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18 Jun 2019
Article illustration for automation in action

How to transform information through automation

Most companies, regardless of the industry they operate in, have become increasingly reliant on information. From basic information like contracts and invoices to strategy documents and marketing materials, most people in the business are engaged at some point in working with information.

Information overload and manual processes can slow businesses down, making it hard to respond quickly to customer demands and compete effectively. When people are bogged down in paperwork, they can’t spend time adding value.

The solution lies in business process automation.

Forrester recently predicted that automation could cut operating costs up to 90 per cent, touting it as one of the most profound and disruptive forces in human history and predicting that companies that master automation will dominate their industries.[1] 

Automation uses established business rules to create digitalised workflows that move documents through their required processes faster and more accurately. It’s a transparent and powerful way to eliminate inefficiencies and improve company performance and customer service.

Business process automation can also help you meet sustainability goals while saving money by reducing manual handling and wasted paper.

Automation also helps in governing information more effectively, reducing the cost and work involved in managing compliance.

Automation in action

One of the most workload-intensive, paperwork-heavy areas in any business is the accounts payable department. Paper-based invoices are received and routed to the appropriate person in the business to be approved. They must be checked against purchase orders and, if necessary, delivery confirmations. They can then be signed off and passed back to the finance department so payment can be organised. The details must then be manually entered into the finance or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and the paper-based invoice must be filed.

There are six key issues with this process:

  1. Paper-based invoices can become lost, damaged, or illegible.
  2. Mistakes when entering the information can result in incorrect, late, or missed payments.
  3. Time-consuming checking processes add a significant burden of work.
  4. Invoices can’t be signed off until approvers are physically in the office, leading to payment delays.
  5. Delayed payments make it impossible to leverage early-payment discounts.
  6. Supplier relationships can become strained due to late or missed payments.

Manual processes lead to unnecessary costs and time delays, distract staff from more valuable activities, and prevent companies from moving as quickly as they need to.

Automating the process eliminates these issues. An automated accounts payable process looks like this:

  1. The invoice is received electronically or, if it’s paper-based, it’s scanned into the system.
  2. The system extracts the salient details and compares them against purchase orders and other information in the system.
  3. If the invoice matches the purchase order, it’s automatically sent to the approver for sign off.
  4. The approver can sign off the invoice using a mobile device from anywhere, removing the need to physically be in the office to approve invoices.
  5. As soon as the approver has signed the invoice off, it is routed to the finance department for payment, the invoice is stored appropriately, and the information is automatically entered into the ERP system. No further work is required from staff members.

If an invoice doesn’t match the purchase order or there is another reason to query it, the system flags it as an exception. This means staff members only have to become directly involved in invoices that need their attention, while the others are processed without human intervention.

This is just one example of an automation process that can save companies significant amounts of time and money. Any process that involves documents, requires prompt actions from staff members, and demands that documents be stored and secured, can benefit from automation.

Additionally, compliance with privacy and other regulations is simplified and information governance is made much easier with automated processes that let your organisation pinpoint the location and status of information at any given time. Whether the information needs to be accessed for audits, customer queries, or any other reason, automated processes mean it’s stored exactly where it needs to be. Staff members can find it instantly, saving time and making the business more agile.
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