The uncertain global economic environment and the increased emphasis on profit-margin growth puts more and more pressure on finance executives to better manage working capital and spend. Digital transformation initiatives as well as sub-sets of this area, such as RPA (Robotic Process Automation) are hailed as the new solution to turn accounts payable automation from nice to have to a must-have. Eliminating paper processes and replacing them with automated ones deliver operational benefits as well as financial viability, compliance and HR benefits.
Let’s see how each of the processes involved in AP can be automated using a mix of RPA and different other technologies:
Purchase Order creation
The buyer creates an order in their ERP and then sends this order to its supplier through our DocXchange platform. The order, depending on the supplier’s technical capability is either:
- converted and shows up on the supplier’s portal where she can confirm it and flip it into an advanced ship note / invoice or
- it goes straight to the supplier’s ERP. Here, our robots map and transform the buyer’s PO format to the supplier’s ERP preferred file format. Removing completely the need of expensive customizations, whether it’s xml, csv, idoc etc.
Either way, the order is checked against the product catalog to confirm if product codes, quantities, weights or negotiated prices are correct. This crucial step, performed by robots, ensures that much of the fuss of erroneous orders is avoided and the order is placed correctly and fulfilled fast.
Ship notes, goods receipt & reconciliation
Once a supplier creates the advanced ship note, this is sent to the buyer system in real-time. This helps with warehouse operations, allowing employees to prepare for the merchandise arrival, speeding the process (e.g. clearing the landing for the delivery track in advance, so that unloading takes place as fast as possible).
When the order has been received, DocXchange robots allow a user to confirm delivery and create a goods receipt for the shipment. The receipt is checked against the PO and the invoice, performing what is called 3-way matching. Matching is often times the most time-consuming activity in the entire AP process. Robots perform this tasks in seconds.
Invoice capture and receipt
The biggest pain in accounts payable automation is invoice data capture – meaning that information from the invoice needs to be extracted and then inserted into an ERP or accounting software. The difficulty comes from the non-standardized invoice formats – paper, pdf, einvoice, xls etc, which makes it close to impossible for any buyer to have the input channels required to manage such a variety of formats. So, traditionally, invoice capture and receipt is done manually by AP staff or outsourced to a BPO, which also handles this flow manually.
Our software is specifically developed to capture all this variety, we have:
- Scanning and OCR to handle paper. The OCR tool extracts data and then it is verified against the information held in back-end systems (e.g. PO numbers) or against various business rules (e.g. the invoice needs to carry the right supplier code in order to be considered valid). These controls typically fall into 2 categories: fiscal check (meaning the invoice carries the required data and that data is correct) and contractual checks (e.g. the price for the SKU is according to the negotiated level between the parties). OCR has very good accuracy rates (60-70%) yet this means that an operator still needs to oversee the system to perform checks. It’s rare that invoices processed through OCR achieve straight-through posting into the ERP system.
- Direct integration with the suppliers back-end AR system – DocXchange is able to receive any type of einvoice format as well as other structured formats (xls, csv. etc), translate it into an UBL-invoice (Universal Business Language), perform through RPA all the required checks and workflows, then translate it to the buyers’ approved format, usually determined by their ERP.
- Online portal – for those suppliers who are unable technologically to export any type of invoice. The portal is in the cloud and anyone with an internet connection is able to enter the platform and create an invoice by inputing the data. If the supplier is also receiving eorders, he finds these documents and can – at the click of the button – flip it into an invoice.
No matter the input channel, DocXchange performs the same set of validations on the invoice content before pushing it to the buyer’s backend system.
Matching and routing
Our RPA software is capable of customizing workflows and approvals depending on the document type and the buyer’s business rules. PO-based invoices are matched against corresponding POs, goods receipt notices or ship notes. Exceptions or discrepancies are either solved automatically or they are routed to the appropriate approvers. If invoice data is missing, as identified in field-level matching, our robots are able to check against third party databases and extract and then add the respective piece of information.
General expenses invoices, which do not have a PO, are again, routed to the appropriate approvers, according to user roles and access rights.
Users may also assign non-PO invoices to categories within the general ledger or allow specific invoice line items to be assigned to multiple cost centers or multiple POs.
These automated workflows and checks allow invoices to achieve straight-through processing with remarkable accuracy. Whereas an non-automated AP center finds that about 35% of invoices contain at least one error, once RPA comes into play, a 0% error rate is achieved.
Our dashboard makes it easy for approvers to see the status of all invoices received (or issued – from a supplier’s point of view), checking document history and logs. This speeds up the audit process, as each document has perfect traceability and can also help with specific financing options. For example, one bank logs into his client dashboard each day, learns which invoices were approved and scheduled for payment in 60 days, and instantly releases funds to its customer for these invoices.
Daily email notifications either by event or by batch are also available for both the buyer’s users and the suppliers, so that each party knows in real-time the status of their documents. This eliminates the need for status calls between buyers and suppliers, helping improve relationships and saving lots of time.
Payment initiation and execution
After invoices have been posted into the ERP, the invoices are sent to payment. A payment file is created which is pushed to the bank. There, the solution performs payment checks – flagging invoices to avoid double-payments, fraud, blacklisted partners etc. Once the payment has been processed by the bank the statement file is brought back into the ERP and payment allocated to each invoice. A “paid’ message can be sent back to the supplier, or even the entire statement so that reconciliation also happens in their AR system.
Reporting & analytics
Reporting and analytics is also available according to client business rules. Processed documents, documents with exceptions or any other type of report based on platform events and content can be created, ad-hoc or regularly.
In order to facilitate accounts payable automation our RPA-based platform has been designed to ensure rapid supplier onboarding and various functions that help with Accounts Receivable process. The supplier portal allow suppliers to upload invoices, receive eorders, flip orders to advanced ship notes or directly to invoice, check invoice status, correct document errors and receive payment / payment order messages. This portal facilitates communication and dispute resolution, eliminating calls and emails to the buyer’s accounts payable staff.
Suppliers can also send documents through direct ERP integrations and connectors such as AS2, AS4, FTPS etc.
To ensure that purchase orders are placed correctly and invoiced correctly, our platform also has catalogue abilities. A supplier can upload several product catalogs and manage them according to each buyer’s business rules. This feature saves hours and hours of work, avoiding phone calls and emails about product codes that don’t match, price differences and other logistical details that often complicate the procurement process.