AP in the Pandemic- What Have We Learned Two Years Later?

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Since early 2020, life as we know it has changed drastically. The pandemic has caused turbulence not only in people’s day-to-day lives, but in the regular world of business as well. For accounts payable departments specifically, it’s been a huge period of adjustment. Being the department that is supposed to keep money flowing during a time of financial crisis for many, it’s important to take a look at what department changes AP in the pandemic have had to make—and what changes may still need to be made, even 2 years in.

What the Pandemic Changed

Ever since the term “social distancing” became part of our regular vernacular, businesses have had to figure out how to keep themselves afloat, without the normalcy of an office where everyone works side-by-side. Thanks to the internet, plenty of businesses have had some luck simulating a work environment that is completely virtual. However, for business functions that require face-to-face interaction, the change hasn’t been so smooth.

For AP in the pandemic, social distancing requirements are a difficult challenge to overcome if processes are done mostly manually. With writing checks, disbursing payments, obtaining approvals, archiving data, etc., processes that would normally be handled manually are nearly impossible to execute remotely in the same fashion. Even if the pandemic had only lasted a few months, an interruption of cashflow due to an AP department that literally cannot function means huge losses for businesses. The only answer to keep an AP department afloat when current times require remote work is a higher level of automation.

Which Processes Can Be Automated?

When looking to automate the accounts payable department, it’s important to know what processes can be performed automatically. Will there be processes that just simply have to be omitted due to the lack of in-person interaction? Will approvals have to be completely cut out? No enterprise business can afford to lose steps like these.

The good news is, with enterprise-level automation solutions, every part of the AP process can be automated. You won’t have to bite the bullet and lose out on important functions just because you are turning your department digital. A high-level automation solution will take care of the repetitive grueling work—it can automatically route approvals, receive payments online, calculate discounts, form communication with suppliers, archive data, and more. This will allow AP employees to perform their non-face-to-face essential functions (such as fraud prevention, supplier relationship management, and discount capture management) from anywhere in the world. Having the balance between high-level automation, and a staff focused on important tasks remotely thanks to that automation, creates a department that can consistently function anywhere, amidst even the most dismal of economic climates.

Better Automation=Better Preparation

Automating a large, complex accounts payable department is not an overnight feat. Incorporating any kind of automation takes time. First you have to do your research, find an automation company you like, get your department and higher-ups on-board, reach out to the company, and once all is said and done, the process of implementation typically takes months.

Studies show that AP departments that were already highly automated had less of a difficult time transitioning amid the pandemic. Departments that still relied on any paper look back and say that having automation in place would have made it much easier. Upgrading from yesterday’s automation means being prepared for the uncertainty that tomorrow brings.

An Uncertain Future Calls for a Certain Plan of Action

When it comes to technology, it’s especially crucial for large businesses to stay on the cutting edge in order to not have their whole world shaken when the unpredictable happens. Though we don’t know when the pandemic will finally end, we do know that some changes are here for good. Businesses that implemented automation as a direct result of the pandemic are seeing greater long-term benefits. Other businesses leveled up their basic automation to meet higher-level needs, and reaped huge benefits that will be guaranteed even moving past the pandemic. The need for high-level automation isn’t necessarily a silver lining of the pandemic—but rather, showcases that it’s best to be prepared ahead of time, and not wait until the very worst happens. Many businesses faced loss of income/productivity, and even permanent shut-down. The best way to get ahead and avoid such substantial losses is to maintain a fully automated department.

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