Efficient document workflow management in a company is one of the key aspects of well-organized work. Since the most commonly used document is an invoice, the decision about electronic workflow implementation usually starts with it. If the process proves its usefulness, the system development path in the company is pretty clear – most probably, new document types are added until all documents are processed electronically.
Selecting the appropriate tool
There are many systems supporting Finance and Accounting departments on the market, starting from simple invoicing programs up to complex ERP class systems. However, the majority of them have one disadvantage. There are no or limited document workflow modules. That is why it is worth considering additional workflow system implementation. NAVIGATOR system is an example of such a solution, which we use in our company to process both cost and sales invoices.
Company work organization
From the invoice workflow procedure perspective in the company, we can identify two groups of users: finance and accounting department employees and those who deliver invoices to the company. Of course, the domain of accountants’ work is financial and accounting systems, and, usually, we do not want to enable sensitive data to other employees, therefore the document workflow system is the best subsidiary solution in this case.
Uploading documents to the system
Once a new invoice is delivered to the company, it should be uploaded to the system. You can do this manually by rewriting all the data from the paper version to the computer, or you can scan the document and use the OCR module, allowing the system automatic document form filling.
NAVIGATOR uses an OCR solution connected to our own Artificial Intelligence System (AI), which is capable of learning based on received documents. As a result, we can design a highly customized system both corresponding to the needs of the company and saving employees’ time.
Invoice workflow exists in each company, regardless of whether we work with hard copies of documents or electronic invoices. The procedure is usually the same. The employee accepts the invoice and adds the information based on the accounting policy. Then another person approves it and finally pays or sends it to the contractor.
Not much changes after the electronic invoice workflow process are implemented. Usually, the same people perform the same tasks using the electronic version of a document, however, it is worth verifying the existing workflow and applying modifications to improve the process if needed.
At Archman, we decided to focus on the invoice workflow simplicity: the invoice could be uploaded to the system by anyone, but some fields on the invoice form are required and must be filled in to continue. Next, the invoice reaches the owner (the person responsible for the payment, e.g. team leader). At this stage, data verification takes place. The owner can accept it or send it back for amendment. If the invoice is accepted, it passes to the accounting department and being verified from the formal and accounting point of view. Also, the contractor’s information, bank accounts, etc. are checked.
An accountant can also send the invoice back for amendment or accept it. After approval, documents concerning payment are generated – the payment itself in case of a purchase invoice or the invoice in case of sales invoice workflow. The last step of the process is a data transfer to the accounting system.
One of the most important aspects of invoice workflow is its verification. Apart from the elements controlled by the employee responsible for the invoice, equally important are the elements that the system should verify. We should check the contractor’s VAT status and whether his account is on the white list of accounts etc.
These automatic data checking algorithms are implemented in the NAVIGATOR system. How does it look like in practice? Well, once an employee opens a document, they receive information about the contractor, which is refreshed according to a given parameter. Once an invoice is accepted, it reaches the accounting department and is verified for formal and accounting requirements.
There can be many paths in the workflow procedure. An accountant may accept an invoice, but they may also send it back for correction. Let’s assume, there is approval. Then documents concerning payment are generated – the payment itself in case of a purchase invoice or the invoice in case of sales invoice workflow. The last step of the process is a data transfer to the accounting system.
Upon the invoice workflow procedure design, it is worth considering whether it can be simplified by automation of some tasks. We have already described an OCR system with Artificial Intelligence features, which reduces the time needed to enter a document into the system. It is just one example of process automation. What else?
We can move on, both in the advanced solution direction, such as the account assignment hints or document owner assignment based on the Artificial Intelligence system’s recommendations, or simple conditions in the invoice workflow definition.
That’s not all. A simple and frequently used element of the invoice workflow procedure is the superior’s acceptance (usually, this decision depends on the invoice amount). Again, whereas in the case of paper documents, a person decides to submit them for approval, it is possible to design the proper procedure in electronic systems launched on the basis of the data from the document, so that it is the system that decides on the path of acceptance.
Financial and accounting systems integration
The document workflow system will not replace the entire financial and accounting system in the company. It rather complements it. Therefore, an essential element of the electronic invoice workflow implementation is its integration with the financial and accounting system used in the company. In this case, accounting employees do not have to rewrite data from one system to another manually. It is enough to start the data transfer procedure.
NAVIGATOR integrates with many financial and accounting systems (including the popular Optima system by Comarch). It can be also combined with other systems, such as electronic banking.
Invoice workflow system implementation is only the beginning of the process. It may become a part of other, extended procedures, such as the purchasing process, starting from the request submitted by an employee, through market research, to the supplier contract or delivery settlement workflow. Meanwhile, the sales invoice workflow can be easily connected with the CRM system or customer offers.