With all the talk about the cloud and server-based software, I thought it may be timely to write about software and service as it pertains to Accounts Payable Automation. Not just writing about it as much as answering the question; is AP Automation more service than software?
First, there is no way to automate without software. The thought of taking software or technology out of an AP Automation offering is ridiculous. However the question is not automation without software as much as which is more important, the software or the service. If you are a regular reader of my stuff, you know that I can come across as being anti-tech. It’s not true (ask my wife, she is always questioning my technologies purchases…. “don’t you already have something like that?”). Where people get that I am anti-tech is because I write so much about the human element of automation and the impact of change on the organization that automation has. I always warn people who pay too much attention to the software in the upfront process and not enough attention to the change, you are in trouble. Please get this, however, the software is important. I know that reads as a contradiction, but you all are smart enough to read between the lines to understand that there needs to be a balance when it comes to the features of the software and the impact of the change. The software is the engine that drives automation, The better the engine the faster and more dependable your system will be, that’s why software is important.
The service starts with the company, but it also starts with the companies philosophy. During your evaluation, whether you are starting your automation journey or improving an existing automated process, understanding the service provider’s philosophy will unlock the answer to more software as service. I write a lot about the definition of AP Automation as only being as good as the amount of time that it frees up. To get a little glimpse to the service providers philosophy evaluate the emphases the provider puts on OCR. Generally, the more they “sell” you on the idea of upfront capture the more they will rely on software. OCR being one way, another way to find out how much service you will get with an automation provider is to find out which tasks that provider will completely eliminate. I write a lot about this in The Argument to Automate. I call those tasked that are completely eliminated by automation as hard dollar savings. The more tasks a service provider can take over the stronger the offering. I know services that will correct errors from OCR, apply payments to a website, and stay on hold with utility companies to validate a past due amount. All of there are examples of services that are taken out of your process.
It would be easy for me to write that they are both important and leave it at that, but that’s not the kind of writer I am. The answer, It is more service. If you buy into the idea that automation is only as good as the time that is freed up, and you look at service provider’s offerings, beyond the engine of automation the service aspects the provider will eliminate really can add up to make a big difference.
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