How Technology has changed the face of AP

How Technology has changed the face of AP

By Mary Ioane, Head of Accounts Payable, WPP AUNZ [NYSE: WPP]

Mary Ioane, Head of Accounts Payable, WPP AUNZ [NYSE: WPP]

The best way to describe how I started in accounts payable was a happy accident. Unsatisfied with my current job at the time (I was there for about four years) a job came up in our accounts payable department as a junior. In no way was it a dream job and it also meant a pay cut, but I thought I would apply for the ‘experience’.

And what an experience it has been so far.

I was quick to notice a few things about accounts payable that initially, I didn’t take to when I started. Accounts payable, the transactional part of Finance was not always the first to get the recognition as opposed to our sisters and brothers in the Receivables department or the Superstars in General Accounting. No, entering accounts payable seemed a bit of a letdown in the beginning. And it was so repetitive! I would get bored in a heartbeat, I was sure. It wasn’t until I met a leader who had shown me what accounts payable could mean for me and how a career could be carved and forged, that my perception started to shift.

Ok, let’s break it down. It’s simple really – you receive an invoice, put it through the system to record and arrange for payment. The supplier gets their money, and everyone is happy. Well, that is an extremely basic version, but it is pretty much the same principle everywhere you go. The difference being the industry, what systems used, of course, the people – and what automation are in place.

"It no longer is just repetitive work at its finest but helping to expand an individual’s way of thinking, to look outside the box for fast, effective solutions"

What non-Finance people don’t see is the in-between and what work it requires to make it seem like an effortless process. Improving processes, implementing new systems, and continuous staff training (this is regardless of industry!) All the while ensuring the bills are paid in a timely fashion, suppliers and employees alike are satisfied as they should be. These factors have created what is traditionally a Data-Entry repetitive role into what it is today. Roles that entail problem-solving, developing skills to become System management experts and creating accounts payable leaders who make can make a difference within the organisation. How can the ‘in-between’ be less costly, more efficient, more dynamic, and create better results? How has accounts payable adapted to the introduction of new technology to cater to the ever-growing change?

There are four main points that can and have contributed to how accounts payable is changing:

1. Systems and Automation and Governance: It no longer is just repetitive work at its finest but helping to expand an individual’s way of thinking, to look outside the box for fast, effective solutions. They have become experts on how automated tools can create efficiency (if implemented correctly mind) and what main factors will be a deterrent. Robotic tools can be created for Governance and the use of specific real-time data can show real issues that can be addressed.

2. Accounts Payable profile from within: Growing technology has given accounts payable a Platform to increase their profile within the business. Automated Reporting measuring the various parts of the process provides senior leaders with an overall picture of what liability the business has at any given time. This has allowed accounts payable to have a voice to be heard and encourage positive interaction between various departments and to become a more collaborative environment.

3. Standardisation of Processes to align with Policies: Automation has allowed streamlining of processes to align to company policies and effectively provide the data that is needed to measure. With the right automation in place, accounts payable can identify and pinpoint specific areas where it can be improved and work out effective ways to encourage adherence.

4. Effective Metrics/SLAs: Measuring volumes that come through accounts payable channels is an essential part of managing teams. It can highlight what is coming through the month on month and bring to light any changes that might occur that may or may not ref lect on business performance at large. Internally within the team, it assists managers to manage the workf low, what specific headcount is needed to operate at its optimum level.

The above dispels some of the myths around accounts payable and how they are traditionally viewed in organisations. More importantly, it shows what a critical part of the process they play. Once people understand more and they can see and hear (thinking human five senses here, six for some people!) the more they appreciate that it exists and more likely they can be part of a solution than not.

Where many assumed that in 20 years accounts payable will no longer exist, I personally do not believe this will be the case – it will just be forever evolving like many things in life. Technology could changes an individual’s perception and allows them to be a part of the change and grow alongside it.

As for me, fast forward seven years, and after my ‘happy accident’ change in career moment, I find myself with numerous experiences under my belt. Far from the boring job I initially thought it would be, I have had the opportunity to manage great teams of various sizes and participated in various projects from system enhancements to OCR scanning tools, to say the least. I have worked with great management teams and have had the pleasure of working with some inf luential leaders who have inspired me. What I have learnt is that as amazing as the changes in technology have been and will continue to be, at the heart of it is still the people. Technology will only ever be as great as the people behind it, utilising Automation and Robotics to its potential and look at different ways of working to embrace them.

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