Congratulations! You’ve made the smart decision to eliminate invoices and streamline the receipt of your mail and email with a digital mailroom.
As soon as it’s all in place, you’ll quickly start to enjoy increased efficiency and the ability to reallocate space and staff hours that were previously being wasted on managing incoming paper and email. But what do you do with your documents once they’re digitized and indexed? Don’t worry! That’s where workflow automation comes in.
Workflow automation streamlines business processes, enables better oversight, and reduces risks of manual data entry errors, all while improving efficiency. It’s a natural fit with digital mailroom services, especially in departments like accounts payable, where processing a high volume of incoming documents in a short period of time is common.
What is workflow automation?
Workflow automation is the use of computerized software to handle repetitive tasks in the workplace. When using workflow automation software, you’re able to set business rules that allow documents to move through a process with little or no manual intervention—this is called rule-based workflow automation.
For example, if you use digital mailroom services, you might decide that your workflow automation software should automatically begin routing invoices above a certain dollar amount to specific managers for approval, while invoices below a certain dollar value can be processed by AP staff without any management involvement, or even processed automatically if there is three-way matching. The goal is to save time and resources, while giving management better visibility into company processes.
Workflow automation: the perfect complement to a digital mailroom
A little automation can go a long way. Research by Levvel (formerly PayStream Advisors) has shown that when AP departments implement automation solutions—whether their processes are minimally- or fully-automated—they quickly experience significant improvements in document processing times. On average, AP automation decreases organizations’ invoice processing times from 45 days to under three! So if you’re not sure about automating your whole AP process, that’s okay. Even gradual implementation can be effective.
Using workflow automation in tandem with digital mailroom services keeps your document management processes almost entirely hands-off. There’s no more opening or sorting mail or email, no more physically distributing mail for review, approval, and processing and no need to physically file, store, and manage your important documents.
Workflow automation software also makes it easier to track processes and watch the progress of each invoice payment. This lets you evaluate employee productivity and better plan for upcoming capital needs.
No more manual tasks
The most time-saving benefit of workflow automation is the elimination of manual tasks. Once your incoming documents are received, digitized, and indexed by your mailroom outsourcing partner, there’s no need for AP staff to handle physical mail or emails, or to manually enter data into your ERP system. Both documents and data are ready to be loaded into workflow automation software and processed right away. From there, employees can access the system from any authorized device and quickly review and approve invoices, reducing the approval time from weeks or months to a few days.
There’s also no more need to transport paper invoices around the building for physical signatures, and there’s no longer a chance of an invoice getting misfiled or lost on someone’s messy desk. Best of all, since your data has been quality controlled, the bulk of the processing can be done by your software, meaning staff only needs to get involved to handle exceptions. Not only does that mean huge time savings, but it also takes a big load off of staff, allowing them to focus on more critical work.
Flexibility to grow your business
To make room for business growth, it’s important to set up processes that can handle an ever-increasing volume of incoming documents. This is where automated workflows have a big advantage over manual ones; once a process is defined, workflow automation software can execute it for any volume level without any trouble. Data storage is similarly expandable; as your archive grows you need only upgrade your cloud storage subscription (or hard drive from time to time if you choose to store data locally).
You’ll also be able to modify your rules and protocols to respond to your growing needs and whatever new challenges the market or regulatory bodies might bring to the table. Instead of having to move dozens of file cabinets to fit your growing business or reorganize them to meet new compliance regulations, workflow automation software lets you adjust seamlessly.
The right solution for workflow automation
When going paperless, you need a reliable partner to help you get the most out of your new automated business processes. Since there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for success, you’ll have to put in the work to carefully consider your business’ needs and the capabilities of the AP automation provider.
Remember, workflow automation is about spending less time managing documents, so look for features that make implementation easy. Integration with your accounting software, ERP system, and payment methods will go a long way in streamlining nearly every facet of management, as will built-in reporting tools when it comes to compliance and gaining real-time management insights.
Lastly, remember that a good automation partner can tailor a solution to fit your business, whether you’re seeking to overhaul your AP process or simply augment certain functions with digital processing. The needs of your business should come before the constraints of any solution.