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Key Considerations When Investing in AP Automation: End-to-End vs. Point Solutions

key considerations when choosing ap automation

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

If you are in the market for AP Automation, Dr. Wayne Dyer’s words above ring especially true. It may be the case that there is a fixed set of tasks that every accounts payable team needs to accomplish in order to process and pay an invoice. However, the way that a company goes about automating those tasks can have tremendous impact on the operational success of the broader business.

In the process of evaluating vendors for AP automation solutions, you will find that solutions fall into two major categories: End-to-End Solutions and Point Solutions. Before making any final decisions, it is critical to understand the difference between these two types of solutions, and the type of impact that each can make on your business.

A foundational component of understanding the difference between End-to-End and Point Solutions is getting the complete picture of the work accounts payable requires. Yes, ultimately accounts payable is about making payments. But the majority of the expenses of accounts payable are incurred before any checks are written or ACH transfers queued up.

The complete picture of a manual accounts payable process at most companies today looks something like this:

end-to-end manual ap

  1. Manually keying invoice data into your accounting system
  2. Chasing down signatures from department heads that can verify the invoice
  3. Printing out paper checks
  4. Collating checks
  5. Tracking down traveling CFOs
  6. Stuffing checks into envelopes
  7. Mailing payments
  8. Filing away paper copies of receipts for future reference

When all is said and done, this process can take companies weeks to work through. It is prone to bottlenecks, and can drain valuable time and resources from businesses as they are trying to grow and establish some solid financial footing. For this reason, there is a market for AP Automation solutions.

Point Solutions Only Aid A Painful Process

Point solutions are designed to automate at least one, but sometimes up to a few, of the steps displayed above. They are usually effective at streamlining the segments of the existing status quo of accounts payable, but leave all of the manual steps that come before, after, and in between painful to complete.  

Consider Data Imaging Solutions:

Accounts payable teams have relied on data imaging solutions, utilizing Optical Character Recognition technology, to streamline the process of “lifting” data off of .PDF copies of invoices and automatically populating the corresponding data fields in their accounting system. However, these solutions have their limits.

data imaging solutions

They are advertised to capture data at 90% accuracy, which actually still leaves a lot of manual work on the hands of accounts payable teams that need to find and fix the 10% of errors that are lurking somewhere in their accounting system.

Consider Workflow Management Solutions:

Accounts payable teams leverage workflow management solutions to automate the process of approving and storing invoices. Instead of juggling dozens of email threads at once on Outlook or Gmail, accounts payable managers can benefit from one central location where the status of every invoice is readily available and easy to track.

workflow management

While workflow management solutions are able to aid AP managers with the painful approval process, it leaves the equally (if not more) painful invoice data capture, along with other steps, untouched. Also, workflow management solutions will typically require uploading/downloading files regularly in order to keep them up to date.

Consider Payment Solutions:

While the end result of the accounts payable process is the payment of invoice, payments are only a small portion of what is currently draining time and resources out of accounts payable teams at excessive levels. With that being said, payment solutions streamline the payment component of accounts payable by eliminating the need for you to manually sign, cut, collate, and mail your payments out. Additionally, payment solutions make it easier for businesses to transition to electronic payment methods that are safer.

payment solutionsEnd-to-End Solutions Change the Game Entirely

While Point Solutions play within the existing painful and manual accounts payable process, End-to-End Solutions create an entirely different playing field. Several disjointed tasks that teams struggle to complete are merged into one simple and centralized process that sees an invoice through the entire workflow, from receipt to payment.

automated workflow

    1. Automated data capture & coding: Invoice information is automatically extracted from paper and electronic invoices and coded at 99.5% accuracy. Duplicate invoices are automatically detected and flagged for review, saving time and preventing duplicate payments that require reconciliation.
    2. Automatic routing for approval: AP staff routes uploaded invoices to departments for online approval. Businesses that utilize purchase orders (POs) can leverage automated PO matching to bypass the approval process.
    3. On-the-go approvals: Invoices can be approved on mobile devices and paid according to preferred cash management policy. Businesses can also employ the use of important payment controls: segregation of duties, dual-actor authentication, and dual approvals for payments above certain thresholds.
    4. Payment Method Flexibility: Businesses choose the payment method and MineralTree executes payments on their behalf to streamline the process. All electronic remittance details are sent to vendors.
    5. Perfectly preserved audit trails: All approval and payment details are automatically stored in one central repository that can be accessed by authorized users at their convenience.

How End-to-End Solutions Make a Bigger Impact Across Your Business

End-to-End solutions enable businesses to maximize their ROI on AP automation by providing benefits that go broader than the work AP managers are doing. Transforming accounts payable, rather than working within the existing painful and manual workflow, changes the way your entire company views the AP department in these ways:

Improved Relationships with Vendors: Vendors are key stakeholders in the operations of any business. With accounts payable serving as the liaison between a company and its vendors, they serve as the stewards of a key relationship for the business. End-to-End AP solutions enable business to keep up with payments more easily, and ensure all vendors get paid on time and ensure all functions of the business continue to receive the highest level of service from vendors.

Simplified Audits:  Audits are a necessary evil for every company. How the audit experience goes for companies has a lot to do with how the accounts payable team records and maintains their vendor invoice data over the course of a year. With everything, including invoices, approvals, and payments, recorded into one centralized repository that is accessible to all authorized personnel, businesses leveraging End-to-End Solutions have a much easier time during audits and end up spending less time tracking down misplaced documents.

Optimized Cash Flow: The proficiency with which the AP team pays invoices maximizes the company’s potential short-term cash flow benefits. By accelerating the process of getting invoices approved and simultaneously simplifying the utilization of electronic payment methods, companies leveraging End-to-End Solutions can effectively pick and and choose the most advantageous ways and times to make their payments, and reap extended working capital benefits.

With these benefits in mind, it should be clear that the simplest way to take a proactive approach to accounts payable that benefits your broader business is to automate the end-to-end process.

MineralTree Invoice-to-Pay is the leading End-to-End Solution, and enables companies to improve AP efficiency by 70%. Ultimately, MineralTree enables companies to take a more strategic approach to paying vendors and optimizing cash flow. Additionally, MineralTree provides one central repository for quickly locating all invoice data, streamlining the process of locating documents during audits.

Curious to learn more about MineralTree? Contact Us.


Scott Siegler
Scott is the editor of P3, and also a co-curator of The P3 Newsletter, a weekly email newsletter covering the best (and worst) in financial strategy.


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