The End of Projects in Accounts Payable
Today, a post from Anna Gburczyk-Shraga. Anna is a Business Process Transformation leader. She specialises in complex end-to-end improvement programmes for global organisations, in particular in Finance systems and processes. She holds an executive MBA from London Business School, is a champion of Lean Six Sigma methods and a trainer in PMI Project Management framework . Anna supports both the Cherie Blair Foundation and the Onpartu Programme as a Mentor and Speaker.
I recently saw a slogan printed on a t-shirt. It read: I’m an Accounts Payable Manager. I solve problems you didn’t know you had in ways you can’t understand. I wanted to buy one straight away for our Accounts Payable Global Process Owner and quickly found that the same t-shirts, just with a different title are produced for engineers, lawyers and surgical technologists, and thought – how can someone whose role is to help push invoices from entry through to payment be compared to some of the most complex professions out there? It could be said that the only document more boring than an invoice is a tax return, but even there one can have a Hitchcock moment.
I have been thinking about an end to end Purchase To Pay improvement programme that we launched two years ago. The programme includes 20 projects which can roughly be divided into four groups: Purchase, Invoice, Payment and Transversal. I will explain the last word for those of you who do not work for a French company.
The transversal projects go across the entire Purchase To Pay process and often a few steps outside. To complete them we must go out of our comfort zone of solving 3-way matching problems you didn’t know you had and speak to people who work with the real world outside. Those cross-functional project create communication lines between teams which would normally blame each other rather than talk. They deliver business cases that could not happen because they transverse budgets and resources that are otherwise light years apart. They may even result in improving the end customer experience and increasing sales!
Can you believe it? Improve revenue through projects originating in accounting? You are not the only person who struggles with the idea. Yet half of our P2P improvement projects fell into that cross-functional, transversal group. What’s more, all of the projects that are expected to deliver significant, high impact changes are there.
I recently attended an event in London for the Leaders of Shared Services. The organisers opened the conference with an interesting piece of research. Cost savings are no longer the top priority of the sponsors of improvement projects in Shared Services. The most prized result is a more efficient process. It seems our leaders have finally learned from years of experience with short-termist Business Process Outsourcing projects that were focused only on cost reduction and delivered mostly broken processes.
It is now the time that those experienced Shared Service leaders understood that they are about to run out of projects that give them genuine, sustainable efficiency improvements and savings – and begin and end in Accounts Payable. Your AP sit at the end of the business processes which, as they are inevitably being automated, also become much more closely integrated. Unravelling the intricacies of that integration requires a skillset of which accounting is only a small part. The AP Manager now indeed holds one of the most complex professions out there. If you want your P2P to work, your teams must get qualifications in business process improvement methodologies in addition to their ACCAs. If you want them to improve the quality of your POs, they may need to understand how the end customer orders are approved and what that means for interfaces to your ERP. And you may need to accept that there will be no more projects that only fix those esoteric AP problems nobody else knows about.