If you’re looking into how to automate your B2B accounting process, you’re not alone. Like many other processes today, accounting processes are shifting toward automating tasks, freeing workers to focus on less mind-numbing and mundane work.
In fact, according to surveys conducted by Computer Economics in 2021, roughly 20% of respondents had already adopted some manner of robotic process automation (RPA) — a marked increase over the previous year’s response of only 13% of participants. These findings are echoed in similar surveys conducted by Automation Anywhere, which found that 77% of respondents with some form of RPA planned to increase their automation spending in 2023.
With RPA on the rise, it’s no surprise that automation has begun transforming our accounting departments. However, repetitive tasks are common across financial operations, as any given day involves coordinating, tracking, and managing hundreds — if not thousands — of business-to-business (B2B) transactions.
The prevalence of monetary busywork has prompted the creation of multiple automation platforms that can control sales, requisitions, the procure-to-pay process, and more. Of course, with so many available options, businesses now face a new challenge — effectively managing and collaborating across these various tools.
As a result, many companies are instead choosing multi-disciplined automation platforms like Invoiced that can consolidate several operations and workloads into a common user experience. After all, if managing your automation software starts to become overly complicated, why did you bother adopting it in the first place?
What accounting tasks can you automate for B2B?
Accounts payable (A/P)
In fully-automated A/P processes, invoices are either received electronically or have their key details scanned into the automation workflow for processing. The software then routes these payment requests through verification steps — such as 2-way or 3-way matching — requiring employee intervention only for final authorizations, process exceptions, or other problematic cases.
Accounts receivable (A/R)
The primary goal of A/R is to get your business paid quickly. And automation-driven accounts receivable cuts many of the unnecessary delays from this process. In particular, these automation tools focus on opening up access to digital payment options that make it easier for customers to pay their bills in minutes or hours instead of weeks.
Within accounts receivable, effective invoice management is a particularly labor-intense effort. Beyond the initial verifications to confirm that the total you are requesting is accurate, tracking and following up on these payment requests often requires several touches from your staff. However, with an automated strategy, reminder emails, calls, and text messages can be scheduled and sent without direct oversight.
Automating your B2B accounting processes: A step-by-step guide
Step 1: Take stock of your current processes
Before undertaking any major transformation — particularly those that might have a lasting, fundamental impact on your company — you must thoroughly understand what specific tasks already are (or are not) part of your workflow. Beyond cataloging what B2B accounting efforts you wish to automate, you’ll also want to create clear process maps that define cross-operational dependencies or data needs for each step.
With your current operations thoroughly documented, consider any process efficiencies or improvements you want to add. At the same time, you should catalog any issues you’ve been experiencing within your existing financial efforts, focusing on flagging tasks that frequently cause delays.
Some questions to reflect on might be:
- Can you consolidate any of your current workflows into a standard process?
- What regulatory hurdles must you consider (e.g., data security standards, reporting requirements)?
- Do so many employees need to be involved in authorizations or verifications?
- Are there any bottlenecks or redundancies in your current workflows?
- Which systems will need to be able to share data with your new automation platforms easily?
Step 2: Identify software features that meet your needs
The right automation tools for your business will be the ones that precisely match your current goals and that can best leverage your existing software investments. As you explore what’s available on the market, consider the list of needs and challenges you compiled and identify corresponding product features that could address each concern.
If you have a limited IT budget, you’ll look for platforms with robust integration tools to avoid investing in additional software to make your new platform work. If you operate in a heavily-regulated industry, you should restrict your search to on-premises solutions with more robust security features like data encryption or role-based access controls.
If you receive most of your invoices or incoming payments via traditional mail, consider a solution with optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities. Or, if you believe that you can convince your customers and suppliers to switch to digital transactions, you could choose a platform that includes an easy-to-use payment portal.
Step 3: Evaluate automation software candidates
As you narrow your search to a limited pool of candidates, consider the bona fides of these potential software providers. Are they an established business with a proven track record? How many customers do you have, and are they satisfied? Does the company update its tools with new features? You don’t want to invest in new B2B accounting systems only to migrate to a different platform in just a few years.
Beyond the software itself, what kind of service options do these vendors provide? If your business has a small IT staff, you’ll likely lean towards choices that deliver more robust support plans and greater out-of-the-box functionality.
Step 4: Deploy, automate, repeat
Once you’ve chosen a software platform, its initial implementation should be relatively straightforward. However, after you’ve placed these automated systems into production, you’ll want to monitor their performance continuously. So establish recurring reports that track key performance indicators, letting you readily identify what is and isn’t working.
With this insight, you can regularly adjust your B2B accounting plans to drive new efficiencies. And with each recent process change you explore, you can compare the updated performance against older records to identify if that alteration was an intelligent choice.
Some standard metrics you should monitor include:
- Days sales outstanding (DSO)
- Average days delinquent
- A/R turnover ratio
- Collection effectiveness index
- Time spent handling each invoice
- Average invoice processing cost
- Percentage of discounts captured
- Frequency of errors or discrepancies
- Number of late payments
- Working capital
How does automation help accountants?
When introducing new technology, there are typical concerns surrounding how disruptive that change could be to existing processes and the people who manage them. For automation, in particular, there is commonly a fear that new software will be implemented at the cost of human jobs. However, B2B accounting covers much more than mundane tasks that can be offloaded to technology.
As automation tools take over the repetitive operations, accounting staff can instead focus on more strategic initiatives. For example, A/R staff can prioritize managing customer relationships, investigating potential fraud, and identifying credit risks rather than spending time on payment reminders. Similarly, A/P teams can ignore check processing and concentrate on balancing early payment discounts against overall cash flows.
Beyond these measures, automation can help your accounting teams:
- Reduce slowdowns from errors: with fewer human touches, the potential for mistakes like transcription errors — and the time spent correcting these problems — is significantly reduced.
- Drive process efficiencies: You gain increased visibility into enterprise-wide operations through automated reporting, allowing your team to focus on process slowdowns and drafting recommendations.
- Accelerate reporting: no more compiling and cross-referencing spreadsheets. Instead, let the software do the work for you.
- Detect fraud: These tools can often detect patterns of corruption or spending irregularities that are too nuanced for the human eye to catch.
- Push sustainability: Moving operations to consolidated electronic processes will reduce the corresponding need for physical paperwork.
For more information, we’ve covered the benefits of B2B automation in-depth in our B2B automation primer.
Automate your B2B accounting with Invoiced
Wherever you are in your automation journey, remember that B2B automation software is meant to make the lives of your employees easier. But, in many cases, simpler is better, and choosing the right software vendor can make all the difference.
At Invoiced, we help make your accounting efforts more streamlined, consistent, and worry-free.
If you’d like to see how comprehensive automation could make the lives of your entire accounting department less stressful, check out what a combined deployment of our Accounts Receivable Automation Software and our Accounts Payable Automation Software can do for you. To further extend your automation framework, schedule a demo of the Invoiced Business Network.
The world of B2B accounting and invoicing is constantly changing. Stay ahead of the curve with Invoiced.
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