NetSuite AP Automation: Closing The Traditional Tool Gap

The author image who wrote the blog article
Ben Oliver

In this blog post, I'll be discussing the evolution of Account Payable processes and in particular the different tools available to manage AP Automation in NetSuite. The main take away being: you're great, your tools are the problem!

The source of this propaganda

Back in the day, I took great pride in helping Finance Teams optimise their AP processes. From multi-level approval workflows with cost centre coding slips, to pushing supplier invoices through data capture tools like Abbyy & Kofax, even automating Invoice/PO reconciliation. By today’s standards, it was probably all a bit noddy, but it worked well.

My ‘workflow’ ‘career’ diversified into correspondence and email routing (inbound and outbound), approvals, contracts, order fulfilment, procurement, manufacturing, design, insurance claims, finance/loan applications and more.

Despite some years passing since I was deep in the trenches of the AP processes world, my goal remains the same - let’s make working life easier for everyone! I’m all about anything that involves getting from A to B in the best way possible, and infuriated when it’s harder than it needs to be.

Why do different?

The options for AP teams now are vast and varied, but must feel over-whelming at times! There’s so much great technology and best practice kicking around, particularly in terms of native capability in platforms like NetSuite, and specialist tools offering deep integration, automation and intelligence - special mentions to FastFour and Tipalti, who’s platforms I would have been all over as a solution provider.

But, for many of us, there’s still a world in which AP processes, finance processes, arguably any business process, is still done or supplemented in traditional tools like email. Even worse, those processes have moved from email into team chat apps like Microsoft Teams or Slack, or even duplicated across both (in the hope that one of them might get a result, eventually, with enough effort).

It doesn't help that these ‘new’ communication tools are very much modelled on the old. Yes, we can compensate for their weaknesses, and we’ve become hardened to doing so, but they take their toll, in a big way.

Let’s break the tradition

What if our default tooling was fundamentally better than that of tradition? And what if that default tooling could help with any process for which there wasn’t yet a specialist tool, or we hadn’t yet implemented one? Processes like vendor bill approvals…

You’re great, you’re tools aren’t

There’s still a surprising amount of faff required when it comes to reconciling and logging an invoice, before you get close to determining what to do with it. Whilst your honed jedi instincts usually prove correct, it’s always best to check - do we have a vendor record, is there a purchase order, who’s responsible for this ridiculous spend on this ridiculous thing?

Getting an invoice (sorry, ‘bill’) off an email and stored in the right place (or even worse, scanning a paper copy) requires ninja mouse and keyboard dexterity, the muscle memory of which doesn’t distract from the tedium. How many clicks, taps and drags does it take you? Maybe you’ve got a wonderful little purpose-built add-in or widget in your email account that makes it a breeze - or did you stop using that shortly after you installed it?

But the clouds part and the sun shines when you receive an expected invoice from an established vendor, one that’s reconcilable with a purchase order and pre-approved for payment...

To: My Beloved Finance Team

Subject: Invoice for New Supplier

Attachments: [INV0293.pdf]

"Hi Team,

Please process the attached invoice from the new supplier 'yet another agency' for payment.

'X' amount with 'Y' terms, recurring 'Z'ly

To be attributed to my Marketing Content budget for blog articles because I just can't do it!

Thanks, Ben

Hopefully, that email would be pretty helpful?!

Unfortunately not everyone sends such a detailed description of what an invoice might be for, and you often find yourself in the classic position of playing detective rather than getting on with your already sky high pile of work.

It could be so much easier

A forwarded invoice lands in your mailbox. Line item says ‘Enablement materials’ (which could be anything) and it sounds suspiciously dodgy - I bet it’s the Sales Team. Your guess is that it’s probably Rick who needs to review and approve it.

For three days, Rick ignores your first email asking whether he knows anything about it. You only remember because you’re super slick (unlike Rick) and created a reminder for yourself, noting that we’d need to make the end-of-week payment run to qualify for early settlement discounts. Even though Rick doesn’t have bad intentions, it’s hard not to get mildly frustrated that you have to actively remember to chase for a response.

And it’s not just the mental load that you have to carry, it’s the knock on effect that comes when just one person misses an email or simply forgets to respond in time. It’s when the vendor begins chasing you for payment, it’s when additional information is requested, it’s when you’re deferred to someone else and the cycle begins again: questioning, waiting, chasing, and so on. And all the while having to remember what’s been said or sent, to who, and when. Not only that, you have to do this across multiple tools and in outdated systems, that promote silos of information where there’s no one source of truth. That’s the end-of-week payment run deadline out the window!

What I’m trying to say is that it’s all a lot harder than it needs to be, and requires a lot of reliance on other people.

Don’t worry, there’s help out there!

The likelihood is that you’re striving for an AP strategy that optimises cashflow, increases reputation, improves efficiency, keeps you at the top of the list during times of supply chain uncertainty, saves time… the list goes on. And there’s a lot of room for improvement between vendor bill approvals being carried out in traditional tools like email and team chat, without having to jump headfirst into AP Automation.

Don’t get me wrong! If a specialist AP Automation tool is you’re near-term goal, then you’re spoiled for choice, and it’s so much more accessible and easily adoptable than ever before. If you haven’t taken a close look yet, I’d encourage you to do so.

NetSuite’s content on the subject is a great starting point, not only on tooling, but more generally on AP goals too:

Also, did I mention FastFour and Tipalti already? I’m not sure.

If on the other hand, you just want to find out a little more about how you can move away from the painful admin and inefficiencies of trying to run important processes in email and team chat, simply and easily, with greater control, clarity and visibility, with less effort and integrated with NetSuite - then Workiro is worth a look. It’s a next generation, cloud-based enterprise content management app that’s got you covered for tasks, communication, documents and e-signatures, all in one place. Vendor bill approvals are just the tip of the iceberg!

And if I have managed to spark your curiosity, take a look at the short video below which explains how Workiro helps with vendor bill approvals.

Regardless of which path you take, please do something, I doubt you’ll regret it, and it’ll likely turn out to be far easier than you ever expected.

Good luck and thank you for reading!

Ben Oliver
Senior VP Of Strategy
Ben has over 20 years of experience in commercial software, proficient in technical, leadership, and business roles, enabling effective solution design, support, consultation, and implementation across diverse industries.