The Dirty Little Secret of the AP Automation Industry and How the Technology Should Really Be Used

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It just doesn't make sense. We have this amazing technology available, and all we use it for is to pay bills faster?

The technology behind AP Automation can be used for SO much more and extend the productivity to your entire organization. ALL of your important documents can be automated. Not just scanned and stored, actually automated, eliminating manual data entry and errors. Your team is more productive, your customers are happier, and you save money. That is the idea behind the DaaS (Documents as a Service) product.

Sound too good to be true? Let me tell you how this all got started.

Years ago, I met a guy at an ERP user event, and since he bought me a beer, I let him tell me all about AP Automation. Basically, it has this great engine that reads documents and forms and enters the data into the ERP system.

My initial reply was that that made absolutely no sense to me. You're taking this powerful technology, and what are you using it to do? Empty your bank account. That's what AP automation does; it pays stuff faster.

There are so many other documents that flow around in an organization that have higher value.

For example, customer orders.  We live in a world of "Amazonian expectations." If I want something and I can't get it this afternoon, I am annoyed. If I can't get it tomorrow, the world's going to end. I think that kind of mindset starts permeating into the business world.

It just makes sense that the faster you get orders into your systems, the faster they can get to the customer, and everyone will be happier. So why wasn't that automated first?

But whenever I went to one of the annual ERP software shows, these AP automation vendors were like rabbits, multiplying. And most of them had big booths with a cushion under the carpet, so I know they must be making money. (If you've never paid for a trade show booth before, trust me, the booths with a cushion are extremely expensive).

So I started thinking more about AP automation and asking around about it. Here are the industry “secrets” I uncovered.

  1. The vast majority of companies selling AP automation don't create their own OCR (optical character recognition) engines. They buy or lease it from somebody else and build their own solution around it. (One company that I know you've heard of was recently sold for a shocking amount of money, yet actually, they had no underlying technology of their own).
  2. Most of those solutions include document management and workflow processing which Microsoft Dynamics 365 already has.
  3. The technology is hard to learn how to use and puts the pressure on the user to become an "automation expert" in order to "train" the system to recognize data correctly.
  4. Only one department, AP, is getting all the benefits.

So I thought, "Why don't I take that engine and create more document automation instead of just AP automation?" How hard can it be?

Very hard. I realized that the reason why everybody just sticks with AP automation is because optical character recognition and the whole process of actually reading documents is really, really hard. It does not just work like magic. And training people how to use those tools is also really, really hard.

I had three goals:

  1. Strip off the overhead because the really good ERP systems like Microsoft Dynamics 365 already have workflow and document management. There is no need to duplicate that.
  2. Automate other documents outside of just accounts payable. Anywhere there are high value documents in an organization, use the technology to speed things up as much as possible.
  3. Remove the customer 100% from having any contact with the technology because the technology is hard to learn. The customer doesn't want to become an automation tool expert; they just want it to work. (Think of it this way, you want to eat sausage with a beer on a Sunday afternoon, you don't want to watch sausage being made, right?)

And so, this is how we built the DaaS (Documents as a Service) product.

With this product, HandsFree has taken a dramatically different approach to the data capture and automation market for Microsoft Dynamics ERP solutions.  DaaS includes AP Automation but is so much more.

  • Behind the scenes, we use the latest and greatest OCR technology.
  • We strip off the homegrown, homemade document management workflow and use what is included in Microsoft Dynamics Finance, then supplement it with other great Microsoft tools.
  • We add a "service" layer on top, which means that we take care of "training" the system behind the scenes to recognize the right results. This includes OCR training (is that an L or a 1 on this form). And ERP related issues such as incorrect calculations, missing vendor names etc…

I believe that the DaaS product has taken OCR and document management capabilities and successfully moved it completely beyond AP.

  • What documents or forms does your organization process repeatedly?
  • What processes around documents are slow and cumbersome and could be automated?

The HandsFree team can help you to analyze, optimize and modernize your business with DaaS, documents as a service.

Contact HandsFree online or call (937) 563-2535 to start the conversation.

By Peter Joeckel, HandsFree,

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