Selecting the Best AP Automation Solution:
Finding data gaps and solving them with accounts payable automation.
In previous posts, we’ve discussed how to create your list of “must-have” features, as well as how to consider the needs of your vendors. Before selecting an accounts payable automation solution provider, there is one final thing to figure out: what data are you currently missing?
It’s important to discover what data is difficult for your AP team to collect and store. By filling these gaps, your accounts payable will run much more efficiently.
This post will go over how to discover the holes in your data, as well as how to ensure whichever solution you implement will collect and make accessible the information you need to operate an efficient AP.
Pinpointing gaps in your data
The biggest challenge in filling your data gaps is first identifying them. Anyone tasked with finding them might feel overwhelmed at first.
The best place to start is by creating a list of data your AP team uses regularly. This should include everything needed to get you through your procure-to-pay processes. Examples include:
purchase orders: vendor name, vendor contact information, GL account data, vendor contract details, budget amount, vendor payment terms, service or item description, internal vendor manager, requestor, department, subsidiary, and total amount.
vendor details: contact info, address, email, payment terms, bank information, internal representative, vendor AR representative information, W-9, W-8Ben, 1099 eligibility
accruals: accrual manager contact details, PO number, internal vendor manager, accrual estimate figures, GL account information
invoices: vendor name, PO number, accounts receivable contact details, payment terms, contract details, company address, preferred payment information, GL account information
payments: vendor bank details, vendor tax ID number, payment terms, preferred payment details, currency type, company address, W-9, 1099 eligibility
reporting: accrual estimates, accurate payment details, accurate vendor information, invoices tied to POs, metrics around invoice processing
Once you have compiled a full list of the data your accounts payable team needs to complete their job, you’ll need to figure out which you have the most difficulty gathering. You can start by seeing what information your AP clerks are seeking from vendors every month. Going through emails with vendors and tracking keywords relevant to the data list you’ve compiled is a good way to start. If you’ve read any of our other posts, you’ll know communication is a common theme. Therefore, asking your AP clerks what they are constantly asking vendors for is a great way to validate your email research.
Another way to pin down the holes in your data is to start tracking hold-ups in your processes. For example, if an invoice payment is delayed, track why. After tracking any issues that pop up for a few weeks, you’ll notice commonalities. Issues that occur several times may indicate critical information was missing.
Outside of the data needed for your AP clerks to manage their tasks, you may be missing critical data for reporting. For example, you can’t create proper AP aging reports if your vendor payment terms are inaccurate or non-existent. We recommend you take a deep dive into where your reporting is lacking and build your data gap list from there as well.
Filling data gaps with an accounts payable automation solution
Now that you’ve done the hard part, it’s time to apply your findings to an accounts payable automation solution.
You can get a general sense of data collected from any given system based on their website, but it’s best to have the sales representative show you how their system solves your data issues in a live demo.
To ensure the rep helping you fully understands the issues with your data, be sure to prepare a few real-life scenarios in advance. Not only will this give the sales rep a better sense of what you need solved, but they will likely use that scenario to show specifically how their system solves it. If you are seeing real issues you’ve encountered be effortless solved via the demo, you can gauge if that solution will be a wise investment.
If the system you are being shown doesn’t solve some of the data collection issues you’ve experienced, be sure to ask about any future features that may be coming soon. The provider may have identified the need you have previously and now is in the processes of solving for it.
If you come across gaps in your data that no system can help resolve, the best you can do is find ways internally to fill them. This might mean you need to review and change your vendor onboarding processes, data input processes, or some other aspect of your team’s daily activities.
Discovering where your data is lacking or non-existent is a tedious exercise, but well worth the effort. Once you get past the difficult part of finding your gaps, it will be easier to find an accounts payable automation solution to help you more easily fill them. Show up armed with a well thought out list of real-life scenarios to a product demo, and you’ll see how that system will help your AP team function more efficiently and provide clearer reports.
Best of luck on your AP automation solution selection!