Where Automation and Manual Work Connect
It’s no secret that automation is creating a big change in how financial operations are handled. With work becoming increasingly digitally enabled, there are now so many different tasks that can now be automated. As we’re focused on automating billing and collections, and having processed more than $40 billion in receivables on behalf of clients, we take a lot of pride and satisfaction in seeing tasks like invoice calculation, multi-channel invoice delivery, billing reminders, cash application, reconciliation and more getting done automatically and at scale.
But there are some things that can’t be automated, or perhaps shouldn’t be automated. For example, if automated email reminders have been fully exhausted and there’s still no payment, should a phone call be automated? If a high dollar, long term client has one small invoice that’s 60 days overdue, should their account automatically be put on hold?
These are rhetorical questions of course, but they help to illuminate this important fact of life in automating financial operations: when pursuing an automation strategy it’s important to consider not just what you’re automating, but what you’re not automating.
That said, just because you’re not automating a task doesn’t mean you can’t make it far better with software. What we’ve found is that by taking on an A/R automation effort, businesses can actually dramatically improve the few remaining manual steps they’re left with. As an example, when we created our Smart Chasing Engine for invoice communications and reminders, we realized that while certain “offline” tasks like phone calls and internal escalations couldn’t be automated, they could still be assigned and accounted for. By baking this consideration into the feature, we and our clients started to see the quality and productivity of manual work improving, often dramatically—even though it was still manual.
For instance, we have many clients who are using our chasing engine to automatically deliver balance communications and invoice reminders. Once those communications have run their course, individual client staff members are assigned action items for more targeted follow ups with the smaller number of customers who still haven’t paid after being reminded.
The action items can be assigned, reassigned, marked as complete and reported on. So in addition to having decimated the number of manual steps required, the remaining work is dramatically improved in these ways:
- It’s prioritized. Staff are only assigned tasks that can’t or shouldn’t be automated. So instead of trying to cover their entire customer base, they’re focused only on the billing issues that need more individual attention.
- It’s more productive. By being able to work through a nice neat task list, collections staff can focus their attention in one place—instead of rifling through a series of spreadsheets, emails and one-off reports. That way they get the work that matters done faster.
- It’s more accountable. With every action and status tracked and reported on, managers have the ability to quickly see what manual tasks are done, outstanding or overdue. And they can address any potential issues with the assigned team members.
Even if you can’t automate every single unit of effort that’s needed to make something like A/R work successfully, you can still improve the remaining manual work in game-changing ways.
By taking a holistic view of how automated and manual tasks interconnect, the best finance and accounting teams are achieving big gains in efficiency and performance while maintaining or improving the experience their customers and suppliers have come to expect.