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Gone are the days of complex, custom-built accounts payable automation solutions. These systems were out-of-reach for all but the largest of businesses as they were expensive and time consuming to build, and resource-intensive to maintain.

Over the last few years – in part due to the rise in cloud computing – there has been a paradigm shift towards configurable out-of-the-box solutions. In accounts payable, this means many more companies can enjoy the benefits of automation.

Configuration or customisation?

The base framework for a configurable solution is broad and deep as each feature has multiple options and arrangements available to suit the needs and preferences of different customers. Designed to cater for the needs of many, an out-of-the-box solution is extremely cost-effective and built for long-term viability. It’s also ready to use with no modification.

In contrast when a solution is custom-built, the vendor writes the code to meet the specific requirements of a client. This may limit the life of the solution or add upgrade costs as business needs change over time. Further, it means there is more building work, system integration testing, user acceptance testing, and training required than with an off-the-shelf solution. As a result, deployment is a longer and more expensive process.

Why is a configurable solution better?

An off-the-shelf accounts payable automation solution is built to administer optimal accounts payable processes for purchase order and non-purchase order invoices, while being configurable to the specific needs of individual businesses.

Accounts payable automation software has been on the market for some time now. And with each year, the solutions have become more robust, intelligent, and feature rich. In essence, solutions have become better and better, offering the following key benefits:

Fast return on investment – An out-of-the-box solution makes good commercial sense as it requires little to no modification to meet an entity’s business requirements. Its plug-and-play design means implementation is cost-effective and quick, with minimal disruption to the business. With savings generated from go-live, firms enjoy a high return on investment usually realised in about a year.

Assists with change management – With a quick deployment, a configurable solution rapidly achieves results. This validates the business case for automation and assists with change management. Users can make simple configuration changes themselves to ensure their solution works for them. In this way, they can update their solution as their business needs and processes evolve. A configurable solution has an intuitive user-interface that enables administrators to change fields, users, access levels, roles and responsibilities, page layouts and more, in a zero-code platform.

Benefit from best practice – While some prospective clients may feel that an out-of-the-box solution does not sufficiently replicate their current accounts payable workflows, this is typically a strength or opportunity that comes with a configurable solution, rather than a weakness or threat. Specialist accounts payable automation providers have extensive experience in procure- to-pay so best practice workflows are configured into the solution. To achieve transformative efficiency gains through a software deployment, it’s important to optimise processes ahead of automation; otherwise, there is always the risk of automating a bad process and continuing to pay more than necessary in invoice processing costs.

Long-term viability – Most modern AP automation solutions are designed to be cloud-based as this infrastructure offers clients many advantages, including:

o lower upfront cost,
o reduced IT overheads,
o less dependency on internal IT staff,
o pay-according-to-use pricing,
o ability to scale usage up or down,
o easier systems integration,
o ability to work from anywhere,
o automatic upgrades to new releases, features and functions,
o system maintenance and data security taken care of.

With all clients on a standardised solution, the provider can migrate all users to the latest release when it becomes available, future-proofing the software. With a custom-built solution, this may not be such a straightforward process.

Relationship with provider is critical

An open and honest dialogue between the software provider and the client is key to a successful implementation. Both parties need to invest the time to understand the business’ accounts payable needs and configure the solution to address its specific pain points.

The vendor is not doing its client any favours if:

  • It implements an off-the-shelf solution that is not sufficiently configured to meet business needs, OR
  • It says yes to every requirement without challenging the status quo and advising on the most efficient ways to reduce processing costs.

Even with a configurable out-of-the-box solution, the software vendor should carry out a gap analysis to identify whether there is anything missing in terms of what the software is configured to do, versus the customer’s accounts payable processes.

However, it’s worth considering that an out-of-the-box solution typically provides best practice accounts payable processes designed by subject matter experts. Therefore, customers should be open to changing and optimising their processes ahead of automation. Automating existing processes without challenging how things are done could mean always paying too much in invoice processing costs.

Conclusion

While a custom-built solution may seem like it is the best way for clients to get exactly what they want, in practice it may not deliver what they need. With a configurable off-the-shelf solution, years of accounts payable expertise are incorporated into the ready-made software. This means it’s the most effective and affordable option, and the most practical way of automating accounts payable.

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