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What the future holds for AP automation

The pandemic has brought AP transformation into sharp focus, proving that automated payables processes are key for cash flow management, saving time, decision-making—and enterprise success.

The modernization and automation of accounts payable (AP) was on track to become mandatory in many countries even before the COVID-19 pandemic. But global shutdowns accelerated AP digital transformation, and companies relying on manual payables processes struggled to maintain operations. 

“The pandemic hammered home that organizations need not only full visibility into their supplier universe but also true business continuity that’s independent of physical office locations,” says Klaus Andersen, CEO of Basware, a global cloud-based procure-to-pay and e-invoicing solution headquartered in Finland.

AP automation is essential for a successful enterprise, Andersen says—for cash flow management, saving time, data-backed decision-making, and more. He predicts three major trends for 2021.

Trend 1. Artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning will accelerate innovation

One of the core facets of AP automation is the elimination of paper invoices and the ability to receive quality data electronically. The once-standard optical character recognition technology relies on mapping each field from every new invoice. A.I. and machine learning have completely revamped that model. Basware’s SmartPDF AI, for example, uses machine learning to convert data from PDF invoices into an electronic format with a high level of data accuracy and gets smarter over time, making invoice processing faster and less wasteful without manual effort.

“Transforming an unstructured PDF invoice into a structured e-invoice, agnostic of language, sounds easier than it is,” Andersen says. “In a few years, we’ll move toward increased analytical capabilities leveraging A.I. and machine learning. But for 2021, a lot of businesses can make great gains with just the data visibility.”

Trend 2. E-invoicing legislative mandates will spread to more regions

Historically, the private sector has instigated AP automation. But recently, government-mandated invoicing standards in places like Germany and India have increased, and Andersen expects that trend to accelerate.

“Right now, there’s a lot of variance between countries,” Andersen says. “The pandemic is advancing the conversation about how legislation can standardize the AP process and help protect against tax and IT fraud, among other benefits.”

Trend 3. The AP professional’s role will evolve

As automation solutions give AP professionals more bandwidth and data, their role is quickly evolving, says Andersen.

“They’ve historically been operators, in principle, ensuring things are flowing through the system,” he says. “With AP automation, they can focus on just the exceptions, freeing them up to help guide the business in terms of ‘Here’s what’s going on, and here’s where we can improve.’”

Specifically, Andersen adds, AP professionals will increasingly need to interpret data and translate it into business analyses, then communicate actionable insights to the C-suite for enterprise success. 

And that’s the kind of next-level, data-backed decision-making that AP transformation can enable—powering the innovation that will help companies thrive in 2021 and beyond.