Automating your Accounts Payable (AP) processes such as invoice approval, purchase order matching, and requisitions by implementing a workflow solution is no small undertaking. While a well-executed workflow implementation can be accomplished in just a few weeks, implementations more commonly become bogged down for weeks, months, or even years by complications in the process itself. Luckily, with a little foresight and a few common sense tips, many of these curveballs that derail a project can be avoided.
1) Plan. But don’t over-plan.
It is tempting while planning your Accounts Payable automation to try to fix every problem or deficiency with every process within your organization. Even though this seems like a laudable undertaking, it is often a recipe for a failed project. A project with too many initiatives, as well as the requirement that every initiative must succeed in order for the project to succeed, may be doomed for failure or, at the very least, doomed to drastically exceed your planned timeline.
For example, let’s imagine that, as part of your Accounts Payable workflow roll-out, you also decide to clean up the master vendor table in your ERP system. You want to eliminate outdated information, resolve duplicate vendors, and send a letter to all of your vendors asking them to confirm their contact information… and you do not want to roll out the workflows until you have “clean” data to start with. Now you’ve effectively delayed the implementation of the workflow system by weeks, months, or more.
If instead you focused on the workflow system first, getting that into place, you will not be any worse off than you are today using the same “bad” data that you’ve been using for quite some time. Plus, once the workflow system is in place, it should be saving you additional time that you can then devote to cleaning things up.
The moral of this story: pick your battles. It is often better to follow the old 80/20 rule-identify the 20% of the issues that consume 80% of your time and strive to correct or eliminate them. If after the fact you decide to circle back around and tackle the more minor issues, feel free to do so! The implementation will already be in place saving you time and money while you address these other issues.
2) Appoint a single individual to take complete ownership of the project from your side.
Ownership-and the level of accountability that comes along with it-is key to the success of your Accounts Payable automation project. It is very important that one person takes full ownership of what needs to be done from your side of the project. This person will serve as the face of your organization when dealing with the integration vendor, act as the conduit of information to and from your people, ensure that tasks assigned to your organization are being completed on schedule, and provide much needed feedback to the integration vendor. It is this person’s responsibility to raise red flags when something is not working as it is intended.
This person should then strive to talk with the vendor as often as is appropriate for the scale of the project. The more open and direct the relationship between this individual and the integration vendor is, the greater chance the project has of being a smooth success. If there is a regular dialogue happening between the parties, the less likely something will be to slip between the cracks or for the business relationship to break down due to misunderstandings in responsibilities.
While it may be tempting to appoint several individuals to act as ‘area heads’ (such as one person for the invoice approval process, another for requisitions-related topics, another for IT, etc.), each interacting directly with the vendor, this should be avoided. Rarely do several individuals, each acting independently on different portions of a project, ever act in concert with one another. You can appoint several people to each take care of a different area of responsibility, but you should then appoint a single project coordinator and have the area heads coordinate through that person.
3) Make sure that the biggest project resistor from your organization has a key role in the project.
You know who this person is. This is the person who hasn’t had a positive word to say since the project was first proposed. It is the person who sees absolutely no need to do things differently than they have been done for the past 10 years. This is the person who-if left to their own devices-will dig in their heels and grind the project to a halt if they are able to do so.
You need this person to buy in on the project. Instead of keeping them at arm’s length, assign them to a key role in the implementation project. A great job for this person is often beta testing the system. Are they going to love it at first? Probably not. They are probably going to nitpick every single flaw in the software/workflow/implementation/vendors/etc. that they can find, but they may also grow to realize that the new system is not the end of the world, and perhaps it may actually make their life a little easier as it is intended to do.
Is this going to make the project easier? Absolutely not. In fact, it may exponentially increase the amount of aspirin that you’ll have to take during the implementation. Face it, they are not going to instantly become Mr. or Ms. Positive just because they are part of the project. What it will do for the project, however, is to make the resulting solution far more bullet-proof because they have found most of the bugs. And hopefully it has turned a naysayer into a proponent of the project. They will feel like they have some control over the situation, and thus may approach matters as someone who has a vested interest, instead of just feeling helpless. This will also allow the roll-out and adoption phases of the project to go more smoothly and quickly because you have already removed the largest speed bump.
4) Get your IT team involved early in the project.
Imagine, if you will, that you’ve mapped out your dream Accounts Payable automation solution, you’ve contracted a solutions provider that will work with you to implement your solution, and you have the entire solution mapped out on paper: Now it’s time to bring in your IT guys, because your workflow solution needs hardware to run on, right?
Wrong. Ideally, your IT department should have been involved since the planning phase. Having their input early on will help to avoid any ‘gotchas’. These gotchas, or project hang-ups, could include:
- a delay in the project while the hardware gets approved,
- a vetting process to ensure that the workflow solution is in compliance with the IT department’s process validation requirements,
- lack of IT resources availability at the time due to other initiatives,
- something as simple as bruised egos because you did not seek their advice prior to purchasing the workflow solution
Essentially, it is better to have your IT department involved (if only peripherally) in the purchasing and planning phases of your Accounts Payable automation project, not the implementation phase, in order to avoid unforeseen roadblocks down the road.
5) Seek (and take!) advice from your integration provider.
You’re probably paying your chosen integration provider more than a few dollars to implement your Accounts Payable workflows for you. Why not maximize the value that you’re getting for the dollars your spending? This probably isn’t their first rodeo, so they are going to have invaluable experience and advice as to how to improve your processes to make them more efficient. Not only have they seen how other organizations have handled the same issues that you face, but it is sometimes just a good idea to get an outsider’s perspective. They may easily see the inefficiencies that you are too close to see.
As one last bit of advice, it is a good idea to seek out an implementation vendor who not only supports but also uses the ERP that you use. Who better to quickly troubleshoot why something isn’t working for you than someone who is intimately familiar with your ERP and has it installed and handy for testing?
Want more implementation advice? Call me at (570) 768-4482 or email me to discuss your automation needs and how you can eliminate your pain points.