Digitization of Accounts Payable: Best Practices for a Successful Project

Embarking on an accounts payable (AP) automation project requires careful planning and execution. By focusing on organizational goals, selecting the right solution, structuring implementation, managing change, and effectively onboarding suppliers, companies can ensure a smooth start to their AP automation initiatives. This blog and supporting eBook, Practical Guide: Automating Your Accounts Payable Processes, outlines essential advice and best practices to guide you in getting your AP automation project off to a great start.

Define project goals and analyze business processes

Before listing expected features, it is crucial to define the drivers for automation and establish clear project goals. You’ll want to analyze existing business processes and identify a core model that covers a majority of use cases, ensure compatibility with your existing infrastructure and culture, consider the project's impact on various departments, determine key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with your goals, and identify potential obstacles and develop strategies to overcome them.

Build a solid framework for provider selection

If necessary, consult only a small number of solution providers to allow sufficient time for thorough evaluation and discussions. Secure early buy-in and ensure that all stakeholders across finance, AP, procurement, and IT (and potentially other functions as needed) understand the reasoning behind the new system and how it will support their area of the business. Focus on the most important criteria, listing and weighting them based on business requirements.

When preparing for presentations or demonstrations, allocate the appropriate time for each, provide specific and relevant use cases that align with your company's needs, and invite the “right” number of people to achieve a unanimous decision. Establish a partnership relationship with the selected providers, ensuring the back-and-forth communication is as open and comprehensive as possible.

Core features of an AP Automation Solution

While this may sound obvious, the first question you should ask before selecting an accounts payable automation solution is: “Will the solution allow us to meet our short and medium-term business objectives?” Here are three example objectives that demonstrate the benefits of automating AP processes:

  • Eliminating the reliance on paper and manual procedures.
  • Enhancing invoice processing speed and ensuring timely payments.
  • Mitigating errors and exceptions in invoice and payment processing.

To ensure the above, it’s critical to review all existing processes and resolve any issues before implementing the new system. Look for providers that can seamlessly integrate the solution with your existing ERP(s) and back-end financial systems. Consider the importance of solution features such as multiple languages and currencies, compliance with various countries' regulations, and support for different business units and locations. Complete coverage in these areas provides room for growth and future expansion.

Best practices for successful implementation

Now that you’ve chosen a solution, the next step is implementation. Select an in-house project leader to approach the project holistically, focusing on both solution implementation and project structuring. Develop a decisive roll-out strategy that considers costs and deadlines. Common strategies include a roll-out within one country with the same functionality, a new country with the same functionality, or a new country with specific local characteristics. Regardless of your strategy, determine and prepare test scenarios to ensure a smooth implementation process.

Effective change management

While change management is a critical requirement for the successful completion of these types of projects, quite often it is ignored and, in most cases, not included in the budget. Anticipate potential resource limitations within your organization and plan to engage expert external resources if needed. Place great importance on maintaining the quality of the solution and practices and aligning them with organizational and process changes. Adapt training materials to different target audiences, positions, geographic areas, and learning habits.

Streamlining supplier onboarding

Accounts payable automation also impacts the way a company works with its diverse supplier base. Therefore, to guarantee the adoption of the new solution and processes and ultimately the ROI of the solution, supplier onboarding must be managed as a project within itself.

Before automating, you’ll want to cleanse the supplier database (i.e. remove duplicates, etc.). Assign a dedicated sponsor to your strategic suppliers and establish key performance indicators that align with the project goals, such as the number and percentage of active suppliers and e-invoicing rate. Treat supplier onboarding as a separate project within the AP automation initiative, with its own team and KPIs, and plan specific support levels based on supplier characteristics.

Explore our practical guide for choosing an AP automation solution

Successfully digitizing accounts payable processes requires careful planning and adherence to best practices. The key objective upon kick-off should be to ensure that the right questions are being asked in relation to the project goals and the specific needs of the organization. This guide, Practical Guide: Automating Your Accounts Payable Processes, was compiled with this in mind. It incorporates insights from industry experts to assist you in effectively navigating the provider selection and implementation process. It offers valuable tips and best practices for choosing an AP automation solution that aligns with your specific business needs, organizing your project, and efficiently managing change within your organization and among your suppliers.

As a Product Marketing professional with 15+ years of experience, Sanna has a proven track record in creating and developing value propositions and messaging to successfully take new solutions to the market. Throughout her career, she’s been intrigued by new technologies and how they can significantly change how businesses operate. As a Global Product Marketing Manager at Basware, she is focused on communicating and positioning true automation for the office of the CFO.