A Recipe for AP Invoice Automation Success – Walk Before You Run
Despite the progress that has been made in automating the procurement and payment process, significant human intervention is still required to process Accounts Payable (AP) invoices. The volume of paper invoices is decreasing, but paper invoices are not being replaced by EDI (Electronic Data Exchange) and Portal mechanisms as much as they are by the submission of invoices as attachments to emails. In any event, capturing and validating invoice information from paper invoices and invoices attached to emails and entering this information into AP systems remains a tedious, time consuming and costly process. Invoice processing solutions that automate the extraction and validation of this information, automate the entry of valid invoice information into AP systems and provide efficient mechanisms to resolve exceptions can provide significant time and cost savings benefits. They also facilitate improved financial controls. Implementing such a solution that dramatically changes entrenched accounts payables processes in a stable can be a daunting task for a company.
TekStream has a proven track record of success implementing AP automation solutions utilizing the out-of-the-box Oracle Financials Imaging Implementation Accelerator as a starting point. The Accelerator consists of a set of predefined configurations for Oracle WebCenter software that address a superset of the most common processes necessary to automate the capture, validation and uploading of invoice data into the Oracle eBusiness Suite AP module (EBS). In TekStream’s experience the Accelerator provides a solid foundation on which to build an automated invoice processing solution for almost all customers.
Rather than starting with a clean white board and design a custom automated invoice processing solution TekStream recommends starting with the out-of-the-box Accelerator design as a baseline. Working with the customer AP staff, TekStream then discusses customer requirements and defines customer specific configurations of the Accelerator and AP process changes that will allow the customer to utilize the Accelerator in production for a reasonable percentage of their invoices. This allows the customer AP staff to become familiar with the Accelerator and its features and functions while using it in a production environment and integrating the Accelerator’s functionality into their production processes. TekStream recommends customers utilize the Accelerator in this manner in production for at least two to three months before TekStream and the customer assess progress based on what has been learned during that period. Using what they have learned about the Accelerator and how it’s functionality applies to their day-to-day invoice processing operations, the customer is now better able to assess the value proposition associated with extending and customizing the Accelerator to enhance its ability to meet the customer’s unique invoice processing automation requirements.
Introducing change to an AP operation can be challenging. Learning to effectively utilize new technologies is part of the challenge. Implementing the Accelerator requires that AP resources learn to use new technologies as well as adapt to new processes the Accelerator introduces. TekStream recommends that the automation technology available with the Accelerator be implemented in two steps. The first step is to expose the elements of the Accelerator that provide “key-from-image” functionality. This allows the AP staff to become familiar with the WebCenter software functionality, user interface and user experience with only moderate changes to the EBS data entry processes they are familiar with. Later, the excellent automated invoice data extraction, data validation and data uploading to EBS elements of the Accelerator can be introduced. Having a solid foundation of familiarity with the WebCenter and Accelerator basic functionality and user experience will allow the end users to more effectively adopt and utilize these advanced invoice data extraction and validation features of the Accelerator. This foundation will also allow AP users to adapt more quickly to the EBS processes associated with reviewing and validating invoices automatically uploaded to EBS from the Accelerator.
The Accelerator provides an effective routing process mechanism for coding and approving invoices by business users who order goods and services through a non-PO process. The coding and approval mechanism is connected to EBS in the background to ensure valid EBS business rules are used in the coding process. It utilizes easy to use tools that allow will non-EBS users to easily cod and approve invoices with valid account codes that are consistent with EBS business rules. The two step implementation process suggested by TekStream allows AP users time to educate and support the business users on the new technologies and processes as they themselves learn and adapt to the same. Once they have a solid foundation of experience with eth Accelerator and their business users have the same experience, expanding to the automated data capture, validation and upload process will go much more smoothly and efficiently.
The automated data capture and validation component of the Accelerator uses the WebCenter Forms Recognition (WFR) product. The out-of-the-box WFR component has been pre-trained to automatically recognize, extract and validate key invoice data from scanned paper invoices and invoices imported from emails. Many WFR customers find the pre-trained WFR component to be very effective for their invoice population. In situations where a customer has a high volume population of vendor invoices that are unique, WFR can be trained to more effectively read these invoices. Again, TekStream recommends that customers use WFR in production for two to three months before investing in enhanced training of the WFR solution.
In closing, there is work to do to implement an automated invoice processing solution based on the Oracle Financials Imaging Implementation Accelerator. TekStream has the knowledge and experience to help customers navigate and execute the implementation process quickly and effectively. TekStream’s experience and knowledge with a long list of successful Accelerator implementation reinforces our recipe for success for customers when implementing an Accelerator based solution – walk before you run.