It is with great pleasure that Ardent Partners announces the publication of its latest state of accounts payable (AP) research report—“ePayables 2015: Higher Ground.” Like the annual reports that came before it, the 2015 ePayables report focuses on the state of the AP function as well as assessing how AP teams leverage ePayables solutions to improve business results and offering up Best-in-Class metrics that allow readers to benchmark their own operations against top performers. (The report is available for download here, here, here, and here.)
What is the Biggest ePayables Priority in 2015?
Transforming an accounts payable process is a multi-stage, multi-year journey that never really ends; nor should it, as continuous improvement is one of the key ways to ensure that an enterprise always remains competitive. This is not to say that there are not clearly defined goals or priorities in these types of business transformations, but rather that there are always ways to further improve the invoice approval process.
Figuring out what to improve means prioritizing certain parts of the business process over others, and accounts payable is no different. This is a good thing, especially because prioritizing improvements can result in a smoother transformation project because the AP team and others are able to focus on one specific category and leverage their skills to better that particular task before moving to the next part of the AP process.
In Ardent’s ePayables 2015 study, invoice processing was actually the top priority for accounts payable teams. A full 40% of survey respondents noted that invoice processing was their highest priority for the year ahead, which is understandable given how important an efficient invoice processing workflow is to the enterprise’s AP function. This is distinct from invoice receipt—accepting invoices and capturing key data—which 22% noted as their main priority.
Underlying this intense focus on invoice processing is the reality that many suppliers still submit only paper invoices and, more to the point, many AP teams still use manual methods to input, process, and approve supplier invoices. This high amount of paper still in the invoice process is the cause of a significant number of workflow inefficiencies as well as wasted time and money that could be put to more value-added use in another part of the business.
Improving how invoices are processed/approved and associated actions can directly lead to time and cost savings throughout the entire AP department. One of the big reasons that invoices take so long to be approved in a manual environment is because invoices routinely get “lost” on an approver’s desk while waiting for the next stage to begin. This delay consequently pushes supplier payment later, which impugns the supplier relationship and costs the organization more money in terms of staffing because an AP team member has to chase down the invoice to see if it had been approved. These and other drawbacks to manual processes make it clear why invoice processing is the top ePayables priority for the year ahead.
Every AP team needs to consider, before embarking on a transformation project, what improvements they want to prioritize. In 2015, most AP functions have decided to focus on invoice processing—this is overall a good thing, as better invoice processing can lead to cost and time savings that spread throughout the organization and allow for operating cash to be redistributed to departments that need it. Because of all this, it is little surprise that invoice processing is the top ePayables priority for 2015.