By Bob Monio, Commercial Product Management Director, Kofax
Where there are humans, there are bound to be human errors. This is especially true when humans manually input data from paper. It’s not only slow; it’s fraught with too many places where data can fall through the cracks and be misread, misplaced or misunderstood.
The finance team knows this all too well. Often overwhelmed by documents, staff can easily get behind as they spend too much time staring at paper and manually comparing data points. The consequences are expensive for the organisation. Lost invoices, delays in processing, unresolved supplier queries and higher costs from low productivity are the result. Management also lacks the right information to make decisions when the data is wrong or delayed in entering the system.
How Intelligent Automation Can Help
Think you’re on top of things? So did Jai. At the time, his accounts payable (AP) team was setting efficiency records even though they were manually working to match tens of thousands of invoices to purchase orders and other documents. Then his company decided to use an intelligent automation-based invoice processing solution to improve the payables process. Jai soon learned how much more productive AP could be. Paper invoices are now scanned and moved electronically into the system. The result? Improved accuracy and cost savings of more than 30 percent in managing the AP function. And Jai? He was promoted. He now oversees analytics for payables and identifies areas of overspending.
A fully integrated invoice automation solution, based on intelligent automation, is a blending of technology that eliminates many labor-intensive human activities found in an AP department. The solution uses cognitive capture, document automation, machine learning, natural language processing and other cognitive tools to process structured and unstructured data. It uses process automation to manage approval workflows and exceptions and provides fully integrated ERP connectivity.
It can also be combined with Robotic Process Automation (RPA), another cognitive automation tool, to handle repetitive manual tasks such as processing data from websites and other applications.
Let’s use the invoice processing example discussed to show how intelligent automation cognitive tools work together: Avendor emails the invoice as an attachment. Cognitive capture reads and extracts the data contained in the invoice document. The invoice data is validated against the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and general ledger coding, then sent through automated approval and exception workflows. All without human intervention. Humans only assist when there’s low-confidence data encountered. The cognitive automation tools are also learning the entire time to continuously improve on the same processes.
Taking this a step further, RPA can aid in AP processes such as vendor onboarding and vendor sourcing. Robots automatically check vendor information or search for the best prices. These intelligent automation cognitive tools save workers time and effort, eliminating human errors and allowing them to think and act strategically for the business.
The Next Steps to Finance Automation
Are you ready to improve the efficiency of your department? Here are some tips to help you get started:
Explore and learn. Create a cross-functional team to begin examining your processes. Observe intelligent automation tools such as cognitive capture or RPA in action at another organisation, or as a demo from a vendor.
Document bottlenecks. Identify which documents are causing the most problems for your organisation. For instance, are you overwhelmed with onboarding documents, invoices or contracts?
Identify opportunities. What do your customers, internal or external, most want from your finance function? Create a list of possible opportunities for using cognitive automation tools.
Prioritise and pilot. Now prioritise the opportunities and choose a starting point, one where you can make a real impact but with low risk, and without disrupting the organisation. Conduct a pilot project.
Move ahead with an overall strategy. Pilots are great, but they don’t go far enough and don’t make a significant impact. Before you go with a large scale move to intelligent automation, make sure you have a strategy in place, one that supports your department’s goals and the organisation’s business objectives.
Work like tomorrow, today
Intelligent automation is really about improving human productivity by reducing errors in data processing. When you reduce errors, operational efficiency goes up, critical information is available to management in real-time, and customer engagement improves. In fact, research has found when measuring user efficiency and productivity, cognitive automation in particular results in an ROI within six to 18 months from system launch. More than that, with intelligent automation workers are freed from the tedious stare and compare to focus on meaningful work, elevating finance as a highly productive strategic partner in the business.
Intelligent automation gives your organisation the tools to work like tomorrow, today.