Automation in A/P: Do I lose my job?

August 22, 2019

Digitalization - Job risk or job enrichment?

As a pre-sales consultant in digitalization of work processes, I get to know a lot of companies. These companies are largely defined by their employees. The decision to digitalize a company's processes is most certainly to be considered a strategic one. However, the impact of something like the introduction of automated invoice processing will inevitably be felt in the company's operations. Even if employees from almost all departments may be involved in checking or approving invoices, when it comes to the actual processing, at the center of it all is the accounts payable department.

Digitalization and automation of AP processes bring change

Developments in the area of invoice approval are like those in many other business processes: The volume of invoices is increasing in many companies, and accounting staff faces a workload that is on the constant increase. This workload often involves performing the repetitive activities connected with invoice entry, determining who is responsible for approval, and, at times, running after an invoice to get payment on track.

Many of these activities can be greatly simplified through digitalization. These digitalized processes could even be stepped up into full automation. However, accompanying this kind of change in operations is the understandable idea that one's own activity loses significance and could be replaced by software.

A common response from employees in operational departments is an unsettled feeling and questions as to the consequences of such a solution on their day-to-day work. And understandably so: Companies, in particular those that are just beginning to implement their digitalization strategy, tend to make changes to established processes far from insignificant.

These reservations crop up frequently in response to customer presentations I hold. However, can they really be justified? After all, conversations with employees reveal certain things again and again: With the existing employee base, the workload is no longer really manageable; core tasks are always subject to time pressure; and, in consequence, the risk of errors increases significantly.

Only in the rarest of cases does change mean job cuts in accounting

Meeting these challenges with a digitalization solution is a logical step—a step which, however, is rarely associated with the reduction of jobs. The input of the master data of invoices is automated; this automation leads to a shift in how the accounting work is distributed. The time required for entry can now be used for work with documents on the qualitative level. Consequently, it is no longer a matter of entering the documents, but rather of checking what has been entered and promptly assigning documents to accounts. Also, a customer can leverage a digital solution to intensify monitoring of processing times and minimize loss of cash discounts.

The bottom line is that digitalization has the potential to improve quality and give professionals the breathing space they need to work with high qualitative standards. This change also leads to an increase in the value and attractiveness of the job "accountant."

A distinguishing mark of digitalized workflows is that transparency can be maintained across the entire process. This allows for intact cycles with control over the documents in circulation, in which items that get stuck at a certain employee can be followed up in a targeted manner. This kind of process and feedback control clearly attests to the fact that, rather than replacing jobs, digitalization serves as a source of support for operational units.

Experience makes the advantages tangible

Even die-hard sceptics change their minds: this has proven itself true repeatedly when I have opportunity to present a new product from our portfolio, and previous antagonists speak out of new experience. It is also interesting to see the scenario in accounting department shortly after the solution has been introduced: features such as the invoice overview or the procurement overview, the value of which was formerly subject to discussion, have rapidly turned into standard tools for the players involved. Staff's time is not taken up with "running after" certain people and documents anymore—a result of basic functions such as e-mail reminders for new tasks or features handling escalation. Therefore, when evaluating the value of such features in other modules, this experience comes to bear quite positively. This is the point where company strategy and user experience make sense to each other, and where a company is truly defined by its people.

Nils

By Nils

Nils Stuhr works for the xSuite Group as a presales consultant. He supports his sales colleagues at product presentations, workshops and trade fairs. Through the constant exchange with interested parties and customers on xSuite products in the SAP and non-SAP environment, he sees himself as an interface between product and user.