Historically, finance and accounting departments, particularly AP/AR, have been considered as part of the back office, usually comprised of support and administrative teams. Because front office departments, like sales and marketing, tend to get the most recognition—even credit—for the financial success of a company, the back office tends to be somewhat invisible. Unless you need help with something!
Now, however, businesses are expecting more from their AP function. Like leveraging data housed in their AP department to support better management of their working capital. Even further, freeing up cash to use for extending product lines and R&D.
But how do you get there when your staff is bogged down with manual repetitive processes that take too long and cost too much, frustrating internal leadership and valued suppliers?
When members of your AP department are still processing invoices manually, their job consists of tedious tasks such as data entry, going around to managers to get approval signatures, tracking down lost invoices, and fielding calls from vendors wanting to know the status of their payment. It’s not only drudgery, it certainly doesn’t allow for any creative thinking or time for more value-added contributions. Worse, AP staff have little opportunity for anything that would gain them visibility to advance their career. Sure, there might be promotion opportunities, but they may face the same situation even as a department manager.
There’s hope! For years, companies have thought they could throw more people at the problem. Now, they are getting serious about automation and leveraging the wide range of technologies to choose from. And they are getting excited about increasing efficiencies, reallocating resources to more value-added tasks, and sending cost savings straight to the bottom line.
So, what initiatives might senior leaders adopt to lead the organization from the back office?
Formulating strategy within the business is a relatively new role for finance, but one that is welcomed, according to a recent article from Host Analytics. It requires some new skill sets and increased knowledge of sales, marketing, manufacturing, and other operations, but can also leverage the analytical skills of finance staff applied in new areas.1
This is where even those in entry level and mid-management finance and accounting roles can step forward and get noticed. Imagine how innovative and forward-thinking you as a finance and accounting leader and every member of your staff will appear to be if you are the ones to provide a solution that will unlock valuable data, save money, make existing staff more efficient, and all resulting in sending more money straight to the bottom line.
Imagine if you are the ones to turn your AP department from a cost center into a profit center.
And imagine if you are the ones to ask the senior leaders in your organization, “Where do we stand with working capital so we can more accurately forecast cash and manage budgets?” instead of “How do we manage this ever-growing pile of invoices?”
Once a few heads turn, dig deeper. Start asking more strategic questions like, “How do we better manage our supply chain?” And, best of all, “What do we do with the cash that has been freed up?” Not only that, you’ll be well-prepared to answer those questions with, “I’ve got some ideas for new products I’d like to see us develop,” or “By saving this much money from our accounts payable function, I recommend we reallocate those funds into R&D.”
Take some inspiration from Keri Gohman, president of a SaaS solution provider for small business, who advises, “When you take all of the energy spent on fitting into a narrow box” (like the back office) “and unleash that on your work — magic happens.”
She goes on, “When I allowed myself to be the boldest version of myself, I realized I was more willing to take risks, to be more powerful—and my true capacity was unleashed.”2
Mark Brousseau, consultant, Institute of Finance Management (IOFM) spokesperson, and AP automation thought leader predicts that more and more companies who have not already automated their AP function will realize the opportunities for true leadership and do so soon. “It will be unrecognizable!” he says, “digital, data driven, and strategic. Stakeholders will unlock the value of AP automation and leverage it in more ways than ever.”
Yooz comes from a legacy of business process automation and smart document management. We strive to enable every member of finance and accounting departments to achieve more by automating data entry tasks so that you can focus on providing insights and make smart decisions that improve business operations overall.
Perhaps changing the perception of the “back office” to the “financial strategy” office.