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Procurement

Demystifying the role of procurement technology: Automation benefits

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Many companies are tapping into the opportunities presented by new and emerging technologies, which have the potential to enhance productivity even further. Automation is one such concept that has plenty to offer, both now and in the future. Whether it’s improving your cash forecasting process or streamlining invoice processing, we explore some of the use cases and benefits for automation.

What is automation?

At a high level, automation means using technology to operate equipment, processes or systems that might otherwise require manual input, thereby eliminating or minimizing the need for human intervention. The benefits of automation typically include:

  • Speeding up processes
  • Improving efficiency and productivity
  • Reducing the risk of human error
  • Eliminating mundane and repetitive tasks
  • Reducing costs

Where financial processes are concerned, there are a number of improvements that automation can provide. We explore a few use cases below.

Robotic process automation

In recent years, robotic process automation (RPA) has emerged as a promising means of achieving automation within certain processes. RPA can be defined as the use of software robots to carry out business processes that would otherwise be performed by humans. These software robots are productive 100% of the time and may be able to complete tasks up to 20 times faster. As such, RPA can both speed up processes and reduce the risk of human error, resulting in greater accuracy, improved efficiency and lower costs. It can also free employees from mundane tasks and enable them to focus on more value-adding activities.

Companies see the benefit of automation and are beginning to adopt RPA in a number of areas:

  • Invoice processing: RPA can be deployed to speed up and improve invoice processing. It has the potential to accelerate many of the time-consuming processes that occur between receiving an invoice and approving it for payment, whether that is automating the capture and extraction of invoice data or speeding up reconciliation. By carrying out tasks with 100% accuracy, RPA can also help to avoid issues such as duplicate invoices.
  • Cash positioning: Likewise, RPA can be used to speed up the cash positioning process. When carried out manually, treasury professionals may need to spend valuable time every day identifying how much cash the company currently has on its books. But RPA can be used to carry out this task before the working day has even begun, thereby eliminating repetitive tasks and freeing up treasury staff for more strategic activities.
  • Cash forecasting: Cash forecasting is an essential process that enables companies to predict their future cash flows and thereby make better-informed decisions about funding and investments. But in practice, many companies struggle to forecast their future cash flows accurately — not least because it can be difficult to source forecasting data on a timely basis from multiple sources across the organization. Some companies have begun exploring the use of RPA in the forecasting process, for example by using robotics to log into disparate systems, extract the relevant data and enter it into a forecasting system.

Invoice automation

RPA isn’t the only tool that can help companies speed up their invoice processing. Another option is the adoption of invoice automation solutions that are able to streamline the capture of invoice data — thereby enabling companies to automate manual processes, reduce errors and eliminate paper.

Invoice automation can be achieved in a number of ways. Electronic invoicing solutions enable suppliers to submit invoices to their customers quickly and easily, for example by flipping purchase orders, filling out forms or uploading files to a portal. For suppliers with higher volumes, system-to-system data transfer can also be used to automate the invoicing process.

Another promising development is the arrival of sophisticated solutions like Taulia’s AI-based Cognitive Invoicing offering. Developed in partnership with Google, Cognitive Invoicing harnesses Google’s Document Understanding AI to capture data from invoices received in any format, including machine-generated and scanned image PDFs. Data is then transferred directly into the buyer’s system, with a cloud-based resolution process available for any instances of missing information.

Benefits for early payments

Invoice automation not only improves the efficiency of invoice processing, but can also improve the effectiveness of early payment solutions such as supply chain finance.

Before an early payment can be made, the supplier’s invoice first needs to be received, processed and approved by the buyer. Any inefficiencies and delays within these activities can have a ripple effect on the supplier’s ability to access early payments, and may therefore erode the automation benefits of the program.

Conversely, automating the invoicing process reduces the risk of error and delay within that process. This means that suppliers will have more time to access early payments, and are more likely to take advantage of the program. This, in turn, will maximize the value of the program for the buyer, from improving supplier relationships to increasing the stability of the supply chain.

Conclusion on automation

Automation comes in many forms — but when harnessed effectively, it can play an important role in speeding up processes, minimizing the risk of error and freeing staff for more valuable and strategic activities. All for the betterment and growth of the business.

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