The mobile device has already begun to lay out its path within the enterprise, but the direction that path will take remains unclear.
The Bring Your Own Device movement pushed smartphones into the workplace as employers realized their benefits for productivity. It paved the way for firms to embrace mobile in travel and expense management, with smartphones able to more accurately track employee spend while on the go.
What’s next for enterprise mobility could be anyone’s guess, but some analysts have made their prediction: accounts payable.
Document processing and automation firm Esker gathered the latest research from the Institute of Finance and Management (IOFM) to check in on whether mobile devices are gaining traction among AP professionals — and how. The firm broke it all down in a recent report: "3 Ways Mobile Solutions Address Today’s Top Accounts Payable Challenges."
While corporate payment processes must continue to adopt automated technologies, Esker concluded that AP professionals need to start looking at mobile devices to meet their toughest challenges.
Reducing Cycle Times
AP professionals, while they may understand the need for automated solutions, are still far behind on improving their efficiency levels, according to researchers.
IOFM’s recent survey found accounts payable as the area financial managers deemed as most time-consuming. Money controllers also said AP is plagued with the most paper and described the department as “laborious” — more so than accounts receivable, payroll and other corporate finance functions.
Such friction may stand in the way of avoiding late supplier payment penalties and capturing early payment discounts, Esker noted.
The firm added that the mobile device can smooth out the areas of accounts payable that take the most time, but to do so, AP processes must embrace automation.
Once invoices and other documents are digitized, Esker said, professionals can view and approve multiple invoices at once, check remaining balances and invoice statuses and review data before approving invoices — all with a few taps on the smartphone, from anywhere.
Streamlining Exceptions Resolution
One of the top spots for friction within accounts payable is identifying and dealing with invoices categorized as an exception. Esker cited research from Ardent Partners, which found that, in 2015, one in six invoices was considered an exception.
These are invoices that need to be addressed, whether it’s because of a discrepancy between the data on a purchase order and the bill, missing or incorrect data or a backup in the stream of invoice approval, Esker explained.
Manual, paper-based AP processes mean accessing the data needed to resolve exceptions takes even more time — leading to the aforementioned extended cycle times, which themselves can cause late payment penalties and missed discount opportunities.
Automated invoice processing means invoices flagged as exceptions can be rerouted to a separate workflow and addressed accordingly, without causing a bottleneck in the entire AP process.
The mobile device, declared Esker, means exceptions can be addressed, resolved and approved more efficiently, with insight into the data and processes needed to get that exception back into the processing stream.
According to IOFM, the demand for increased visibility into AP workflows is on the rise. According to Esker, that demand comes with an increasing need not only for transparency but for faster insight into the data AP professionals seek.
Beyond exceptions, a lack of visibility means friction in addressing supplier inquiries, auditing and budgeting.
The digitization and automation of AP processes mean instant access and enhanced search functions for professionals that need to pinpoint information as quickly as possible, said Esker. The firm added that heightened transparency reduces the risk of duplicate payments and leads to improved supplier relationships as professionals can respond to supplier inquiries — data in hand — more quickly.
All of these capabilities extend to a mobile device, Esker said, with smartphones and tablets able to present dashboards and data, even outside the office.
All of Esker’s arguments can be summed up with one conclusion: The mobile device can extend the benefits of accounts payable automation.
Automated processes allow AP professionals to capture all of these benefits; the mobile device allows these professionals to enjoy those benefits from anywhere. But, as Esker highlighted in its report, automation is far from commonplace.
The firm cited recent Aberdeen Group research, which found that less than half of businesses agree that automation is necessary to improve financial management.
Without heightened adoption of automation within corporate payments procedures, the mobile device may have to wait a while before it gains traction with accounts payable professionals.