So, you think you might need accounts payable (AP) automation software, but where do you begin?
The world of AP tech is ever-growing, which comes with a whole host of pros and cons. On the one hand because there’s an abundance of solutions there will undoubtedly be one that suits your unique business needs. On the other, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by choice and end up putting off picking the right software because the task of finding one and implementing feels too daunting.
We’re here to make that decision a bit easier for you. We’ve compiled the non-negotiable features you’ll want to look out for, explained how to automate, nailed down the question of pricing, and evaluated some of the top software on the market. If you learn by listening, there’s also the option to have a call with one of our automation specialists who can go over these points, and more, and get a personalised evaluation.
Best Accounts Payable Automation Software: Top Pick
What Does Zahara Bring to the Table?
Zahara is designed specifically to expertly handle the four key aspects of the accounts payable process, a 360 solution. There are four main features which should be non-negotiable on your quest for AP freedom. These are as follows:
Bringing in a robust purchase order system is the best way to control costs before you commit to any spend. Worthwhile AP software will let you set strict budgets for particular departments and use multi-step approval workflows to decline, amend, or approve purchase orders.
Automating your invoice processing is the single most effective thing you can do to speed up your AP function. AP automation tools will help you process your invoices 9 times faster, with less effort on your part. Zahara uses OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology to accurately read your invoices for you, down to the line item.
Necessary for full control and visibility of your spending, bringing in approval workflows brings you true peace of mind. With Zahara, they’re infinitely customisable, and you can have an approver ready for every scenario. You can set strict controls for large purchases, without having to bother your CFO every time you buy milk for the office fridge. You can have faith that your business won’t be making any unapproved purchases, while still giving your employees freedom within their budgets.
The final element that completes the Zahara quartet is our collaboration with payment provider Comma. You can export your invoices to Comma, where they can be grouped together and converted into a payment run. This massively simplifies the payment process because you can still use your existing bank through Comma, but without the limitations of making payments straight from your bank account, complete with a full audit trail.
How Can I Automate My AP Process?
Ok, you’ve decided you’re ready to bring on an AP tool. Now what?
We know it can feel like a gargantuan task, and it’s hard to know where’s the best place to start, so we’ve created a step-by-step guide to the whole automation process:
Step 1: Assess Your Current Process
The first step towards moving forward is analysing what you’re currently doing. This allows you to both be critical and identify your pain points, as well as making note of the aspects you do like.
Are you tired of keying in invoices? Do you worry about security? Do you want to enhance your accounting system, or move to a new one before automating? Are you concerned about your lack of control in your current process? Have your colleagues made significant or costly errors that could have been avoided?
Make note of everything you’re feeling. Work out which features are non-negotiable, and which elements of your existing system that you want to take with you going forward.
Step 2: Find the Best Software for Your Needs
Once you know what you would like from your perfect software, it’s time to see what’s out there. Some key features people find most helpful are optical character recognition (OCR) for invoice scanning, automated approval workflows. If you want to keep your existing accounting software, such as Sage, Xero, or QuickBooks, it’s essential to find a bolt-on that seamlessly integrates with it.
It's also important to read customer reviews. Find out if your front-runner has a reputation for terrible customer support, or if there’s a feature you hadn’t considered but users rave about. Once you have a rough idea, you can draw up a shortlist of your favourites.
Step 3: Sign Up for Demonstrations
There’s nothing more helpful than seeing the software in action! In a good demo, an expert in the system will walk you through the software, tailoring it to the way you intend to use it. They should also be transparent about pricing, and open to talking about any reservations you may have.
Once you’ve had a few different chats, go away and think about what you’ve seen. It’s an exciting experience, and you’ll likely want to get up and running ASAP, but take the time to reflect and make sure you’re choosing the right software from your shortlist!
Step 4: Prepare for Implementation
You’ve just signed the proposal, congrats! Before implementation, it's crucial to prepare both your data, and your team, for the transition. Clean up your records, and ensure data accuracy.
Talk with the implementation team at your chosen provider and create a transition plan with realistic timescales and responsibilities. Consider if you need professional services to get your team up to scratch, or if you feel confident setting up on your own.
Step 5: Implementation!
Now comes the exciting part—implementing the automation software. Collaborate with the software provider to migrate your data seamlessly. Set up the system according to your requirements, configure workflows, and customise settings. Ensure that the software integrates smoothly with your existing accounting systems or ERPs for a seamless data flow. Train your team on how to use the software effectively and address any concerns or questions they may have during the transition.
Step 6: Refine Your Automated Process
Optimising your process is an ongoing journey! Taking time to get to grips and understanding your new software is so important, and regular reviews help you make sure you’re consistently getting the most out of it. A worthwhile provider will help you adjust to the changes and rejig your package for you when your needs change.
Making changes can feel daunting, especially when you’re moving away from a process you’ve followed for years and will have such a big impact. However, it can’t be stressed enough that this is a positive change and, if you follow these steps, you can’t really go wrong. Careful consideration of these steps will lead to a successful transition, and your process will be streamlined in no time at all.
How Much Does AP Software Cost?
An excellent question, and one that’s not so straightforward to answer. The price of an AP tool depends largely on the functionality and size of the package you need. Generally, accounts payable automation software starts from around £120 per month if you’re starting with a provider’s smallest package, but with 4-in-1 functionality. There are cheaper solutions if you just need one feature like receipt capture or payments, but you then have the inconvenience of using a different app for each element in the process. If you’re a large enterprise it could be £500-700+ per month, which sounds like a lot but is miniscule when you consider the impact it has on efficiency, and the amount of people you’d need to hire to get the same results. You can embrace a true 4-in-1 system with Zahara for £119 per month, or as little as £99 per month if you pay annually.
AP Automation Service Providers: Tools Compared
Zahara vs Dext
Dext is a good option for very small businesses who only need receipt scanning functionality.
Pricing starts at £27 a month, which is considerably cheaper than most other options on the market. This makes it a great solution for one-man-bands who only need to be able to capture invoices. Most other businesses will require more functionality, like a purchase order system, setting budgets, and approval workflows, which takes Dext out of the running, unless you want a separate app for each feature.
Zahara vs Lightyear
Lightyear is a more comprehensive system than Dext, with invoice scanning, approvals, and a variety of integrations. There are some features that Lightyear doesn’t offer which would (quite rightly) be a dealbreaker for most teams. For example, Lightyear doesn’t offer budgets as part of any of their packages, and you’ll only get access to purchase orders once you move up to their Business package, starting at £129 per month.
Zahara vs Tipalti
Tipalti is an extensive system that comes with a hefty price tag. There’s not much that Tipalti can’t do, but that often leaves teams paying for features they don’t get any value from. Tipalti’s strengths work well for large corporations who need one system for the entire finance function and have the money to spend on it. The pricing is worth it for big companies, but for SMEs the price range understandably takes Tipalti out of the running.
They don’t offer a free trial, but you can pay £129 to start using the platform with limited functionality to get a feel for it. You can then pay extra for more functionality.
Accounts Payable Automation Companies: Choose Zahara
You don’t just have to take our word for it. Every single day finance teams put their trust in Zahara, and reap the benefits of a fully automated 4-in-1 system.
“Zahara is intuitive and easy to use. It has helped us gain control of our purchasing, deliver our projects on budget, improve cashflow, and relationships with our suppliers and sub-contractors.” – Purchasing Manager, Citu.
“Zahara makes it easy to raise an order and has powerful approvals needed for a business like ours. The budgets are a great feature.” - Sharon Turner, Group Financial Controller, 4D Pharma.
“Zahara has been a complete revolution for our clients.” - Bridge Financials.
As you can see, there’s a lot of forethought that goes into a successful accounts payable automation software implementation. It can be tempting to blindly choose whichever provider is most widely used, but every business is unique and it’s important to over all your bases so that you only need to make a transition like this once.
If you’re part of an SME or growing business who would benefit from purchase orders, invoice processing, approvals, and in-app payments, we strongly suggest you get in touch with the Zahara team. Zahara was designed with finance teams just like yours in mind, and was born from our own frustrations with manual systems. Trust us, we get it.
Your time, comfort, and prosperity are our priorities, and we’re here for you any time whenever you’re ready. You can get in touch with one of our experts by booking a demo below. Looking forward to hearing from you!