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I am often ask by corporations “what is best practice for invoice receipt…paper, vendor networks, EDI, direct uploads, vendor portal ?”…and the answer is YES. Most corporations rely on multiple invoice input channels. That often prompts the reply…”you included paper as best practice…are you sure?”

While electronic communication has long been best practice for almost every aspect of our businesses, invoices continue to be generated primarily as paper. The obvious negatives related to filing and retrieval of paper is compounded by the variability of the paper. This variability includes where the data is located on the invoice such as purchase order number, the quality of the paper, the quality of the printer, handling during transmittal (folding, staples, getting wet), handling after transmittal (tears, coffee cup rings, more staples) and the addition of meta data such as a time stamp showing date received or hand written notes. But on a good note I am sure that ALL your invoices are in one language and one currency?  Add to this the simple task of routing the paper with in a business process (isn’t land mail great!) and you have all the necessary ingredients for making a bad process.

It might be ask that how can this be considered a bad process since paper invoices are currently used by most successful corporations.

It is not how you receive invoices but how you work with them. How you capture and use this business content is what takes you down the path of best practice or bad practice. It is the header and line item meta data that is important in the Accounts Payable processing and not the document itself. The paper is obviously just a mechanism to convey the meta data. Best practice requires that you immediately scan and store the image while linking to the accounts payable posting within the accounting system. The content will be electronically extracted from image, tested and corrected to ensure accuracy and completeness and then automatically posted. The invoice is the result of procurement, which is the component of a larger business transaction that required the purchase. It is necessary to also link the structured AP document to additional structured documents such a purchase order and unstructured information such as contained in emails related to the purchase. It is also a requirement that the AP information be addressed by corporate record retention.

Since best practice in Accounts Payable is more about the content and use of the content than the paper itself; receiving paper invoices can still be a best practice! Many corporations have already taken the best practice initiative of moving to an ERP such as SAP. When the invoice receipt is paper based, SAP provides the best practice solution by offering all the necessary components including Document Archive for scan and storage, Invoice Management for OCR and exception processing and ECM to manage invoices as one component of the enterprise picture.

If you handle the content properly most certainly, those paper invoices can become a best practice.

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