Automating accounts payable

Features - Design & Automation Update

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can speed invoice processing, smooth supplier relations.

Photo credit: Stockphoto via iPayables

Most aerospace companies handle thousands – if not tens of thousands – of invoices a month from many different suppliers. It’s important to have good relationships with suppliers to make orders and invoice processing go smoothly.

When trying to optimize the accounts payable (AP) department to handle large numbers of invoices and maintain healthy supplier relationships, implementing high-level automation is highly recommended. Through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies, invoices can be recognized and processed simultaneously. When invoices are processed with speed and accuracy, they can be submitted to suppliers, not just on time, but early. Submitting invoices early opens opportunities for dynamic discounting. Getting paid early makes for happy suppliers, and taking advantage of discounts benefits the company.

Electronic invoicing

With high-level AP automation, there should be multiple options for submitting invoices, including file upload, online entry, e-mail, and paper invoices. A supplier submits online entry invoices through an online portal, and once the information is keyed in and submitted, the invoice becomes instantly available to the customer. High-level automation solutions put rules in place so invoices can’t be submitted unless certain fields are completed – meaning fewer exceptions due to incomplete invoices.

Suppliers can use the portal to upload the invoice instead of keying the information into fields. Automation solutions use AI and optical character recognition (OCR) technology to read the file, validate the invoice through users’ requirements, and upload it to the portal making it instantly accessible.

E-invoicing is becoming more common but some suppliers still insist on only sending paper or emailed invoices. High-level solutions can accommodate for this without the AP department resorting to manual entry. The supplier sends an invoice to the automation solution’s designated address, instead of the company’s address. Once the invoice forms are received, AI and OCR technology begin validating the information on the invoices. Once the information has been validated, it’s uploaded as a file upload, and available through the automation solution’s invoice portal.

AI, ML ensure accuracy

Many automation companies began using AI to help with OCR and speed up the invoicing process. With the most basic level of AI, a user inputs a set of rules, and the AI executes the rules as entered. Paired with OCR, the rules remove some, but not all, manual processes from the AP department. AI paired with ML technology can remove almost all manual effort for the AP department. Basic AI can capture and reproduce numbers but can’t learn anything outside of the parameters it’s been assigned. If it’s unable to recognize something on an invoice, it must be marked as an exception for AP to review and fix every time. Now, ML technology can reduce exceptions, thanks to a confidence level. ML recognizes characters and patterns. Based on recognized patterns and historic data, the system can determine rules applied toward future automation. When AP manually reviews and fixes the AI’s error when it can’t recognize certain characters, the ML then updates itself based on AP’s correction. It can better recognize a similar situation in the future and solve the problem, giving a confidence level reading along with its correction. If the confidence level is below a certain percentage, the invoice is still marked as an exception and sent to AP for review, but the confidence level builds based on the correction. If the system reads above a certain confidence level, the invoice isn’t marked and will be submitted automatically, leading to fast and accurate invoice processing.

Improving supplier relations

It’s important to maintain relationships with suppliers. When paid on time, suppliers are happy, and processes can go without hiccups. The AP staff are tasked with making sure these relationships succeed. However, this often requires spending much time fielding supplier inquiries and returning phone calls, resulting in lost time better spent performing more valuable tasks. With supplier portal features that come with a high-level automation solution, suppliers can navigate their own invoices easily online. This decreases AP’s time spent dealing with suppliers and eliminates unnecessary phone calls. Suppliers can see where an invoice is in the process and leave comments or flag a dispute directly on the invoice, which AP can respond to online.

Another important feature that comes with high-level automation solutions is dynamic discounting. It’s not uncommon for suppliers to offer discounts for early payment, as it improves cash flow. These discounts aren’t easy to take advantage of when AP is working manually or relying on low-level automation – there’s too much to do in too little time. With a fully automated payables department, formerly manual processes are streamlined, giving AP time to pay multiple invoices early and reap the benefits of dynamic discounting. Many high-level automation solutions include a tool negotiating the dynamic discount between the customer and supplier based on the selected pay date. The two simply agree upon a date, and the solution’s software calculates a discount based on how early the payment is made.

Fast, efficient AP

Automation is a great tool for streamlining manual processes for the AP department, which increases productivity and improves supplier relations. An aerospace company valuing its relationship with suppliers and handling numerous monthly invoices would benefit from having a high-level accounts payable automation solution in place.


About the author: Anastazia Westfall is iPayables’ marketing team lead. She can be reached at 866.874.7932 or


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Photo Credit: Fastems LLC

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