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Purchasing Insight logoWe all know that manual processes are inefficient. We all know that the use of paper based business processes is increasingly becoming an anachronism in the 21st century and we all know that AP automation is a good idea. But have you ever stopped to consider how much money is being wasted by not taking action?

A new professional association born of the roll-up of four existing groups was unveiled yesterday at its annual conference and trade show: Fusion 2011, taking place this week in Orlando. The Institute of Financial Operations is the coalition of International Accounts Payable Professionals (IAPP), International Accounts Receivable Professionals (IARP), the National Association of Purchasing & Payables (NAPP), and The Association for Work Process Improvement (TAWPI).

The spotlight has fallen on the paper invoice as an entirely unnecessary source of green house gases in recent years and the rapid evolution of the regulations in many parts of the world is removing the barriers to change to electronic invoicing. But the paper invoice is only part of the story and it seems that the purchase to pay function is one of the worst culprits when it comes to the unnecessary use of paper.

I'm one of the worst culprits and I hate myself for it. Finding yourself wrapping up in pretentious management consultant speak is an occupational hazard. I wouldn't talk about "leveraging my core competencies" or "disintermediating my financial supply chain" in an informal conversation with friends and family. And it would raise an eyebrow at home, to say the least, if I mentioned that we'd been "sweating our assets" at work. So why do I do it?

When is an e-invoice not an e-invoice? 10 years ago it was simple. It was clear that a "true" or "pure" electronic invoice was a structured computer-to-computer message. The supplier's computer would send an invoice message in a format that the customer's computer could read. An email with a Word document or an excel file attached was not an electronic invoice and worse, a pdf image of a paper invoice was nowhere near an e-invoice. These were superficial attempts to tick the e-invoicing box. They weren't true electronic invoices. But in recent years the line between what is and what is not an e-invoice has become blurred and the "purity" of the "true" electronic invoice is becoming it's own worst enemy.

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