What to do with all this paper?

Many of us AP professionals are swimming in a sea of paper with invoices coming from vendors directly and invoices being routed to us from approvers.  These invoices coming from the approvers are the ones that we in Accounts Payable are always blamed for losing even when they never get to us.  Many of us still process paper based invoices and then store the paper documents either internally or at an offsite records center for up to seven years.  Some of us have started some form of scanning on the backend after invoices have been entered into our Accounts Payable system.  Others are scanning somewhere in the middle of the approval process and then emailing invoices around the company for approval.  While scanning even on the backend is a plus over not scanning at all, the real return on investment comes as you move the scanning further towards the front end of your Accounts Payable process and use workflow technology.  If you are going to incur the cost for scanning, you might as well get the benefit of being paper free from the beginning of the Accounts Payable process rather than in the middle or end.  The question is how to do this?

Well a first impulse might be to buy scanners or use multifunction devices that may already exist in my AP department.  Then have one of my AP processors focus part of their job on scanning because after all scanning is relatively easy as I even do scanning at my house now for pictures and other documents.  The real fact is high production scanning is not that easy especially when it comes to invoices.  Vendors send invoices in all different formats with all different fonts.  Some are even still printed off a dot matrix printers while others may even be hand written.  If you choose to do your own scanning you need to ensure that the scanning aspect is not the bottleneck in the process with delays in scanning and also poor image quality.  The optimal solution is to look for an outsourced invoice scanning provider to do the scanning and even potentially the data capture for your invoices.  If you want to move your invoice scanning to the front end, an outsourced invoice scanning provider will allow for your vendors to send invoices directly to a managed PO Box where the outsourced provider will open the mail, scan and even do the data capture.  If you prefer to scan on the back end, you can use an outsourced invoice scanning provider to scan, potentially store in their web based solution and capture key fields that will allow you to link from your AP system back to the image without needing to manage or store the images yourself.

If you take into account the expenses you may already be incurring for offsite paper storage, lost paper invoices, audit requests where you need to make photocopies, shipping cost for invoices from multiple locations to the AP department, and time wasted on lost invoices, you can actually save money with the added benefits you gain by moving scanning to the front end of your process using an outsourced invoice scanning provider.