August 26, 2021

6 Manual Processes You Should Automate

By Tische Smith

As a controller managing a back office, it can often seem like the list of tasks is never-ending. There are never-ending competing issues and priorities:  staffing levels, internal customer needs, transactional errors, changing business needs.  

It’s very common for even a large company to have multiple manual processes, but this often lends itself to human error. In addition, company growth can lead to longer working hours for staff, just to cover the workload.  Working long hours, handling unsatisfied internal customers, and dealing with the effects of transactional errors can be frustrating for employees. 

 If your organization is looking to implement more efficiency and productivity into your processes, it’s time to work smarter, not harder and implement automation. 

Why is Automation Important?  

 “…Constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”  – Elon Musk

High-performing controllers and finance managers are always looking at improving efficiency, customer service, accuracy, and timeliness of transactions and processes. Many things drive the need for automation, but there are several positive effects of automating accounting processes: 

  • Create scalability and customer satisfaction by improving efficiency and/or turnaround time for a transaction. 
  • Reduce per-transaction costs – Without automation, as a company grows and the resulting transaction volumes increase, operating expenses continue to rise. Implementing automated processes takes some up-front resources but can easily pay off in the long-run through much lower per-transaction costs.   
  • Drive standardization – To effectively implement automation, it’s imperative to set a consistent standard, and remove one-off scenarios that can happen within manual processes.  
  • Improve timeliness, tracking and accuracy of transactions – Automation of certain transactions can help reduce manual errors and provide solid tracking of transaction flow through a system.  

6 Areas Improved Through Automation: 

Travel Booking & Expense Reimbursements: 

  • Consider applications that handle both travel and expense, to leverage the intelligence from the travel bookings to minimize the effort of creating and processing expense reports. Travelers can save time using
    your single source travel booking application, maintain their reward programs within the application, and the company has direct access to the travel information.
     
  • As you consider applications, the following can be important capabilities: 
    • Phone application that allows for: 
      • Imaging/receipt capture
      • Expense report creation/submission 
      • Approvals  
    • Configurable workflow for travel and expense reports, and associated approvals 
    • Configurable policy constraints to help with compliance – travel policy, expense policy, account coding
    • Corporate credit card data interface capability – information such as dates, vendors, and dollar amounts may be matched to travel 

Monthly Close Process:

  • Many ERPs have templates for uploading journal entries: 
    • Review your ERP for JE upload functionality and invest the time to set up templates for each recurring JE
    • Export source data in a format that fits the upload template 
  • Consider software applications that help you handle close virtually: 
    • Close checklist/task management 
    • Automation of reconciliations 
    • Automation of journal entries 
    • Workflows/approvals for tasks such as journal entries and reconciliations 
    • Reporting/analytics 

Procurement – Purchase Order (PO) vs. Non-PO purchasing: 

  • Most companies have purchases that require a PO, and others that do not.  The purchasing policy should define the requirements of PO vs. Non-PO purchases. 
  • PO Purchasing Considerations: 
    • Existing ERP functionality – This functionality may be very basic and consist of PO documents with matching capabilities or could include more advanced features. 
    • External software applications to achieve policy compliance, workflow capabilities, notifications, vendor interfacing, and reporting. 
    • In-house applications that allow for form design and management may be used for basic tracking and approvals where a sophisticated PO system is not required.
  • For Non-PO purchases, one recommendation is the setup and use of Purchasing Cards (P-Cards).  P-Cards are credit cards that can be set up with limits to help manage non-PO purchasing, and they offer several convenient benefits:
    • Earnable rebates based on spending levels. 
    • Reduction in AP workload by reducing the number of invoices the AP staff receive and process. 
    • Policy compliance management may be enabled through banking systems and card-related controls such as card limits and vendor MCC code limitations. 

Accounts Payable:

  • Manually receiving, routing and processing of vendor invoices requires multiple touchpoints and staff diligence.  If vendors are not sending invoices to a central point, the invoices may get lost or duplicated.
  • ERP software companies have improved their AP functionality.  Explore your ERP system for capabilities.
  • Consider applications that will interface with the ERP, including common features such as: 
    • Imaging with OCR (Optical Character Recognition)  
    • Configurable workflow for policy compliance and approvals 
    • Management of PO vs. Non-PO transactions 
    • Possible interface with P-Card or “ghost” card banking system
    • Vendor payment processing 

Payroll & Timekeeping: 

  • A manual timesheet requires each employee to record their time on a form, followed by payroll employees having to input the time into the payroll system and/or the ERP. Eliminate this duplication of effort by implementing timekeeping software that can interface into the payroll system. 
  • In-house payroll requires staff with specific knowledge of payroll taxes and labor laws for different jurisdictions.  Consider using an external payroll service to leverage payroll and tax capabilities. Most payroll outsourcing systems also have HR functions, allowing for better coordination between Accounting and HR.  Look for the functionality with any payroll system, such as: 
    • Import capability – import timekeeping data and/or other payroll/benefits related data used for payroll calculation 
    • GL mapping of earning and deduction codes 
    • Export capability for payroll data – export payroll data in a format for upload to your GL 
    • Explore the potential for payroll system to interface directly with finance ERP via API
    • Reporting/analytics for use by Accounting or HR 
    • Employee usability to view paystubs and update or view personal and tax information 

Reduce or Eliminate Checks:   

  • Check payments cost more than most electronic forms of payment, so reducing or eliminating the number of checks saves operating costs.  
  • Payroll payments should be made by direct deposit, or pay card, which saves money and allows employees to review their pay stubs online. 
  • Expense reimbursements should be made by direct deposit.  Most automated expense reporting applications have email notification capability to employees. 
  • Types of electronic vendor payments to consider: 
    • ACH payments – Many ERPs have functionality which will email vendor remittance information and have ACH file exports for upload to the bank. 
    • “Ghost” card or AP credit card – With these cards, no plastic is generated but there is an AP credit card account set up with the bank specifically for vendor payments.  
    • P-Card (procurement card) – separate from corporate card programs, this credit card program can be set up separately with different compliance parameters, such as for non-PO type transactions or to reduce the number of traditional AP invoices that AP staff must review and set up for payment.  

Automating various processes boosts the performance of an accounting team, benefits employees, allows the company to grow without adding exponentially to its back-office costs, and provides accounting management with solid tools for managing the back-office functions. 

“What’s right about America is that although we have a mess of problems, we have great capacity – intellect and resources – to do something about them.” – Henry Ford

Whether it’s short turnaround “quick hit” efficiencies or software implementations, Bridgepoint Consulting has the expertise you need to identify and implement solutions to fit your needs. With a team of experienced consultants, we’re ready to assist your organization with identifying and implementing automation to simplify business practices and drive growth

Related Insights
Merger & Acquisition Process: Is Your Organization Prepared to Sell?
Read More
Successfully Navigate Your Company to SOX Compliance
Read More
5 Due Diligence Activities For A Successful M&A Transaction
Read More

About Tische Smith
Tische has over 25 years of experience in shared services across various industries. Her passion for leading teams and managing and improving processes has been the key to her success in her various financial management and controller roles. Tische is a veteran accountancy professional with deep experience across all aspects of accounting, including oversight of daily operations and implementation of special projects. A keen collaborator across departments, Tische is a proven leader, ensuring the smooth operation of organizations’ accounting functions.
tsmith@bridgepointconsulting.com LinkedIn