The Essential Guide to Invoice Automation in 2024

The invoice automation process

Invoice automation is an integral yet often overlooked area of digital transformation for modern businesses. By leveraging the latest technologies to remove manual efforts, companies can achieve significant efficiency gains, cost savings, and strategic benefits.

This comprehensive guide provides a detailed look at invoice automation, including current challenges, benefits, how it works, top solutions, and expert best practices for successful implementation.

The Heavy Cost of Manual Invoice Processing

A typical mid-size company receives over 5,000 supplier invoices per month. Processing these invoices manually requires significant staffing resources.

On average, it takes 4 minutes for an accounts payable clerk to enter invoice data into the company‘s ERP system. For 5,000 invoices, this equates to over 333 hours of manual data entry per month.

With burdened wage rates of $25 per hour for AP clerks, this manual process costs over $8,325 per month or $99,900 per year. And that only covers data entry – not validating invoice accuracy or resolving exceptions.

In total, the average cost to process an invoice manually ranges from $15-25. For just 5,000 monthly invoices, that results in $90,000-150,000 of annual AP processing expenses.

Table showing manual invoice processing costs

Table 1: Annual invoice processing costs for 5,000 invoices per month

With such high costs, it‘s not surprising that invoices take on average 1-2 weeks to process manually and contain 4-8% error rates.

These pain points combine to create significant inefficiencies that impact supplier relationships, cash flow visibility, and compliance.

The Benefits of Invoice Automation

Automating the invoicing process delivers compelling benefits:

1. Dramatic Cost Reduction

According to Ardent Partners, the cost to process an invoice with automation drops to just $2-3 – nearly 90% lower than manual processing.

For a company with 5,000 monthly invoices, automation can save $720,000-1.2 million per year compared to manual processing.

2. Faster Processing

Automation reduces invoice processing cycles from weeks to just hours or days. This improves supplier satisfaction and enables capturing early payment discounts.

3. Fewer Errors

Automating manual data entry and validation reduces invoice errors to under 1% – a 5X-8X improvement over manual processes. This prevents revenue leakage and improves financial data integrity.

4. Real-Time Visibility

Automated dashboards provide instant visibility into invoices outstanding, reducing Days Payables Outstanding (DPO) for stronger cash management.

5. Enhanced Control

Configurable workflows enable routing, matching, approval, and exception handling policies to be enforced consistently across all invoices.

6. Scalability

With automated systems, invoice volumes and peaks can be handled without proportionally increasing staffing requirements.

7. Automation of Downstream Processes

Once invoice data is captured digitally, additional processes like reconciliations, reporting, and analytics can also be automated through RPA.

Based on these benefits, invoice automation delivers 200-300% ROI within the first year for most organizations.

How Invoice Automation Works

Modern invoice automation leverages advanced technologies to replicate and enhance how AP teams process invoices manually:

The invoice automation process

Figure 1: Overview of the invoice automation process

Let‘s look at how the key steps work:

1. Invoice Capture

Invoices arrive in multiple formats – EDI, PDF, email, print, etc.

Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) technologies like OCR and AI-based data extraction convert unstructured invoices into structured digital data.

Advanced machine learning algorithms can accurately extract over 90% of invoice fields without human intervention.

2. Validation

Extracted invoice data is validated against purchase orders and contracts to match quantities, prices, and totals before approval.

Analytics identify duplicate invoices and flag deviations from past invoices to prevent fraudulent payments.

3. Routing & Approval

Pre-defined rules route validated invoices to the appropriate personnel for review and approval based on the amount and type of purchase.

Approvers can manage invoices directly within familiar tools like Outlook or mobile apps.

4. Accounting Integration

Once approved, the invoice integrates bi-directionally with ERPs like SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft Dynamics to synchronize vendor, order, and payment data.

No manual re-keying is needed, eliminating dual data entry.

5. Exception Handling

Invoices flagged for errors or changes are automatically routed to staff to resolve based on pre-set rules, ensuring nothing slips through the cracks.

6. Payment

Finally, the solution executes payment to the supplier on the optimal date based on invoice terms and company cash management policies.

This end-to-end automation allows 70-90% of invoices to be processed touchlessly while eliminating repetitive manual efforts.

Critical Capabilities for Invoice Automation Solutions

When evaluating invoice automation technology, key features to look for include:

Capability Description
Processing Accuracy AI and machine learning to drive high data extraction rates above 90%
Invoice Variety Ability to handle diverse invoice formats including EDI, PDF, Excel, email, etc.
Enterprise Scalability Cloud platform and architecture to handle volumes of 100,000+ invoices per month
ERP Integrations Pre-built connectors for systems like SAP, Oracle, Dynamics 365, and others
Configurable Workflows Ability to define business rules and routing logic using low-code tools
Analytics & Reporting Real-time dashboards and KPI reporting for visibility
Supplier Portal Self-service portal for suppliers to access invoice status and resolve queries
Mobile Access Ability for approvers to manage invoices via mobile apps
Security SSAE-compliant solution with encryption, access controls, and audit logs

Table 2: Key capabilities to look for in invoice automation solutions

Prioritizing these features will ensure a solution can deliver value quickly across diverse processes and integrate seamlessly with existing systems.

Choosing the Right Solution

The invoice automation market offers several technology options:

Accounts Payable Automation Software: Designed exclusively for AP workflows, these tools specialize in automating invoice processing through capture, validation, approval and GL coding. Leading solutions include Stampli, MineralTree, and Paymerang.

Procure-to-Pay Suites: Broader cloud platforms like Coupa and SAP Ariba that manage end-to-end P2P workflows including eProcurement, invoicing, payments, and sourcing.

Enterprise Content Management: ECM tools like Hyland OnBase and M-Files capture and manage documents across the enterprise, including invoices.

RPA Software: Robotic process automation tools like UiPath and Automation Anywhere are used to automate repetitive invoice processing tasks through bots.

Machine Learning APIs: Services like Hypatos provide pre-built AI models through APIs to extract data from invoices and integrate with other applications.

With numerous options available, companies should carefully evaluate their needs, volumes, and existing infrastructure before selecting a solution.

Implementation Best Practices

Like any automation initiative, effective change management is key for invoice automation:

  • Start with high volumes first – Target repetitive, high-volume invoices to show value quickly through savings.

  • Optimize upstream processes first – Ensure supplier master data and purchase orders are accurate for smooth matching.

  • Standardize invoice formats – Work with suppliers to adopt structured electronic formats like EDI and PDF/XML.

  • Cleanse historical invoices – Remove old invoice data irregularities that can create exceptions.

  • Monitor KPIs – Review automation rates, cycle times, and touches regularly to address gaps.

  • Gradually expand scope – Once smooth, bring additional invoice types, operating units, and geographies into the system.

  • Celebrate wins – Consistently communicate results and success stories to sustain stakeholder engagement.

With this phased rollout approach, automation rates can steadily improve towards the goal of 70%+ straight-through processing.

The Future of Invoice Automation

Invoice automation is poised for massive growth over the coming years. Key trends to expect include:

  • Deeper supply chain integration – Buying organizations and suppliers will share real-time order and invoice data to resolve issues proactively.

  • Enhanced analytics – Granular insights from invoice data will help negotiate supplier pricing and identify savings.

  • Expanded use of artificial intelligence – AI will hand more decisions and drive higher automation rates.

  • Broader deployments – Large enterprises will scale automated invoice processing globally across business units.

  • Extension to new areas – Automation will expand into accounts receivable, expenses, and other financial processes.

As technology continues maturing, the benefits of invoice automation will compound and solidify it as a new normal for AP departments.

Conclusion

Invoice automation represents a high-impact digital transformation initiative that can deliver 200-300% ROI through dramatic cost and time savings, improved accuracy, and enhanced control.

By leveraging AI, machine learning, and other emerging technologies, leading solutions can automate over 70% of invoice processing to enable staff to focus on value-added activities.

Given the clear business case, companies still relying on manual invoice handling should evaluate automation to streamline operations, reduce costs, improve relations with suppliers, and unlock strategic benefits. Those seizing the opportunity today will gain a competitive advantage.