Artificial Intelligence

Autonomous AP: How AI is transforming Accounts Payable for modern finance teams

by Gary Malhotra June 3, 2021

AI has been transforming the worlds of driving, advertising, e-commerce, personal assistants, and customer service. Now, AI for Accounts Payable is automating functions within the finance back-office. 

AP teams have been struggling with long cycle times and high-cost invoice processing for decades, and traditional AP automation solutions have not fully solved the problem. That’s because the easiest way for suppliers to send invoices is by emailing a PDF. Traditional automation approaches have tried to change this behavior by requiring the use of portals and e-invoices. A more modern approach, and one that significantly reduces a lot of this friction, is to use AI to autonomously process invoices straight out of your AP inbox.

We recently held a webinar explaining how AI in AP is transforming the way finance is streamlined. Watch the on-demand recording now

In order to better appreciate how AI provides autonomous invoice processing, it helps to understand the different levels of autonomy. To illustrate this, AppZen uses the Autonomous Index for Accounts Payable, with 5 levels of autonomy. Level 0 provides no autonomy. This is fully manual processing where everything is done by hand. At the other end is Level 5, or complete autonomy, where the AP department runs 100% on its own without any human intervention. Technology has not yet evolved to reach Level 5. 

The Autonomous Index

Levels 1, 2, and 3 are varying levels of assisted automation, from 20% to 60%. Here, AP tools and applications assist human processors with the data, defaults, workflow, and insights for them to make better human decisions. 

At Level 4, an AI-based AP system is capable of autonomously extracting, reading, understanding, and making process decisions. The system can perform all tasks, including monitoring and correcting itself. It’s able to make decisions based on a company’s AP policies in all aspects of invoice entry, matching accounting approvals that are compliant. The AI knows where it can and cannot make a decision, as it proactively engages a human operator only when needed, so nothing falls through.

AppZen’s Autonomous AP is a Level 4 application that can enable enterprise AP leaders to accelerate their journey to 80% autonomous processing. Our customers have experienced 60-80% autonomy in areas such as data extraction, PO matching, non-PO accounting, and Audit & Validation. In their prior state, these customers were manually processing each and every invoice; even small improvements in the percentage of autonomy provided massive cost and efficiency savings.

With autonomous invoicing, AI extracts PDF invoices from your AP inbox, validates, classifies, matches, reviews, and approves invoice documents and spend, in real-time, with minimal manual intervention. 

AI-powered autonomous AP applications can: 

  • read header and line-level descriptions and logos
  • understand the content and context of each invoice
  • validate data with your supplier master
  • predict GL account segments such as spend category, cost center, and location
  • execute PO matching
  • flag special accounting treatments, such as prepaid expense 
  • audit 100% of invoices for duplicates, across invoice and T&E receipts

Any further approvals and GL posting would happen within your P2P and ERP systems.

With an autonomous AP application working together with your ERP and P2P system, AP leaders can process an invoice at a cost of less than $3; audit 100% of invoices and expense receipts for duplicates, prior to payment; and do it all in under one day.

AppZen has pre-built AI models that have been trained on over 60 million invoice and expense documents. Unlike other automation systems that take years to show meaningful results, AppZen’s customers can immediately begin autonomous operations and realize meaningful transformation in months.

Once the AI system is given additional training to recognize your company’s invoice data, your ROI increases even further. By providing access to a year of invoice history, daily electronic PO data feeds for matching, daily vendor master feeds for validation, and the AP inbox to extract current PDF invoice images, the AI models can learn from feedback. Customers who witnessed 50% autonomy in the first three months can see it quickly increase to as much as 80%.

To find out more and see real examples of invoices processed using AI, check out our recent webinar.

Gary Malhotra
Sr. Director of Product Marketing

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