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Accounts payable (AP) is often where organisations start their digital transformation program. This is because the return on investment from automating inefficient manual processes is realised very quickly – typically in about a year. However, it’s important to choose the right vendor to achieve this and to provide confidence for the next phase of a business’ transformation.  

Here are four key qualities to look for in an AP automation vendor: 

1. Has extensive experience and a solid track record 

It goes without saying your software vendor will need to be able to prove their expertise. Ideally, they should share their client list and be able to provide you with references to contact. The range and calibre of their customers will provide confidence in their skill. It may be useful to look for companies like yours in their portfolio who may have similar requirements to you. You may also know people at these organisations you can approach for a reference.  

Demand for AP automation in Australia is high and, as a result, many software vendors have recently added AP automation solutions to their suite or have entered the market from overseas. These companies do not necessarily have a well-established, local or relevant track record. Instead, look for companies that have provided AP automation solutions in Australia and New Zealand for many years. In standing the test of time, these vendors have shown their commitment to the market, to evolving their product to meet changing needs, and to supporting their solutions over the long term.   

2. Is future-focused and incorporates latest technologies  

Your AP automation vendor needs to be agile and responsive to advances in technologies as well as changes in the marketplace. A good example is PEPPOL e-invoicing; in 2019 the Australian and New Zealand governments adopted the PEPPOL standard and communications network for e-procurement, allowing system to system data exchange. This eliminates the need for manual data entry and processing. While PEPPOL’s national rollout will take time, your AP automation vendor should provide a solution that’s PEPPOL ready, so you and your suppliers can benefit as soon as possible. 

Another example is Payment Times Reporting: as of this year, large entities have a regulatory requirement to report on their payment times to small businesses. Therefore, vendors should be equipping their solutions with the capability to capture and export relevant payment data. For these organisations, AP automation should dramatically reduce payment times while also making the reporting process as straightforward as possible.  

Generally, your AP automation vendor should be future-focused; their solution should be modern, flexible and cloud-orientated for scalability and to support easy integration with other applications. Ideally, the solution should provide a foundation for follow-on finance process transformation initiatives. 

3. Offers out-the-box solution/s 

AP automation is now mainstream with recent legislation accelerating rates of adoption. Companies that maintain manual processes when their counterparts are automating will face a competitive disadvantage. Consequently, for medium and large-sized companies AP automation is most likely inevitable – fortunately, it has also never been so easy!  

Choose an AP automation provider who offers a highly configurable off-the shelf solution. This is the most robust and cost-effective option. AP automation is well established, widely used technology so in most cases a configurable, out-the-box solution makes good commercial sense: it’s quick to deploy and requires less building, system integration testing, user acceptance testing and support than a custom-built solution. These economies mean less disruption to the business and a quicker return on investment.  

An experienced vendor will have scores of successful deployments behind them so can advise you on optimal workflows to achieve the best results, while configuring the solution to match your structure and work in your IT environment.   

4. Seeks to build a partnership 

Perhaps the most important factor of all is how the vendor engages with you to achieve a successful implementation. Look for an AP automation provider who seeks to fully understand your structure, processes, and business requirements and validate that their solution can deliver the results you’re looking for.  

Regardless of whether you choose an off-the-shelf solution, the vendor still has much work to do. They should undertake comprehensive scope and requirements investigations and bring to light any gaps between business requirements and solution design. Then you can agree on the way forward – whether any missing functionality will be added prior to go-live, at a later stage, or not at all.  

The vendor should document the scope and requirements, as well as specify how the solution will integrate with the company’s finance system. Providing this detail establishes credibility, provides assurance, and helps get all necessary parties onboard and engaged with deployment. When all is agreed, the vendor can configure the solution for user acceptance testing and training prior to go-live.  

Of course, the relationship should not end here though! In addition to ongoing technical support and communication, there’s future finance process transformations to come down the track. The value for both parties is in the long term partnership.  

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