Few years ago it was normal to walk into a supermarket and see cashiers punching in price tag after price tag to account for your purchases. A piece of paper detailing all the items you bought each with its price, quantity, and total cost paid as well as other pertinent store information is then given to you. This paper represents the invoice for all the items you paid for.

Clearly, receiving it went through a tedious process in itself. But imagine the picture behind the scenes where the store’s Accounts Payable (AP) department works on invoice processing that involves meticulous data entry, accounting, and follow-ups. Compared to the electronic and semi-automated processes or e-invoicing we have nowadays which starts with lasers shooting at barcodes, it’s practically hell on earth for AP professionals before (or maybe still?).

The start of E-invoicing

Eighty percent of AP professionals agreed that technology is important in their role, especially when it comes to their company’s invoice management system. And the best way to improve a company’s invoicing process is to use invoice processing software that takes most of the trivial tasks—which includes data entry, filing, and processing—off the hands of AP professionals for them to focus their attention to major budget planning, auditing, and financial strategy development.

E-invoicing, which use electronic processing have also proven to not only ease workload and improve accuracy, but it also showed a significant drop of expenses both on the number of manpower and other logistics expenses made in the process. The EY's 2018 worldwide electronic invoicing survey report showed that it costs 7 euros for the shipment of an issued paper invoice and 15 euros for a received paper invoice. While with an invoice in electronic format, it only cost 0.30 euros. In this data, shipping covers most of the expense which is particularly not needed when it comes to sending an electronic invoice through email.

Billentis’ 2017 business case report also confirmed the above survey as their study shows that the use of electronic and automated invoice processes results to a 60-80% savings compared to traditional paper-based invoice processing. Because invoices are necessary for a company to function well, invoice management software became the answer to any company seeking for e-invoicing benefits.

How to automate invoice processing

With the invoice at the center, automation involves four phases: invoice capture, coding, validation, and approval routing.

1.    Invoice Capture

Through Intelligent Data Capture mechanisms, any kind of invoice can be entered into your system. As invoices can be in a variety of formats, the invoice processing software you must use need to have multiple capture methods to seamlessly add invoice data whether it be from paper invoices or electronic invoices sent through Electronic Data Interchange.

2.    Data Entry and Coding

This is the phase where AP professionals need to put their full attention to detail as it is usually known to be the source of mistakes, delays, and exceptions due to human error in processing. Automation usually starts here. Data entry and coding is achieved through Intelligent Data Capture mechanisms that identify and extract data for processing into your invoice management system, which depending on your software’s capability, will only need your AP professional’s minimum supervision or none at all.

3.    Validation

Upon extraction and coding, your invoice processing software applies mechanisms to validate each captured data to ascertain if it is really valid and true. If it doesn’t meet its set standards, then it will be routed for manual verification where AP professionals will be handling it directly.

4.    Approval routing

This phase is also a tedious step as it needs complex logical solutions and constant follow up. Usually the Enterprise Resource Planning and the Enterprise Content Management systems are used in this phase to manage notifications, follow ups and to assign approval tasks. These data systems are used to integrate your data and workflows and manage and store content, respectively.

Why everyone is moving to automation

It is only a matter of time when everyone steers to one direction when it comes to invoice processing automation.

Many countries and governments in Europe have already adapted ways that will drive companies to automation through tax administrative rules. Usually, it involves the submission of data requirements in electronic format; making it mandatory for companies that are dealing with value-added tax goods and services tax accounting; or the need to submit real-time audit reports and other standardized data requests.

The fact that governments are using the language of tax fulfillment is a clear sign that the day when all companies, both big and small, must adopt an invoice management system that works for them best will soon arrive.

With all these requirements in place, a company that is moving forward will surely look into automation more seriously to gain the benefits of low-cost efficiency that almost all businesses would want to have when it comes to invoicing. Not to mention the benefit of being able to process invoice data in a short period or even in real-time for your company’s use.