Automation is fast becoming a buzzword especially among knowledge workers who strive to minimize the need for manual labor in the accounts payable departments. It is easy to see why. Whether in large companies or in small companies and startups, expenses are an annoyance for both employers and employees.
Today, up to 46 percent of businesses still depend on manual tools to manage expenses, according to T&E firm Certify. Among small businesses, that figure has risen to as high as 64 percent, seeming to confirm that the smaller the business, the greater the dependence on manual tools to manage expenses.
With AP departments facing urgent needs to quickly process expense claims or reconcile receipts with accounting systems, the current manual processes has become a drag on costs and resources. Despite the odds, digital receipt processing and expense automation is far from being a standard practice for employees and organisations across the globe.
Turns out there was good reason. On the one hand, expense automation technology is still in its infancy, and many businesses are still learning how and what to adopt. On the other, existing workflow processes required fundamental re-engineering for seamless integration of the new technologies. Add to these the fact that c-suite executives are often far removed from day to day employee tasks like gathering receipts, entering data into spreadsheets and expense systems or assigning business unit coding.
However, all of this is changing thanks to improvements in employee engagement and digital working practices. New mobile apps are popping up allowing companies to deliver a superior customer experience. As the requisite technology becomes smart enough to take on the mainstream market, the barriers to adoption are rapidly disappearing.
Some of the new mobile solutions come with expense management capabilities, enabling them to capture and convert receipts and bills or send digital invoices to company's expense management systems.
Mobile-driven expense management offers numerous advantages including:
- Anywhere, anytime data processing – new mobile technologies enable instant capture and recognition, giving accuracy and convenience of data entry while eliminating error prone manual processing.
- Cost control – mobile technology eliminates the need to spend on power and hardware while still offering required processing power and storage space
- Niche performance - provides easy-to-access platform for companies to process, manage and control expenses in hybrid clouds, custom services and expense management systems
- Increased performance - more productivity, effortless collaboration, streamlined approval system, automated data transfer to EMS.
Despite the obvious advantages offered mobile-driven expense management, some inconvenience is still experienced when using the technology. The first problem is that developing receipt processing technology is anything but simple. Some common challenges that have hampered previous efforts include;
- Poor quality of paper, print and photo
- No well-defined receipt structure or common receipt template
- Local country specifics of receipts
- Failure in keyword search due to OCR errors
- Difficulty in gathering enough receipt samples for machine learning
Check out our technical blog for in-depth analysis of these challenges and why they continue to stall a move towards broader Finance Process Automation (FPA).
By Jonathan Darbey