What Will Happen to My Staff if We Automate Accounts Payable?

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Beth Mongold , Content Manager Aug 01, 2022 AP Best Practice

Automation is the buzzword everywhere these days, the holy grail for many industries. From driverless cars to robot waiters, emerging technologies are making it possible to reduce or even eliminate many job functions that have historically been accomplished manually.

We’re only just beginning to see how automation will impact the way we perform everyday tasks and structure our organizations.

Here at Mekorma, we create automation solutions for Accounts Payable. Financial managers and leaders are attracted to the cost benefits and efficiencies of AP automation, but often fear what it could mean for the people who work for them.

In this blog, we’ll look at common questions our customers ask when facing the reality of automating AP.

Do I have to fire people?

It’s natural to assume that automating means humans will become unnecessary. We often hear this concern from Controllers or AP Supervisors (I don’t want to let go of good people!”).

In our experience, organizations rarely let go of staff after automating AP processes. Often companies hire MORE staff because automation helps them grow more gracefully. An HVAC company we trained and implemented in automation recently went on to acquire a new company, hire 2 new people in AP - and the Accounting Manager was promoted to Controller.

In some cases, automation allows AP departments to handle an increasing workload with the same amount of people, or it softens the blow when a staff member leaves the organization. One of our customers recently lost a team member to retirement. To save remaining staff from drowning in extra work, they chose to automate invoice processing with Mekorma Invoice Capture. It remains to be seen whether they will need to hire a full-time replacement.

Whether you’re growing or contending with unavoidable changes in personnel, automated processes still have to be initiated or monitored by human action – some oversight is essential.

If we automate, what will my staff do?

Many AP departments for small to medium sized businesses are not yet fully automated. Due to resource constraints and the training required, many companies approach automation with a piecemeal strategy – i.e., starting where you need the most support and progressively adding solutions.

In our experience, as clients automate one or more areas of the AP function, staff can gradually turn their attention to housecleaning tasks that have been overlooked or delayed. Our customers report they’ve been able to focus on:

  • Vendor master file clean-up/compliance
  • Negotiating better vendor terms
  • Nurturing vendor relationships
  • Dealing with AP aging reports
  • Handling unclaimed property (escheatment)

In other cases, AP has been able to contribute more fully to the health of the organization by learning new, high-value skills – like Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A).

Building a Strong AP Team in the Age of Digital Transformation

Automating processes does mean your staff will be working in new ways. New skills – and a growth mindset – may be required.

For an AP leader, you’ll need to consider the following:

  • Can you handle where you’re headed with existing staff?
  • What training do your people need, and how to deliver that training?
  • If you need to hire, what skillsets are you hiring for?

This may feel daunting to consider, never mind implement. Reskilling and upskilling while keeping operations on track is no easy feat.

But automation isn’t a fad – it will continue to be woven into our business processes and work environments. These technologies will not make humans obsolete – but they will ask each of us to change, learn and grow.

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