Our 2013 annual ePayables study [Sidebar: Make sure to visit Payables Place next week when we unveil this year’s study] introduced accounts payable’s new dawn wherein AP departments have realized the need to automate their manual invoice and payment processes and move to an ePayables solution. These solutions are designed to eradicate manual- and paper-based processes, and when deployed well and adopted are generally easier to manage, and drive visibility and efficiencies allowing AP to bring greater value to the overall organization. Technology solutions can be powerful assets for an AP department, but they can be wasted investments if the AP professionals at the helm don’t know how to drive the ship. That is why an AP staff’s collective skill set must evolve with the adoption of these solutions in order to maximize the investment.
Indeed, Ardent Partners’ upcoming 2014 ePayables report that drew responses from more than 190 AP, finance, and other professionals shows that 80% of enterprises expect their AP staffs to shift from manual, tactical tasks to automated, strategic ones. Organizations want their AP staff to become better versed on ePayables solutions, particularly those supporting data analysis and reporting. These solutions and their requisite skill sets include:
- ePayables solutions (our term for AP automation solutions), which require staff to manage workflow, identify and quickly respond to errors, analyze activity, and process reports
- Business Networks, which require solid communication and collaboration skills, smart searching, and strategic thinking
- Dynamic discounting, which include financial analysis to understand the best opportunities to use cash, engagement/collaboration with internal partners, communication, and of course, cash management.
In addition to helping them become more strategic, these skills will also help them collaborate with procurement (itself a strategic move). These changes are coming fast.
Ardent Partners’ research also finds that nearly 70% of companies expect the AP skill set to evolve in the next two years, with a focus on technology training. According to a Director of P2P at a global chemicals company, “If AP is going to improve, we have to continue to invest in tools. This is not the AP of the old day; there is a lot of technology that can make people more effective and this requires more technically-savvy people. AP has to build analytical strength as opposed to just processing [invoices].”
Clearly, technology alone is not the panacea for AP departments that are trying to become faster and more efficient. Skill sets need to evolve to match technology investments and deployments within AP departments, otherwise, these investments will be wasted on staff who haven’t mastered the solutions or even learned their basic functions. As the saying goes, people are the weakest link.
AP’s dawn has come, a new day has arrived – is your AP department ready to face it? What can procurement do to help them adopt and master these skills and deliver greater value to the enterprise?