'Smart' vs. 'dumb' automation: how to leverage true innovation

August 15, 2019 Matt Vermeulen

In the B2B world, there are a lot of new services that promise to make life more convenient for the accounts payable specialist. These innovations generally promise to cut invoice processing time, reduce errors, and double invoices paid.

But there are two distinct types of automation technology you need to be aware of: smart tools that help you make smarter decisions—like artificial intelligence—and dumb tools that may speed up your processes but don’t provide any real insights. 

What about Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technologies? 

Robotic process automation, or RPA, mimics keystrokes and mouse-clicks humans would do to process email and pdf invoices, drastically improving invoicing time. Optical Character Recognition, or OCR, lets you convert different types of documents including paper, picture or pdfs, into editable, searchable data. 

These two technologies are popular because they can help enterprises reduce processing times, automate paper processes, and cut down on waste. 

Watch out for stop-gap solutions

While they may be interesting tools for companies at the start of their AP automation journey, automation like RPA and OCR aren’t true automation. And they don’t actually get rid of the paper they just make it easier to process manual invoicing. In other words, they make the status quo more convenient without really changing it. 

Calling these technologies “futuristic” or “transformative” is misleading. They’re merely useful stop-gap solutions. They start from the premise that paper is inevitable, and the best you can do is process paper faster. 

That premise is worth challenging. What if your entire system was digitized so you didn’t have to worry about paper or manual processing at all? And what if you had technology that gave you deep insights into your financial operation and even suggested smart actions you could take to improve it? 

It’s possible. 

Artificial intelligence: A true digital solution 

Real digital transformation requires a shift from stop-gap process solutions like RPA and OCR to technology that helps you achieve greater financial outcomes. Outcome-driven technology focuses on digital solutions that allow for collaboration across departments and smarter decision making by taking advantage of AI.

AI can sound futuristic, but it has practical use-cases for accounts payable professionals. It uses the vast amounts of data in your enterprise to learn and suggest decisions for you in a fraction of the time you could do it yourself. If you want to find invoices, for example, you can in an instant with the help of AI. And, using the wealth of data in your accounts payable department, as well as every interaction your users make on a shared platform, it can notice errors in your invoices and fix them on the fly. AI can flag potential fraud risks and suggest automatic approvals when analyzing your invoices. 

All of its capabilities dramatically increase your straight-through processing times, making approvals far easier and making you the new hero for detecting fraud. AI can help you turn your department into a time-saving wealth generator. 

So not only do you get more time to think strategically, but you also get more intelligent insight into how to make your company more successful. That’s true innovation. 

To learn more about how this industry is embracing AI and all its possibilities, watch our panel video about ways to use AI to create true innovation.


About the Author

Matt Vermeulen

Matt Vermeulen writes about B2B commerce for Tradeshift. Whether he's writing about Accounts Payable best practices or debunking AI myths, Matt enjoys making complex topics easy to understand and fun to read.

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