The accounts payable (AP) department is about to find itself short-staffed.
Labor costs, too, are on the rise, which indicates that the AP team, tasked with making the payments a company owes its business partners and creditors, is likely to squeeze operating margins.
At the same time, there’s been an “explosion of opportunity” for the automation of remittances and payments, which in turn improves the accuracy and productivity of those workflows.
Increasingly, he said, technology is solving the friction and the fragmentation that has been the hallmark of document digitization and workflow automation, where point solutions were dominant (a company had a credit solution in place, for example, or a tax reporting solution, siloed in each department, respectively).
Moving Beyond Point-to-Point Solutions
Getting the point solutions to connect and talk to one another used to be a massive undertaking, he said. Executives had to mull whether they wanted to tackle that technological challenge in house. The technical heavy lift is made easier through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs), such as those on offer from OpenEnvoy, that bring the AP function a fully automated end-to-end flow.
This means that, sooner rather than later, the AP function will likely be the domain of systems — of software and hardware — absent the human touch. The wheels are in motion here, with the inexorable trend toward automation put in place by the pandemic.
COVID-19 forced us all to scatter from the office, work from home, and wonder why we were spending all that time in the office, jousting with NetSuite, QuickBooks and spreadsheets in the first place.
The tedium has been so palpable, he said — only a bit tongue in cheek — that half of all AP departments were hired simply because executives did not want to have to be the ones looking at the AP systems.
The rise of the machines has at least some operational advantages over humans, fallible as we are. Individuals, after all, are not that good at running algorithms in their heads, at remembering website logins or whether invoices have been paid. What they are good at is crafting strategy, new products and innovations that transform industries and drive top-line momentum.
The advantages of tech — acting as the layers of AP “translation” rather than people — coupled with the waning enthusiasm of individuals to perform manual tasks day in and day out will reshape the AP department itself.
As Tillman predicted: “We’ll see fewer people in these departments in three years, and I’m a firm believer that humans are not doing this job at all in five to 10 years.”
In the Year 2025
Fast forward to the middle of the decade, said Tillman, and B2B interactions will be markedly improved as a result of AP automation’s realities. Buyers will have better leverage over their suppliers (and even payment vendors) to negotiate terms.
Back-office operations will be more fully integrated, he said, as operations teams and sales teams can be on the same page regarding cash flow requirements and supply chain issues. Tillman noted that within any supply chain — and particularly with firms that are manufacturing goods — there are several links within that chain, stretching across any number of vendors and subcontractors. Automating AP can ensure that firms are not making the mistake of paying for goods and services twice (there’s that human fallibility again). The answer lies not with throwing more people at the problem, but in throwing machines at the AP pain points themselves.
“No one wants to do this job, and the costs are going to get exorbitantly high,” Tillman said.
Technology, he told Webster, ensures that finance teams can think “more like businesspeople and less like bookkeepers.”
For all PYMNTS B2B coverage, subscribe to the daily B2B Newsletter.