Do You, Forms Processing, Take Invoice Imaging . . .
Integration with back-end financial system unites two formerly disparate solutions.
Automated invoice processing may be the perfect marriage. After all, the good luck charms are all there - something old, something new, something borrowed, and.... well, something green - but as far as VARs are concerned, methinks they'll take green over blue any day.
What the heck are we talking about? Well, let's take a closer look at each item we mentioned:
- Something old - This would be the imaging of paper invoices. "In 1999, AIIM and Gartner released a study showing accounts payable applications were the second most popular use of imaging," says Reynolds Bish, president and CEO of Captiva. "Historically, this has involved scanning invoices for storage and retrieval in an electronic filing cabinet type of application."
- Something new - This would be unstructured forms processing technology. Unstructured forms processing was introduced just over three years ago and involves the use of technology such as neural networking to automatically find and read data on forms -like invoices - that typically all contain the same information but do not have it in the same place. This structure, or lack thereof, makes these forms impossible to process with standard, template-based forms processing technology.
- Something borrowed - This involves comparing the data stored in users' financial and accounting software to the data extracted by the unstructured forms processing software. This process greatly improves the accuracy rate of the unstructured forms processing software and is probably the key to the transition of automated invoice processing from a cool idea to a real-world solution.
- Something green - Almost everybody we've talked with expects 2002 to be a huge year for invoice processing sales. "The bottom line is that everybody in the world is either getting paid or paying somebody," says Jim Wanner, CEO of VAR Keymark, Inc. (Greenville, SC) "Even traditional forms processing applications like HCFA [Health Care Financing Administration] processing involve an insurance company paying a doctor. Invoice processing just creates a larger pie for VARs selling forms processing to go after."
A Great Opportunity For Savvy VARs
So, what do you need to do to get an invite to this wedding? Well, several vendors now offer invoice processing technology. Contacting one of them would be a good start. But, before you jump headfirst into the cake, there are a couple of things you may want to know.
"This is not for a beginner VAR," warns Mark Buckley, general manager of Lebenson Advanced Imaging, a reseller that has a successful automated invoice processing installation with computer equipment distributor CDW. "The invoice processing software itself is really not that hard to install. It basically teaches itself, so it's really much easier to get up and running than a standard forms processing system. However, the key to making it work well is the integration with both the back-end financial/accounting system and the image workflow, storage and retrieval system."
Of course, this need for integration should play right into a savvy VAR's hands - creating an additional opportunity for professional services and their revenue stream. "An invoice system might require 20 professional service days versus 10 days for a complex forms processing installation," estimates Bob Fresneda, president of ReadSoft Inc.'s U.S. operations (San Diego). "In addition, an invoice processing system will require workflow to automate the approval process for exceptions. This gives VARs the opportunity to sell more software along with another 20 to 25 days of professional services."
Vendors Offer Prepackaged Integration
Vendors are also doing their part to make it easier for VARs - by writing their own integration packages to the leading financial software applications. ReadSoft, for instance, recently announced a package to connect its INVOICES software to SAP's ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution and offers prepackaged connections to software from two smaller ERP vendors as well. Microsystems Technology, Inc., (Tampa, FL) meanwhile, is exploring a connection between its AnyForm software and the popular Great Plains financial software.
The bottom line is that if you are up to the integration challenges, an automated invoice processing solution could be a big boost to your business in the next few years. Chances are you already have several customers using your solutions to scan invoices for storage and retrieval. Wouldn't they love to automate the indexing and eliminate the cost and errors associated with manual data entry? And if you're looking for new business, Stacey Mason, director of marketing at Microsystems Technology, Inc. sums it up this way, "An invoice processing solution is much easier for an end user to understand and for a VAR to define than a general forms processing solution. Invoices are very visible and everyone knows of companies that have 1,000s to process every day."