform their purchase-to-payment process, they’re preparing their accounting and finance teams for the next unknown disaster, says Laurent Charpentier, COO at
It’s becoming abundantly clear that the old way of working as we once knew it, the 9 to 5, five days a week in an office, is a thing of the past.
Because if organisations such as
Nationwide, British Airways and
BP can make it work, any business can.
Salesforce went one step further, announcing that the “9-to-5 workday is dead.” and that its workers will instead choose how many days a week they want to come to the office and when they want to log in remotely.
Once seen as a luxury, and even then only on offer to those working in the technology industry, remote or hybrid working is the future.
Previously sleepy gateway towns far from busy urban centres are now rebranding as “Zoomtowns” for telework, while the City of London is now looking at
converting large, unused office spaces into affordable housing.
Optimising the remote workforce
However, all of this has real consequences for business.
A scarily large amount of people and businesses still send invoices to offices by mail, day after day, with hardly anyone around to open, process, and pay them.
A deserted office or reduced headcount can quickly lead to broken supply chains, frayed relationships with partners and suppliers, reduced cash flow and even the potential for heavy fines.
Technology can lead us out of this dead end - specifically automation.
Automating the purchase-to-payment process has been a life saver for many businesses hit hard by the pandemic. According to a new survey, businesses that use accounts payable systems anticipated a faster recovery from the knock-on effects of Covid-19 within
six months (31%) than those that didn’t (23%).
No one ever knows when a pandemic will hit. But businesses that were able to read the bigger trends of digital transformation tended to come out unscathed once lockdown measures were eased, not to mention saving significant amounts of time and money.
Automated accounting and finance platforms take humans out of the loop as much as possible, letting AI do its magic.
That’s not to say that humans aren’t involved, of course - home workers simply have more tools at hand to get the job done from anywhere. The orders can keep rolling in, charges are settled fast, and nobody has to wait to get paid.
The rise of robotic process automation (RPA) is a clear indication of where we’re headed. When The Wall Street Journal surveyed major companies recently, it concluded that “software bots multiply to cope with ‘stretched’ resources.”
More and more simple programs perform repetitive tasks such as handling documents or customer inquiries. They’re small steps in a longer automation journey, and they’re here to stay as the economy will reopen and rebound.
Simple yet effective
Future-proof automation in the finance department has to accomplish two things: offer a groundbreaking user experience and powerful technology.
An intuitive look and feel can go a long way to make business users feel as comfortable as possible while working from home. They shouldn’t have to deal with the stress of being stuck at home and relearning what they thought they knew: how to keep a company’s
purchase-to-payment workflow humming.
All workers really need is a browser window or mobile app that lets everybody see what’s in their approval pipeline, pull up related documents, send them onward to the next person or initiate a payment - without ever touching a sheet of paper or a cheque.
People like to work for companies that are digitally savvy and give them apps that make them more flexible and productive. For example, dragging and dropping any type of document from any source into your accounting software as if you were cleaning up your
The second thing to consider is complexity, or lack of. Hiding complexity underneath the hood of a consumer-looking app doesn’t mean sacrificing functionality or features - quite the opposite.
Over the years, machine learning algorithms have seen and read millions of invoices from millions of different vendors. So much so that it’s possible to extract every detail from every invoice or purchase order with 98% accuracy or more - word for word,
amount for amount - and make sense of it.
A human would be hard-pressed to be this good all the time, let alone when half the office is on mandatory leave.
For example, if a supplier sends you 20 or 30 invoices in one big batch, machine learning is now smart enough to automatically split and assign each of them to the right cost center. Workers can now even run multiple tasks on the same document simultaneously,
such as routing it to several recipients for review and approval. What took days is now down to a few hours or less.
Financial intelligence in a post-Covid world
Managers expect this type of sophisticated software to run their organisation not only because it boosts productivity and employee satisfaction, but provide them with actionable intelligence to optimize their supply chain and cash management.
Having financial intelligence that does things such as visualising accounting entries and exchange rates in real-time goes a long way to become more efficient and resilient.
We can talk until the cows come home about the ways automation is improving accounting for a post-Covid future. But, most importantly, we need to first improve the lives of the users, starting with giving them the tools they need to comfortably work in their