Promoting Self Service for Improved Invoice Processing Anytime
Blog: Kofax Journal
The rapid pace of innovation in self-service user interfaces fueled by the growth and relative low cost of the internet has led to an expectation of ease-of-use in all applications. Invoice processing is no exception. Originally published in Financial Ops Magazine, Second Quarter, 2015.
Using a supplier invoice portal, suppliers can submit invoices, check on invoice and payment status, and resolve disputes – all in a self-service fashion. For buyers, the portal is used to invite suppliers, receive invoices, provide invoice/payment status, and send messages. For suppliers, the portal is used to submit invoices, view invoice status/payment information, and send messages. Invoice/payment status information is real-time as the portal is integrated with the ERP. Buyers’ and suppliers’ users should be able to securely access the portal through any internet connection as it is a web-based service.
“Using a supplier invoice portal, suppliers can submit invoices, check on invoice and payment status, and resolve disputes – all in a self-service fashion.”
The Accounts Payable (AP) function has many key partners including business units, purchasing, vendors, employees, accounting, auditors, the CFO, and Controller. Satisfying the demands of all these stakeholders can be a daunting task. The constant inquiries, disputes, requests for information and correction of errors can grind AP productivity to a halt. But what if these stakeholders could perform AP-related tasks on their own?
This is the concept of a self-service portal. Self service supplier invoice portals reduce costs and improve service levels through shorter cycle times without compromising internal controls. At the same time, self-service minimizes errors by virtually eliminating the re-entry of invoice data, the most common source of data and payment errors.
Supplier inquiries, disputes and information requests are typically handled on an ad-hoc, one-on-one basis using varied communication channels such as phone, email, mail and fax. Multiple communication channels are hard to track and provide minimal visibility for buyers and suppliers. The absence of an historical communication log prolongs issues and problems, especially when new people who don’t understand the history need to get involved. These are just a few of the issues most accounts payable departments face when it comes to communicating with vendors. Let’s take a look at some of the buyer benefits of self-service supplier invoice portals. They include:
Fewer Supplier Inquiries: Supplier portals provide secure, real-time access to the information for invoice and payment data. The information should be provided to suppliers via an easy to use interface. The portal must also leverage the buyer’s ERP to access realtime relevant AP information, so there is no duplication of data.
Faster Dispute Resolution: A comprehensive portal provides a centralized messaging feature that enables buyer organizations and suppliers to communicate effectively, providing full visibility to members of both groups for streamlined dispute resolution.
Lower Invoice Processing Costs: Supplier invoice portals enable suppliers to submit their invoices online, via a simple web-based form, or attaching a PDF, or by accessing PO information. Self-service invoice submission creates savings in the invoice capture process: no mail to open, no invoices to sort, no staples to remove, no scanning, and reduced data entry.
Fewer Errors: Electronic submission of invoices directly, derived from PO information (PO Flip) or via a web form means there’s no need for AP to re-enter invoice data, eliminating errors and improving straight through processing.
Better Cash Management with Shorter Cycle Times: Online invoice submission shortens invoice processing cycle times for both buyer and supplier as invoices are received into the AP system instantly. The buyer can benefit from early payment discounts and avoiding late payment penalties.
Minimal IT Involvement: For the supplier, a hosted, pay-as-you-go service (an approach commonly referred to as “Software-as-a-Service” or SaaS), allows for minimal IT effort and resources required to set up and deploy the solution. Vendors typically offer the portal at aggressive prices to AP (the buyer), who may
offer the portal to suppliers at no charge, as the payback is on improved throughput and process efficiencies.
While there are some obvious advantages for customers who have self-service portals, those advantages go both ways – although clearly, the
advantages on the other side are very different. Let’s take a look at how suppliers benefit from self-service invoice portals.
• Accurate, real-time updates: Suppliers can use self-service to check invoice or payment status 24/7, if this is a feature of the product. And since the information is coming real-time from the ERP system, it is always accurate.
• Better visibility into invoice and payment status and cash flow.
• Lower invoice delivery costs: Electronic invoice submission lowers the supplier’s cost of sending invoices — nothing to print, no envelopes and no stamps. The invoice is delivered within seconds and the supplier can confirm it has been received by their customer.
• Some portals and e-invoicing networks charge the supplier a yearly fee or a per transaction charge, however there is a trend towards free access to encourage supplier subscription.
It may seem risky to allow suppliers to access a customer’s AP processes online, but the truth is that a well-designed self-service portal actually reduces risk. Self-service that leverages ERP data to validate data entry and provide secure access to AP information not only alleviates countless headaches, it also streamlines the AP process without relinquishing strict controls. Embracing self-service supplier invoice portals empowers both supplier and customer – whether suppliers waiting for payment, submitting invoices or buyers waiting for goods or services – to engage proactively and constructively in the process. In addition, a self-service supplier portal can be particularly gratifying to AP staff, who are interrupted much less often, and have to clean up fewer errors, freeing up resources for value-added tasks such as contract compliance, spend analysis,vendor rationalization reviews and managing cash flow.
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