AP invoice automation insights by Medius

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Key Learnings at the D365UG / AXUG Summit Group Event - Microsoft Dynamics & More

Read the key takeaways from the 2018 AXUG | D365UG Summit from a Microsoft Partner and AP automation expert who attended the four-day conference and group event and experienced the activity firsthand, such as continuous learning for users of Microsoft Dynamics AX & Dynamics 365 ERP Systems.

Editor’s Note: On October 15th-18th, 2018, Marc Bandini, representing the Untapped Editorial Team and Medius, attended the D365UG & AXUG Summit in Phoenix, AZ.

As a Microsoft Partner, the Dynamics User Group Summit is a must-attend event on my calendar each year. This conference offers a full expo, multiple networking events and continuous learning for users of the Microsoft Dynamics AX & Dynamics 365 ERP systems. It’s one of the largest events in North America for IT managers, finance professionals and business analysts who use Dynamics ERP systems and are seeking to share information with peers and stay connected with updates in the Dynamics ecosystem.

I found the group event was well-attended, with bustling activity both on and off the exhibit hall floor. The agenda was robust, featuring such topics as “Moving From Reports to Business Intelligence” and “Death by Month-End Reconciliation.” These are my key takeaways after listening to various sessions, mingling in the conference hall, and meeting with other Microsoft Dynamics AX partners.

Key Takeaway #1: AP Automation Vendors are Getting Better at Educating the Consumer

The moment of stepping foot into the expo hall was overwhelming in both size and diversity. All User Groups (BIUG, GPUG, NAVUG, AXUG, and D365UG) shared the same expo hall, which made for a wide range of vendor offerings and services to view as you walked through the maze of booths and signage.

Something that felt noticeably apparent, though, when looking at the vendors who specialized in solutions for accounts payable, was the level of consumer education that booth staff was looking to impart on those stopping by for more information. In the past, I’ve felt that there had been some common misconceptions or lack of understanding of what AP automation meant. It’s not surprising, and vendors often labeled their variety of services under the common title “AP Automation” without differentiating whether they supported a touchless AP process.

At this year’s show, the overwhelming sense was that vendors were actively making efforts to explain the specifics of their solutions, educating the show attendees on what problems they focused on and how they compared to other automation solutions for finance. All of this is a sign that the North American marketplace for accounts payable automation solutions is maturing.  

Key Takeaway #2: AP Automation is Part of Everyday Thinking for Businesses

When speaking with the show attendees, something that stood out to me was the acceptance of AP automation as a necessary project for the modern day business. I felt very little skepticism of the perceived value from such a solution. When I approached the subject with most attendees, the general response I received was along the lines of “Yes – AP automation has been on our radar this year,” usually followed up with some intelligent questions about the specifics of AP automation solutions.

While this was an encouraging takeaway and confirmation of the value of AP automation that I already firmly believe, there still is room for growth in furthering the education of consumers on the different types of solutions available in the marketplace. This, as was mentioned in my crucial first takeaway, is something that is seemingly already underway. It is up to the vendors to continue to do everything possible to educate the consumer and provide detailed information to prospective buyers about their product and it’s specific functionality in the AP process.

Key Takeaway #3: ERP Integration Is – And Should Be – of Concern to Prospective Buyers

I attended a few solution showcases, including the one hosted by Medius, and listened carefully to the questions asked by attendees at the end of each presentation. Not only was I impressed with the subject matter of these questions, which were poignant and demonstrated the understood value of digital transformation in finance, but I found it to be evident that attendees were seeking more information about how various solutions interacted with their ERP systems.

In almost every conversation I’ve had with a consumer about AP automation, I’ve probably always stressed the importance of making sure your ERP and automation solutions are seamlessly connected to enforce application interoperability. This is a responsibility born by both the consumer and the solution vendor. A vendor should be upfront about the requirements for connecting their solution with your existing application network and data that will be passed within that connection.

The questions by attendees after the session also made it clear that there was some uncertainty around the depth of data in the ERP and its real value when automating accounts payables. To support genuinely touchless AP automation, there needs to be an uninhibited flow of data, such as goods receipts, vendor master, chart of accounts, and PO numbers, between the ERP and the automation solution. That’s the power of a purpose-built application acting on top of the ERP; taking general data that otherwise sits in the application underutilized and turns it into something incredibly valuable.

Key Takeaway #4: Robust Matching Needs to be More Front-of-Mind

Despite the shift in consumer understanding and vendor commitment to education, there was one topic that was noticeably lacking in conversations, or when the subject came up, seemed to be new information on the consumer side. That topic was invoice matching, something I consider to be the core of a powerful AP automation solution.

Something I noticed, in conversations with attendees and through what I overheard during the solution showcases, was the revelation that occurred when talking about a real, robust 3-way matching engine. This is not a new feature of AP automation, though not every solution offers it.  A matching engine should support flexible matching at different levels, depending on the amount and type of data available. By that, I mean incorporating much more data beyond the header level, including line items and line totals which makes it possible to automate recurring expenses, set up tolerance configurations, and simplify the invoice approval process dramatically. I feel strongly that prospective buyers of AP automation solutions need to research and understand the capabilities of the solutions thoroughly to get the maximum value and return on their investment.

I left this year’s Summit energized with many positive takeaways. The modern business has a tremendous opportunity to embrace digital transformation and take steps to become an industry leader among their peers. For the fellow attendees at the show that I met and those that I didn’t, I’m confident that deciding to attend this conference and group event is a positive first step in doing precisely that. It’s safe to say I’ll be returning to Summit in 2019.

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