Digi Office Lab Workflow Automation Evaluating Imaging and Workflow for Accounts Payable

Evaluating Imaging and Workflow for Accounts Payable

The emphasis on cost containment and productivity enhancement has inspired organizations to seek out new ways to automate traditionally paper-based and labor-intensive processes. Imaging and Workflow Automation technologies are finding increasing acceptance with accounts payable professionals as a means to strengthen controls, drive out costs, and increase efficiencies. Organizations are able to convert paper invoices into digital images, store them in a Web-enabled repository for rapid retrieval, route invoices for approval using existing business rules, and extract data from them to enhance approval processing.

These solutions share the goal of improving the way organizations manage the invoice receipt-to-pay cycle. However, not every solution follows the same approach or provides equivalent functionality at each step of the process. Therefore, AP professionals should understand the two major forms that imaging and workflow automation can take: an in-house system or Software-as-a-Services (SaaS) solution.

In-house imaging and workflow automation systems can appear straightforward: buy and deploy imaging software, scanners, storage, or add-on components. However, such an analysis fails to recognize the personnel commitment required to implement, support, and maintain a comprehensive solution.

Software and hardware, network infrastructure enhancements, monitoring and testing tools, security products, supplies, facilities and other required infrastructure add up to a meaningful capital acquisition expenditure. In many cases, upgrades to other infrastructure will be required, adding additional capital expense. This capital expense is an up-front cash outlay.

Staff needed to research, design, integrate, test, tune, and configure is a significant cost associated with deploying the infrastructure. Server and network capabilities must be reassessed and augmented. Redundant storage environments need to be configured and maintained. Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity infrastructure needs to be monitored and supported. A Document Capture environment including scanners, dedicated staff, and quality control measures needs to be implemented. In addition, expenses associated with system compatibility, training, and testing have to be considered.

Yearly software maintenance and support contracts and system upgrades must be included in a true analysis. Capacity increases, multiple redundant systems, and add-on feature sets further increase cost. Hardware repair and replacement and recurring environmental costs, such as specialized high-availability facilities and power consumption, add further to the ongoing cost. While these expenditures are spread out over the lifetime of the service, they must be considered in a full cost analysis.

In contrast to the in-house approach, the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider offers a much lower total cost because of greatly reduced personnel requirements. The economies of scale and specialization of the SaaS provider mean that operating costs are lower, and these savings are passed on to the customer.

Out-of-pocket startup costs are minor and a small fraction of the capital expense for an in-house solution. A SaaS solution has no hardware or software to purchase, no facilities charges and typically no ancillary upgrade fees.

The human resource demands of startup are low, since there is no deployment activity. User rollout, awareness and training are aided by the SaaS provider. As an additional benefit, the time-to-operation is substantially shorter for a SaaS solution. The service provider model essentially has a “zero infrastructure, zero time to usability” profile.

Virtually the entire cost with a SaaS solution is periodic subscription fees. Fees only grow if there is adoption, tying costs to realized benefits and giving a lower risk profile. Subscription fees can be allocated for department-level cost management. Subscription fees typically include all upgrades and enhancements, which are provisioned from the service provider requiring no activity from the enterprise. Additional infrastructure for security, redundancy, and monitoring and reporting are not required. Subscription fees include supporting geographically dispersed users with 24/7 availability, performance and responsive end-user support.

The selection of a SaaS provider eliminates the need for internal staff for operations and support. Personnel requirements are generally limited to internal marketing, contract administration, and routine vendor communications. The subscription fees typically include all maintenance, upgrades, support, training, security, management and reporting.

In addition to the inherent cost savings of the SaaS model, there are several intangible benefits. Many organizations find themselves with limited resources, particularly in their IT functions. Therefore, the strategic focus of most businesses does not logically map to gaining a core competency in operating a comprehensive, robust imaging and workflow automation infrastructure and its associated support requirements. Any enterprise considering deploying an in-house imaging and workflow automation solution needs to evaluate whether this fits in the broader strategic objectives of the organization.

From the point of view of the enterprise, the SaaS provider has essentially infinite capacity, so there is no danger of overloading the infrastructure. Usage scales seamlessly and efficiently: the enterprise can choose any level of service at any time, and pay only for the services used. To remain competitive, a SaaS provider must constantly augment its offerings based on the latest developments in a spectrum of technologies, including workflow automation, document capture and indexing services, business continuity and disaster recovery. As a result, service model subscribers benefit from access to improvements and increased functionality much sooner, and at a negligible cost when compared to an in-house imaging and workflow automation system.

SaaS solutions are more likely to incorporate a wide spectrum of support for operating systems, network architectures, and security protocols, removing interoperability issues. Functionality from the SaaS provider is available for the range of uses across diverse organizations. The enterprise preserves its ability to extend the solution to broader needs at any time without the constraints of a substantial up-front investment in hardware, software and deployment.

Managing the risks associated with effectively deploying, managing, expanding and supporting a comprehensive in-house imaging and workflow automation system is a daunting task. No matter how carefully planned the project, no matter how passionately supported by top management, no matter how obvious the benefits, success is not a sure thing.

The SaaS approach is inherently more financially conservative. It requires relatively small startup costs and time investment from in-house IT staff. Costs are only incurred with actual use, so a “high cost-low benefit” result is unlikely. Total cost for a SaaS solution is considerably less than the in-house approach.

The risk of failure is lower with the SaaS provider because expertise and focus enhances the likelihood of adoption and success. The enterprise experiences no disruption to ongoing IT operations. Internal staff is not burdened with implementation details, or building out competencies to operate the systems and service end-users. Instead, IT can target internal marketing and awareness, and drive higher levels of success and payoff, and play a larger role in realizing enterprise objectives.

Finally, the cost of failure is also lower with the SaaS solution because there are no large investments in infrastructure or personnel, and the total cost of a services-based solution is lower.

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