Do You Need a Scanner for AP Automation?

Once upon a time (don’t you just love the start?) I decided that the way to get a greater adoption for Accounts Payable Automation was to give away the software and sell scanners. Now, this was a long time ago when automation was in its beginning stages. The thought was that people would be more comfortable buying a piece of equipment rather than changing the process they have known for years. It didn’t work, but I learned a lot.

Something to Consider

In my humble but published opinion, I coach people there are three parts to the scanner:

        1. The Scan
        2. Conversion
        3. Delivery

First, I thinks its important to point out that there are three parts. This is a somewhat unknown fact to most people as they start or even in the middle of their AP Automation journey. Second in knowing the parts it will lead us to answering the questions – Do you need a scanner for AP Automation?

The Scan

This is the part that most people think of when wanting to answer the question of needing a scanner. It is the hardware that will pull in the paper, take an image of the paper and save that image as a document…. you know – a scanner. They come in all shapes and sizes, I even have an app on my iPhone that does this work. For those companies that want to scan their own invoices, I recommend a scanner with a feeder on the top so they don’t have to do one page at a time. Scanner are also built into multifunction machines, from small desktop units to the huge things that get people in trouble at office parties. The scanners job is simple, but  my only advice here is to make sure you get the one that fits your volume.


This is the part that people don’t either know about or don’t know enough about. With Accounts Payable Automation, there is a certain amount of data that is required to assign the invoices to an approval process (workflow) and ultimately integrate that data into an accounting system. This data is referred to as metadata. Once an image of the invoices has been made there has to be some process of pulling key information (Vendor, invoice number, date and dollar amount are a few examples) off of the image. This conversion process can run the scale of manual entry, which is called indexing, to a full automated process which is facilitated by OCR (optical character recognition). Some offerings even have the vendor do some of the population of data. Now, hang on to your reading glasses because I have a lot of advice around this topic. Good OCR is expensive and I have to warn you that it has been my experience that OCR doesn’t have a great track record with invoices. Depending on the type of company you have, you may not be in control of the shapes, sizes and/or color of the invoice. OCR has a difficult time with things it can’t put in a template. Invoices fit that bill. Usually there is a combination of OCR and indexing that works well because of the un-uniform nature of invoices. I wrote a lot about this in The 8 Pitfalls.


Now I won’t go too much into this because I wrote an entire article on the topic of capture, which is scanning and conversion and workflow being separate. You can go back and read it if you want that advice. Once the image and metadata have been created the final step is to submit those two pieces into the approval process for the completion of the AP Automation. 

Do You Need….

The answer at some level is yes. However, if you don’t want to become an expert in the conversion process, which is the part of the three that is the most expensive and most time-consuming, it is my advice to find a service provider that will do that as a service. If you find a service provider that will offer all three parts, you have put yourself in a position to free up your people from a tremendous amount of time that can be best spent somewhere else, which is the entire point of Accounts Payable Automation. 

Want to know more? Buy My Books!

To buy the book – The Argument to Automate – How Innovation Can INSPIRE Not Fire – click here to buy

(Also) To get your copy of The 8 Pitfalls of Accounts Payable Automation – click here to buy

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