What is Robotic Process Automation and How Does it Affect Accounts Payable?

Blog - 21 Feb 2019

As organizations continue to look for ways to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, one particular technology that is growing in popularity is that of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). According to a recent report by Deloitte, 53% of organizations surveyed have either implemented or begun incorporating robotic process automation into their invoice processing strategy. This is expected to lead to near-universal adoption within the next five years.

Robotic Process Automation is a software known as a ‘robot’, capable of replacing humans to automate repetitive, rules-based tasks and processes. By interacting with existing IT applications, RPA software is able to capture and interpret such tasks and then automate them on a continuous basis. With a digital workforce in place, employees are then enabled to dedicate more of their time towards customers and other higher value tasks.

 

A Robotic Process Automation System at Work

The tasks and processes that robotic process automation generally takes on are repetitive and mundane and therefore, typically considered as lacking in the value to warrant automation via a new, core system.

Robotic process automation software can communicate with and learn from existing IT applications. There is no need for the implementation of brand new systems, meaning it is both cost-efficient as well as effective.

All RPA platforms, regardless of the software provider, comprise of some basic functions that together build the ‘robot’.

robotic process automation

  • Recorder – The recorder is a particularly important component at the development and implementation stage. It records both mouse and keyboard movements so that regular processes can be recorded and then automated on a continuous basis.
  • Development Studio – Robot configuration and training takes place within the developmental studio. Sets of instructions and decision-making logic are coded for robots to execute.
  • Extensions and Plugins – Most platforms allow for the addition of plugins and extensions to enhance the running of bots. Such plugins include e-mail, PDF, Word, Excel, and web integration.
  • Bot Runner – This is essentially the ‘robot’ that automates previously manual processes. Other components such as the recorder and plugins make it run.
  • Control Center – The control center monitors and controls the robot’s operation. The robot can be stopped, started, scheduled from here with new code and tasks also deployed from the control center.

 

The Benefits of Robotic Process Automation in Accounts Payable

Robotic Process Automation has the potential to completely transform the invoice processing landscape for accounts payable teams, given the number of repetitive, manual tasks that exist within AP.

Many AP teams are already experiencing this transformation, however, for those yet to embrace robotic process automation, several challenges still exist within the AP process. A recent report by Levvel listed the likes of manual routing of invoices for approval and manual data entry two of the biggest challenges.

robotic process automation

With robotic process automation, such manual tasks are removed from the remit of an AP professional, which leads to many benefits, including the following:

Removal of errors

The process of invoice data capture is greatly improved through the use of robotic process automation. With manual data capture, the monotonous and intensive nature of the task inevitably leads to occasional mistakes in the data entered into an AP system. Such errors can prove to be particularly costly. However, RPA, having been programmed to look for specific information, operates on an error-free basis.

Additionally, with all relevant data having been captured successfully when it comes to the matching stage of the invoice process for the RPA system, exceptions are kept to a minimum. RPA systems can be programmed to match invoices at all levels, so if the data is correct, the invoice will be passed on to the approval stage without any hold-up.

Improved compliance

Sometimes, when operating under manual processes, the person that creates the PO ends up holding up the overall process by forgetting to confirm receipt of goods/services. However, with robotic process automation, an automatic alert is sent to the PO creator when the PO is missing, meaning any hold up in the process is kept to a minimum.

Improved Efficiency

Most organizations have, sometimes complicated, invoice approval workflows in place, meaning that an invoice has to go through a number of people and checks before it is fully signed off and a supplier is paid.

When done so manually, invoice approval exposes a number of inefficiencies. Invoices can go missing or may sit on someone’s desk or in their inbox for longer than necessary, which slows the process down considerably.

However, a robotic process automation system can manage a pre-configured invoice approval workflow and remove many of the inefficiencies that exist. With relevant invoice approvers assigned, RPA can then automatically route the invoice to each approver, at each stage of the workflow, prompting them to approve or decline.

By setting deadlines for when invoices should be approved by, an RPA system will then request approval again, if the approver has failed to do so at the initial stage. If this also fails, RPA will then re-route to the invoice to another pre-configured approver, if such instructions have been set.

In addition, with AP staff no longer having to chase down approvers for invoices, as well as manually enter data and examine exceptions at the data capture and matching stages, thanks to RPA, they are now given the opportunity to focus more of their time towards customers and other higher value tasks. This, in turn, can boost morale and enhance career development.

Cost Savings

With reducing costs considered the most important business strategy for organizations over the next twelve months, according to Deloitte, robotic process automation will become central to business strategies.

Where many invoice data entry and matching responsibilities were previously outsourced, organizations can make significant savings by implementing one, single RPA system to take on those roles.

Also, with the typical invoice lifecycle greatly reduced as a result of RPA, organizations begin to benefit from early payment discounts, which many suppliers offer, and also avoid having to pay late payment penalties, which can be common when operating manually.

Improved Supplier Relations

With robotic process automation greatly improving the speed of which invoices are approved, there is a shorter time frame for things to go wrong with suppliers. With manual processes, sometimes, when there is a delay with a payment and the supplier is not informed, they may assume that the invoice has gone missing and choose to send it again. This can leave organizations vulnerable to paying the same invoice twice.

However, the shorter invoice cycle that RPA delivers greatly reduces the chances of this happening. Additionally, with both the procurement and accounts payable teams, along with suppliers operating within the same system, the status of an invoice is visible at all times.

 

Robotic Process Automation is the latest technology that looks set to transform the invoice processing landscape. In our latest eBook, we discuss this transformation in detail and how RPA is eliminating many of the long-standing challenges associated with manual invoice processing. With cost savings, improved efficiencies and greater compliance some of the main benefits associated with RPA, it’s easy to see why near-universal adoption is expected in the next few years.

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Posted by

James Duffy

Content Marketing Executive

Posted by

James Duffy

Content Marketing Executive