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Last year, Gartner forecast that global robotic process automation (RPA) software revenue would reach $1.89 billion in 2021, with double digit growth rates predicted through to 2024. The principal drivers are improving efficiency and productivity in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The use of RPA is increasingly being taken up by business users outside of IT, keen to make headway with digital transformation projects. Indeed, vendors present business use case scenarios for RPA as wide ranging as automating web and social media posts through to invoice processing. They maintain that any routine task can be carried out by a bot rather than an employee.

As a result, Gartner predicts that 90% of large organisations will have an RPA deployment by 2022. And while it’s positive to see automation technologies incorporated into the mainstream and embraced by business users, deploying more and more bots may not be the most strategic approach to digital transformation.

What do RPA bots do?

RPA software was initially designed to imitate users’ clicks and keystrokes to perform routine work, such as copying data from one system to another via the respective user interfaces.

Of course, the use of a bot is more efficient than carrying out work manually: employees make mistakes and need breaks whereas a bot can work error-free for as long as it’s programmed to. But that’s not to say it’s one hundred percent reliable; if the user interface changes the bot will usually fail, for example.

Further, the workflow is slower than true systems integration and real-time data exchange via an Application Programming Interface, web services, or another integration method. While the bot carries out the manual work quicker and more accurately than a person can, best practice would be to re-design and optimise these processes and then use the right technology to achieve the best results.

In accounts payable, for example, it may be more beneficial for an organisation to receive invoice data straight to their finance system via the PEPPOL network, than deploy RPA software to speed up old ways of operating.

Role in accounts payable automation

Certainly, RPA has come a long way over the last few years and has a role to play in the future of work. However, it’s simply no match for a best-of-breed accounts payable automation solution that brings together a range of tools and technologies to tackle the complexities of invoice processing.

A specialist accounts payable automation solution is built to cater for every invoice processing scenario with an intelligent decisioning engine ensuring smooth passage through the approval workflow to the ERP. Further, its configurability makes it suitable for all types of organisations that process a volume of invoices, regardless of their structure or business requirements.

Out-the-box, an AP automation software may offer a complete solution that includes:

    • Data capture via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) or the PEPPOL network,
    • Data processing with look ups for compliance checks and purchase order matching,
    • Coding, exception management and approval workflows, according to business rules,
    • User interface for invoice processing tasks and accounts payable analytics,
    • Document management system for visibility across the invoice lifecycle,
    • Systems integration with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software.

Its integrated tools and technologies work together to ensure the best results in accounts payable, achieving straight-through processing down to the line level and reducing invoice processing costs by over 80% in many organisations.

What’s more, the solution can often be configured to work in a complementary way to the ERP, bridging any gaps to achieve end-to-end accounts payable automation while ensuring no unnecessary duplication between systems.

Work with a specialist vendor

The important thing is to work with a specialist accounts payable automation software vendor to get the results you’re looking for. They should have deep expertise in procure-to-pay, an extensive client list that includes companies like yours, and ideally have integrated with your ERP previously.

They should work with you to understand your structure, business processes and compliance needs, and advise you on what best practice looks like for your organisation. Business process optimisation needs to come before automation for the software to achieve transformative outcomes.

Your vendor should document your scope and requirements, solution design, and integration specification, making sure all parties are across the detail and aware of deliverables and dependencies. This sets the stage for a smooth deployment, a successful software implementation, and even subsequent business process transformations with the same vendor.

In conclusion

With workplaces modernising, digitising, and automating at pace, there is a lot of interest in RPA right now. However, it’s not necessarily the right technology for your invoice processing needs. If you’re looking to automate your accounts payable, you need a specialist solution that can handle every scenario while being configurable to your specific business needs.

Accounts payable automation solutions are available out the box, offering extensive functionality at a low price point, with little risk and fast deployment. Currently, they are the most effective way of automating accounts payable and realising a quick and high return on investment.

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