Selecting the Best AP Automation Solution:
How to create your “must-have” list of features.
As your company grows, you might start to notice an increasing number of purchase order requests and incoming vendor invoices. All companies experience growing pains as they fall into success, and your accounts payable team will no doubt start to feel the pinch.
There are lots of quality AP automation solutions out there to help your company handle the influx of requests and invoices. However, in order to select the best one for your company, it requires a little bit of preparation.
As part of our blog series, “Selecting the Best AP Automation Solution,” we will go over a few best practices your team can follow to ensure you choose the solution most suited to your needs.
In this post, we will focus on how your team can draft a well thought-out and complete list of “must-have” features to use as a guideline when you begin researching and selecting AP automation software.
Step 1: Bring everyone to the table
It’s critical that everyone that touches accounts payable be a part of this process. This will include not only your AP clerks, but also those outside of accounting such as managers that approve purchase orders and invoices. Whomever is responsible for setting up and approving payments should be involved as well. If possible, include a few non-accounting personnel who might regularly request POs or submit invoices.
Once you have set up your panel, start asking everyone what pain points they experience regularly that they would like to see solved. Take notes on what they have to say, then try to figure out what features in an AP automation solution would be required to help solve them.
You might find that you need a clearer, easier way for non-accounting, non-managerial staff to request POs or to submit mailed-in vendor invoices. Your approval managers may need an easier, more digitized way to bulk approve POs or invoices. Maybe managing accruals is becoming more of a challenge now that your team is working with more vendors. Or perhaps it’s increasingly more difficult to get all required payment information when onboarding new suppliers.
Essentially, you’ll discover there are problems you didn’t know needed to be solved. Since you are searching for a solution to streamline and simplify your AP processes, you might as well address as many issues as possible.
Another benefit of speaking with anyone involved with AP is simply that you’ll have specific, real-life use cases for the features you deem required. When doing product demonstrations or speaking with sales representatives, you can present them with real issues you are experiencing. This will allow them to show you explicitly how their products can solve your pain points.
Step 2: Translate your AP pain points into features
Now that you have a better sense of the pain points your company is experiencing, it’s time to determine exactly which features will alleviate them.
If you need help figuring out what features are out there, browsing through the features sections of a few different AP automation solution providers’ websites can help you determine what is feasible.
If you aren’t sure what features can solve some of your pain points, don’t feel like you need to table those. Keep them on your list, but ask the sales representatives what features they have that can specifically solve these issues for you.
Step 3: Consider your AP goals
Something else to consider when creating your list of critical features are any future goals the finance organization has set for accounts payable.
This is key because the solution you select will be an important tool to help you realize those goals.
For example, if your company doesn’t currently process purchase orders, but you plan to implement a PO policy in the next two years, PO management tools could be “must-have” for your AP automation solution.
If you will be making a major push to control spend across your company, budget management tools might be a “must-have” feature.
Overall, considering your future needs now will ensure the AP automation solution you implement will continue to be useful to your AP team down the line.
Step 4: Determine technology requirements in advance
Another group worthy of engaging early to help determine your list of critical features is your IT department.
The type of features your IT team will help you develop are more technical and will help address your company’s specific software requirements. These features can range anywhere from the core coding languages used, whether the system needs to be cloud-based, on-site, or hybrid, security compliance requirements, or more.
Other technology requirements for your team to consider are system integrations. It would be ideal for whichever solution you select to integrate with your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in order to reduce double entry of data. There may be other systems you would like your AP automation solution to integrate with, such as your expense management system or budget planning software.
Step 5: Determine which features are “must-have” and which are “nice-to-have”
Once you have an extensive list of features, it’s time to narrow down which to consider “must-have” and which to categorize as “nice-to-have.”
It’s important to determine which features belong to which of these two categories because, let’s be honest, no one solution is going to be able to address all of them. If you find a system that does, most likely your list of wanted features didn’t go deep enough.
We recommend limiting your “must-have” category to about ten features. Why this seemingly arbitrary number? Because having a limit will help you to temper your expectations. Everything outside of these ten or so features should be considered “nice-to-have.”
Carefully considering your current and future needs across your company for all things AP related will help you devise a complete and robust list of features your future AP automation solution will need to address. Having a thorough list will ensure that whichever solution you ultimately choose will continue to benefit your AP team far into the future. Additionally, having this list will allow you to determine earlier one which solutions to compare.
In our next post, we will lay out why you should consider your vendors when shopping around for an AP automation solution.