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5 Accounts Payable Trends for 2019

The Untapped editorial team predicts the most important accounts payable trends that will influence AP teams in 2019, including developments in technology, organization, and operational excellence.

It is time to summarize 2018 and look forward into the year ahead to identify the trends that will impact, or continue to impact, accounts payable teams in 2019. Most of these accounts payable trends are not entirely new. Some have been on the radar for a couple of years, but 2019 will be the year that these trends accelerate in maturity and get adopted on a larger scale.

# 1 – AP Automation Is Considered a Necessity Rather Than a Luxury

AP automation is one of those accounts payable trends that’s been around for some time now, even if many organizations have yet to implement automation technology. If your company hasn’t done so already, you should make sure to include an AP automation project on your agenda for 2019.

In 2019, accounts payable automation is no longer considered a luxury that only applies to the largest corporations or shared service centers. Automating your accounts payable process will be a necessity to compete in today’s increasingly digital and fast-moving business climate.

The technologies that lay the foundation for automating the invoice process, i.e. optical character recognition (OCR), document imaging and invoice data capture for accounts payable have been around since the early years of the 21st century. Nowadays, the invoice processing applications in the world can be counted in the thousands. There are solutions available to organizations of all sizes from large enterprises to SMEs, so there is no reason not to take advantage. Also, the growth in cloud-based AP automation solutions makes implementation easier and quicker than ever before.

The benefits of automating the AP process are enormous and goes way beyond the time savings and data accuracy that comes with just digitizing the invoice workflow. More importantly, modern AP automation solutions provide advanced automation possibilities enabling truly touchless invoice processing as well as essential data insights to increase financial control, spend visibility and cost-saving opportunities.

# 2 – Increased Focus on the Business Value That AP Delivers

Over the last few years, the view of accounts payable has transitioned from a traditional, transactional oriented back-office function to a strategically important intelligence hub for business critical finance data. The State of ePayables 2018 Report indicates that 52% of organizations perceive the value of the AP function as either “very” or “exceptional” to organizational operations.

This accounts payable trend will be solidified in 2019 when we’ll see a shift in drivers for automation. This year, the main reason to automate accounts payable is no longer to remove manual processes and increase operational efficiencies, even if that is still a noteworthy thing. Creating visibility into the business-critical data that lies within the invoice process is an equally important driver, if not the most important one. Accessing the invoice data in a user-friendly format is the first step, but real business value occurs when data is leveraged to inform the decisions that drive improved performance and the overall business moving forward. This value includes areas such as spend analysis, cash flow management, working capital as well as strategic sourcing

The AP team will contribute to the overall organizational growth and success by using the invoice data that sits in the AP automation solution in a way that makes sense to internal stakeholders in the finance and procurement departments as well as the C-suite.

# 3 – Cloud Is the New Normal

Cloud technology is increasingly present in every aspect of private and business environments. We’re all familiar with the fact that our emails, document storage, and other applications are hosted in the cloud.

According to the RightScale 2018 State of the Cloud Report, the overall portion of companies using at least one public or private cloud is now 96 percent. But for companies, the digital transformation is both a technical and organizational change. Some organizations are still hesitant to move their key business operation applications to the cloud. Still there are no signs of the cloud adoption trend slowing down.

The “multi-cloud” strategy predicted to be the new buzzword in 2019 by Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and CEO of Broadsuite Media Group, in this Forbes article could be an answer to the control and security hesitations some companies experience. The term refers to how businesses can have a mix of workloads running in public, private and hybrid cloud environments but the experience for IT and those that are utilizing the applications should be seamless, secure and streamlined.

For accounts payable, however, the public cloud has significant advantages. Only a few vendors still offer solutions that can be deployed on-premise or as hacked plug-in modules inside the ERP system. It certainly makes sense, as you don’t want to bring the on-premise inflexibility and upgrade complexity into the future by hacking your ERP with built-in solutions, be it AP or other.

Taking advantage of pre-packed integrations allow for rapid deployment and thus improved ROI and time to value. Long gone are the complex implementation projects that finish just in time for your first upgrade project to start. With public cloud solutions, product upgrades and new features are shared with all cloud customers at the same time on a regular basis. This ensures your company can reap the benefits of continuous innovations and new technologies to stay on the forefront of accounts payable process efficiency. With these benefits available in standard cloud AP automation solutions for companies of all sizes, it is hard to imagine anyone implementing an outdated on-premise solution in 2019.

# 4 – AP Will Leverage AI and Machine Learning to Crunch Data Rather Than Replace People

AI and machine learning technologies are sometimes referred to as a means of replacing human resources with intelligent machines. We believe 2019 will be the year when these terms are used concerning turning data into business intelligence so that human resources can focus on making smarter decisions.

Research has shown that we have created 90% of the world’s data in just the past year, yet it is also showing that we are only using 1% of the data effectively. Daniel Newman believes that by leveraging machine learning and AI technology that 1% figure will grow to up to 4% by 2020.

As mentioned in trend #2 above, we’ll see increased use of invoice data to deliver greater business value in 2019. To support this transition of accounts payable to a business intelligence hub, AP automation solution providers will continue to invest in AI and machine learning technology that furthers enhances the quality of the data provided.

These are just a few examples that we predict will be highly adopted in accounts payable in 2019 thanks to AI technology:

  • Intelligent invoice data capture technology that automatically applies corrections based on the latest manual entry.
  • Advanced AP automation functionality that suggests coding and distribution for non-PO invoices, and configuration of tolerance levels for PO-invoices to avoid exception management and facilitate a fully automated process.
  • AP process efficiency analytics that will not only show the organization’s performance on the most critical accounts payable KPIs but also automatically compare these scores to industry benchmarks to highlight where performance is considered weak and suggest actions to drive process efficiency improvements.

# 5 – AP Staff Need to Acquire New Skill Sets to Support the Transformation

With the transition of AP from a transactional oriented back-office function to a strategically important intelligence hub comes a demand for new skill sets for accounts payable professionals at all levels.Traditionally, accounts payable professionals needed capabilities to secure an accurate and efficient process. Structure and attention to detail were fundamental, as well as expertise in accounting regulations and data entry skills. In 2019, with ever increasing automation and focus on driving business value, skills such as data interpretation and business analysis as well as business stakeholder and C-suite management communication becomes increasingly important. What is the use of data unless you can make an accurate interpretation and transform it to actionable insights for C-suite decision making?

In 2019, the CV of an accounts payable manager will need to include skills like change management, business software administration, and process performance analytics. Also, with the rapid development of machine learning, robotics, and AI, accounts payable may need to compete with the Silicon Valley in recruiting top tech talent with capabilities that include cybersecurity, data visualization and data analytics.

 

In summary, these five accounts payable trends for 2019 indicate that businesses need to stay on top of their accounts payable operations in every aspect, including:

  • Implement automation technology to ensure the operational efficiency and control required to compete in the increasingly digital and competitive business environment.
  • Leverage the data that sits in the AP automation solution to support critical business decisions and overall company growth.
  • Use a cloud-based AP solution to maximize the benefits of automation.
  • Partner with an AP solution provider that invests in the technologies of tomorrow to ensure you’re not left behind on important developments.
  • Hire and train AP staff to support the ongoing transformation of the AP function.
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