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Is Automation Obtainable? It is in your Accounts Payable Department

May 3, 2018 10:34:00 AM by Theresa M. Resek, CIP

AP Automation is an obtainable goal in this century, in this decade, in this year! How, you may ask? If you can relate to this stat from recent AIIM research where 52% of respondents say their invoice processes take at least three days – some up to as many as 25 days – when using manual solutions for invoice data entry, validation, and approval using paper, you are a prime candidate. So where to start?

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Topics: finance, workflow, digital transformation,, accounts payable, financial process, accounting, intelligent information management

Dear CFO: It´s Time to Address Your Digital Gaps

Sep 21, 2017 9:00:00 AM by Atle Skjekkeland

Everybody is now talking about the need for a digital transformation. Companies need to improve digital engagement and corporate productivity to better serve click-to-brick customers and millennials entering the workplace expecting online services and almost instant gratification.

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Topics: finance, automation, accounts payable, financial process, accounting

Analytics and Digital Transformation are the REAL Reason to Automate Financial Processes - Part 3 of 3

Dec 1, 2016 3:41:56 AM by John Mancini

This is the third of three posts.  The first two in the series:

According to the American Productivity and Quality Center, an amazing 74% of organizations are currently engaged in a finance process improvement initiative. Why are they doing this?  And how does this tie to broader Digital Transformation initiatives?

The APQC survey notes that 50% of these initiatives are being driven by “the realization of the need for better business analytics.”  This business driver is even higher -- and far more strategic -- than the traditional driver for financial process automation, cost reduction.

Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner in the Digital Transformation sweepstakes.  

Demands are rising for finance executives to playing a more fundamental role in the transformation of the business and to provide the analytics and data needed to document and drive that change.  Per Mary Driscoll in the APQC blog,

“Business managers are changing their tune when it comes to what they want from finance. They now insist that finance re-imagine itself and deliver a step-change in the quality and relevance of insights it generates. What used to be called decision support is now branded—with large doses of aspiration—as predictive business analytics. Finance is expected to keep pace with the enterprise’s data-driven race toward competitive advantage. That means mastering the analytical methods, tools and terminology of the day.”

Gabriel Zubizarreta from Silicon Valley Accountants noted some of the structural impediments to fundamental financial process transformation in an interview on the APQC blog:

“There are significant structural disincentives to change. The deadline-driven nature of the accounting close makes implementing changes risky. If a change goes well, typically the rewards are small, but if a change goes badly and impedes or delays the close, the consequences for the accountant championing the change can be severe.  When you consider that up to 70 percent of process improvement projects fall short of expectations and/or go significantly over budget, it makes total sense for accounting departments to be risk averse.

In the past, many process improvement initiatives have focused on the “big bang” such as the implementation of a new ERP system or other significant automation. Even if this kind of big bang improvement is successful at first, underlying conditions will change, requiring that processes will need to continue changing or they will become outdated.

And there is one more thing to consider. Since the implementation of Sarbanes-Oxley, companies have added layers of controls. Often, these controls are implemented in a way that becomes inflexible and resistant to change. We understand that compliance is crucial, but it can’t be the sole focus. Companies need to implement compliance and agility; controls and continuous improvement. Finding the balance is not easy, but it is crucial if companies are to thrive as conditions change.”

Information Capture is a proven first step in digitizing information and improving financial processes.  According to AIIM’s Paperfree Progress: Measuring Outcomes, 72% agree – “Business at the speed of paper will be unacceptable in a few years’ time.”  But mere “Digitization” (getting stuff digital) is not enough, even though the ROI of this simple step is impressive (59% of users achieved payback in 12 months or less (a single budget cycle), including 28% seeing positive returns after just 6 months).

In addition to “Digitization,” organizations need to pursue “Digitalization” -- getting the business to execute and adapt with the benefit of information in digital form, using the availability of information as an engine for customer experience, business transformation and adaptation.  Leveraging the capture and mailroom technologies and capabilities you already have, and applying this experience to get the fat out of financial processes is a great place to start. Capture doesn’t just occur in the mailroom anymore:  It includes distributed capture, real time/mobile capture and capture as a service, all critical to the task of automating financial processes.

No C-level executive ever woke up in the morning, slapped themselves on the head, and said, “Wow. The sexy Digital Transformation thing I want to do today is transform my financial processes.” But they need to get serious about these processes.  Yes, automating them can cut costs -- savings that can be used to fuel other initiatives.

But more importantly, automating financial processes sets in motion two critical Digital Transformation value propositions -- 1) back-end processes are often the difference between cutomer experiences that feel good initially, but then wind up being frustrated and disjointed; and 2) financial processes are a key source of the analytics and business intelligence needed to transform customer experiences.

Free White Paper - 4 Facts Savvy CFOs Know About Business Process Transformation


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Topics: finance, digital transformation,, accounts payable, financial process, accounting

Financial Process Automation -- A Huge Untapped Source of Potential Cost Reduction -- Part 2 of 3

Sep 20, 2016 6:12:08 PM by John Mancini

This is the second of three posts on the theme -- CFOs and Finance Directors: Neglected Players in the Drive for Digital Transformation.  The first post was HERE.

The core point of the three posts is the financial process automation creates a value stream in two directions.  It is a proven source of cost reduction for companies looking for marginal but sustaining competitive advantage, something that Finance Directors can use to "manage up" in their organizations in making the case for resources to drive financial process automation, which is the focus of this post.  Financial process automation also creates the foundation for sound analytics and business intelligence, a priority of great concern to the C-Suite, which will be the focus of the third post.

The American Productivity and Quality Center notes that cost reduction is the key business driver for 43% of financial improvement initiatives.  Let's think about the role that content and more effective management of unstructured information plays in delivering upon this promise.

The Harvard Business Review ( notes the importance of permanent process change in the drive to cut costs, and automating the capture component of processes is a key part of insuring the permanence of change.

Often, internal administrative processes become frozen—despite the fact that, over time, they may cease to be efficient or effective. Asking questions in four areas can help you understand whether this has occurred in your department and whether you can cut expenses accordingly:

Reduced business requirements.  How have the business requirements evolved since you last fundamentally redesigned the process? Perhaps the need for certain data has diminished or disappeared altogether. How would you design the process differently today, to meet today’s needs?

Manual processes.  Where do you use people to process forms or information repetitively, rather than do it electronically, with little or no human intervention?

Exceptions to the norm.  Do the routine 90% of items cost much less to handle than the exceptional 10%? What would it take to do away with the exceptional ones? At a large health insurer, we found that a 'clean' claim cost 80% less to process than one that required special handling. By redesigning its claim forms and eliminating exceptions that did not matter, the client saved more than half the cost of exceptions.

Timing.  Could you save money by shifting the time of day, week, or month that you undertake certain tasks? For example, how about doing the work when activity in your department is otherwise slow? Could it be done more efficiently in batches? Is there a real penalty attached to being available online for fewer hours of the day? Could tasks be completed more efficiently if they were not tackled on a first-in, first-out basis?”

Financial processes have three key characteristics that make them a prime candidate for cost reduction efforts: 1) They represent significant cost to the organization; 2) They are characterized by wide variation in performance; and 3) They are typically very paper intensive.

Consider this data from the American Productivity and Quality Center (  and consider what this means in actual dollars:

Let’s break this down a bit.  There are five core processes characteristic of just about any finance department:

  • Accounts Payable
  • Accounts Receivable
  • Financial Close Process
  • Procurement & Purchasing
  • Vendor Management

What do these have in common?  They are all: 1) document-intensive; and 2) must integrate with your broader financial and/or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning Systems).  Your ability to automate them and reduce cost – your key to moving from a bottom performing finance organization to a top performing one – rests on putting in place a common document management infrastructure for all of them. 

Financial process

Document challenges

Accounts payable

Automation cannot occur without strategy to capture documents that arrive from multiple locations and in widely varying formats

Accounts receivable

Disconnected and manual contracts, billing, sales order, and dispute resolution processes

Financial close process

Endless, frantic and manual end-of-month spreadsheet reconciliation

Procurement and purchasing

Manual purchase order processes disconnected with finance and ERP systems

Vendor management

Manual vendor onboarding

No central view of relationships with key business partners

Most organizations have not applied the lessons from the digital mailroom to their core financial processes.  According to an AIIM unreleased survey of 290 finance executives, there are still many green field transformation opportunities in you core financial processes.  Some would argue that most organizations automated their financial processes long ago.  Perhaps on the data side, but not on the content and unstructured information side. When we asked, “What is paper usage in the following processes?” here are the percentages answering, “% answering “A lot of documents are processed as paper documents”:

  • Accounts receivable = 38%
  • Financial close process = 40%
  • Accounts payable = 39%
  • Procurement and purchasing = 32%
  • Vendor management = 32%

Consider the differences in cost structure associated with invoice processing in top performing vs. bottom performing companies (source:

Information Capture is a proven first step in digitizing information and improving financial processes.  According to AIIM’s Paperfree Progress: Measuring Outcomes, 72% agree – “Business at the speed of paper will be unacceptable in a few years’ time.” 

Financial process automation has been one of the bread and butter content management applications for years.  But I think these initiatives need to be viewed not only through the prism of cost reduction, but also in terms of how back-end process automation and efficiency are now Digital Transformation table stakes.  In a world in which customers and suppliers are being drawn further and further into our organizations, no smooth and beautiful front end customer experience can compensate for weak supporting processes that are inevitably the next step in a customer experience.  Finance Directors need to understand this critical linkage and use it to "manage up" in their organizations in making the case for resources to drive financial process automation.


Free white paper -- 4 Facts Savvy CFOs Must Know about Business Process Transformation


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Topics: content management, finance, digital transformation,, accounts payable, financial process, accounting

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