The Future of Accounts Payable

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Each advancement in technology today is equal to all other advancements in history — an exponential step forward on a daily basis. It’s also true that many organizations feature accounts payable (AP) processes stuck in decade-old approaches.

accounts payable

As trends in accounts payable align increasingly with those in technology, 2016 is a great year for businesses of all sizes to implement forward-facing accounts payable solutions.

In 2016 and beyond, the future of accounts payable will include growing reliance on mobile solutions, automation and digital authorization technologies.

Mobile Reliance

Accounting organizations — both within and without enterprise structures — have been talking about cloud and mobile implementation for years, but most experts predict 2016 will be the year it actually happens.

Mobile solutions accelerate and often improve communication. Accounts payable departments using mobile solutions can access data, seek approvals, and process work in record time, all without burdening in-house accounting resources with untenable workloads or hours.

In a Gartner list of top technical solutions to watch for 2015 and 2016, enterprise mobile management shows up as No. 8. The future of accounts payable for many organizations is tied to overall trends within organizations. Even in small-business environments, mobile solutions for accounts payable might be part of an app or software package, or it could be important that the mobile solution integrates with existing functionality in other business areas.

Growing Adoption of Automation

Compared to its sister, accounts receivable, accounts payable has not benefited as much from automation in the recent past. Technologies for routing and handling workflow and approvals have boosted performance for AP departments, but accounting and tech pros expect automation within AP environments to grow quickly in the next few years.

Automation won’t just create efficiency wins for organizations, but it will also reduce reliance on paper, creating greener accounts payable processes. Even payments, which can be processed through digital channels via an increasing number of platforms, will ditch paper and become more automatic in nature.

Employers — and staff — in accounts payable niches won’t be able to fight a trend toward automation, nor should they. In a high-compliance, high-risk environment such as accounts payable, people can’t be completely replaced by machines. Instead, machines and automations can integrate into people-powered processes to create cost-effective, accurate results. Over the next few years, existing AP personnel will likely face learning challenges as they incorporate automations into the job.

Digital Authorization and Security

A recent Accenture report notes that the Internet of Things (IoT) has driven everything — from consumers to business activities — into the digital realm. That includes accounts payable authorization processes, which are going to rely less and less on pen-and-ink signatures and printed forms. Digital authorization technology can record individual signatures through several methods, from passcode-enabled approvals to stylus-recorded signatures. Organizations embracing technology across all departments are likely to use such methods for purchase orders, expense reimbursement approvals and invoice approvals.

While digital authorization speeds the AP process and dramatically reduces the tedium of paperwork, organizations must pay close attention to growing digital risks and security requirements.

Going digital with accounts payable functions will likely generate cost savings, but businesses of all sizes must ensure savings are not lost to future security breaches. Working with reliable vendors and third-party software is one way to mitigate security risks, but accounts payable staff must also work closely with internal tech resources to create secure procedures for any AP function that goes digital.

The future of accounts payable is one that is closely tied to technical resources. AP staff across all businesses might want to start getting to know both existing tech and technical staff; the chances of being more involved with such resources in the near future is 100 percent.

Header by Rachel Wille

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About the Author


Steve Smith

As U.S. Chief Operating Officer at Esker, Steve Smith is responsible for all operations in North, South, and Central America. Esker is a global leader in business process automation, helping organizations around the world automate their manual business processes. Through Esker’s variety of software packages, businesses are able to increase their workflow and productivity as well as keep business costs down.



I believe that weight of AP within an organization is rapidly evolving.Evryone knows that lowering costs is one of the main business objectives for AP leaders. This is very relevant when you consider the highly competitive business world that AP supports. Also, it has a huge effect on cash management, supplier management, and business intelligence.

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