Embrace the robots! And make your accounts team happier

By James Adie, Vice President EMEA Sales, Ephesoft

The concept of automation in the workplace has raised some alarm bells in recent years. For some, it represents the age of the robot, malevolently stealing jobs and putting humans to work in some dystopian nightmare.

The reality of automation couldn’t be further from this fantasy. In practice, automation in business doesn’t concern itself with faraway sci-fi scenarios but instead with accessible and useful applications for everyday office use, improving speed, efficiency and accuracy in a number of administrative areas.

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Nowhere can this technology be put to better use than in the notoriously slow and inefficient area of invoice processing. According to an Ardent Partners report from last year, 80 per cent of organisations still use manual processes to handle incoming invoices. Of this percentage, 39 per cent believe invoice approvals take too long (one invoice can take up to ten and a half days to complete); 38 per cent say there is too much paper involved; and 36 per cent declared that the whole process is too expensive (just under £12 per invoice). And when you factor in human error, the costs and frustrations of the invoicing process are only exacerbated.

Putting AI into AP

It may not sound as exciting as Elon Musk’s latest venture, but the power of automation couldn’t be better suited to ensuring you pay your invoices on time. Advanced software now exists that uses AI and machine learning technologies to automate the processing of supplier invoices.

We have all struggled with the numerous ways in which invoice arrive at our offices: some are delivered physically on paper, others as attachments to emails, or even shared via a Word doc. Such a variety of unstructured documents has been a frustration for businesses for years – finding the invoice number, the date, the PO… (oh wait, it’s a statement not an invoice) but the technology to handle this has finally arrived.

As well as sustaining a huge capacity for learning the layouts of each vendor’s invoice documents, the latest automation systems can also locate and extract the necessary data in real time – from invoice and account numbers to payment periods and VAT inclusions. According to this article in Accountancy Age, a switch to automaton processes will reduce the time spent on invoicing by 71 per cent, and cut the costs by 83 per cent.

Forget about time and money, automation will improve your working life

As a repetitive and time-consuming task, the invoicing process lends itself well to an illustration of the benefits of automation in the workplace – but these benefits stretch beyond the more obvious reductions to expensive costs and extensive time.

A recent report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that the prevailing attitude among the surveyed business executives is that automation will complement, rather than replace, workers across the world. By releasing employees from mundane tasks, workers will find more opportunities to apply their time to more rewarding, fulfilling work – work that cannot be conducted by automation technologies.

Instead of returning to their desks to wade through the usual pile of muddled invoices, your employees – armed with the convenience and efficiency of automation – can turn their attention to delivering better customer service, for example, or apply themselves to more creative and innovative work.

The EIU report revealed that 88 per cent of the surveyed executives believe automation in the workplace will accelerate human achievement, while 85 per cent anticipate automation technologies to foster greater happiness at work, and to generally improve the worker experience.

Invoice automation as part of the digital transformation

The automating of invoices is just one small link in the digital transformation chain – the process of converting physical documents into easily accessible and useful digital formats.

With a high number of invoices still physically arriving on paper, the process is a prime candidate for this transformation. As well as saving time and money – and relinquishing staff from monotonous tasks – automating invoice processes is part of a necessary and important transition for businesses all over the world – one that looks to move away from unusable stacks of information towards structured and highly valuable data assets.

So if the word automation conjures up frightful images of Blade Runner­-esque showdowns, then you’re probably going to the cinema too often. Automation is not something to be fearful of – in fact, it should be welcomed by any business that deals with repetitive office functions. Automation technologies will save your business time and money with your invoicing processes, as well as improving working conditions for your employees. And who doesn’t want that?