We all know the expression “There’s always someone worse off”. It’s a form of words aimed at reassuring someone who is perhaps feeling a little sorry for them self. It’s similar to “count your blessings”– it puts your troubles in perspective.

But it’s a bit pot half empty isn’t it? Where’s the ambition in “It could be worse”? Of course things could always be worse but whether things are going OK or not, shouldn’t we be saying “It could be better. It can be better. I will make it better”. Personally, I’m a big fan of the expression “there’s always someone better off”.

Purchasing Insight logoAm I being serious? Not really. Reassuring words to someone in distress is a genuine comfort but when these sentiments are extended to business, it is often simply inappropriate.

Chris Elmore wrote an interesting and insightful piece entitled If you Automate AP in 2014 – there is 1 thing you have to battle”

In it, he wrote:

“In speaking with thousands of accounting professionals I have found that the big thing (or battle) they have to overcome is their accounts payable process is not so bad. Sure they lose invoices and have late fees and people are working overtime, but for as long as they have been in business, it has been not all that bad.

Not being “all that bad” is a very difficult thing to overcome. If you are a person wanting to make a change and “modernize” your accounts payable process, automation is the way to go. However, as you discuss and explore the idea of automation realize that you will eventually be faced with the battle that you need to win over the fact that your operations has been getting by on the old way. If you are not prepared for this, you will have a difficult time.”

How can you tell if you’re “not that bad”? Do you know what “not that bad” looks like? And if you do know what it looks like, what about “quite good”. What does that look like?

What people mean when they say “it’s not that bad” is “I feel satisfied that we don’t need to change”. Nearly all of the time, that comment is made with a complete lack of awareness of how things could change. The reality is that if you were to go out and look at lots of the AP departments that described themselves as “not that bad”, you’d find a wide variety of standards. In order to really know whether or not things really are “not that bad”, you need to see more of the world and look at what others do.

At the risk of offending and alienating half the audience, I’d say that if ever there was a group of people that need to get out more, it’s Accounts Payable people. OK, that’s a little unfair, but you know who you are and you know what I mean.

In the scale of performance that goes from “really not good enough” to “actually quite outstanding”, “not that bad” is in the lower quartile – statistically speaking. Chris Elmore is spot on in identifying this attitude as a major obstacle. No one should feel reassured by being “not that bad”. “We’re not that bad” is code for “we don’t want change” and it is a reflection of the truth that is that the biggest barrier to successful AP automation is not getting the technology right, it’s not getting the processes right – it’s about effectively managing change.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin