AP Automation

Accounts Payable Metrics that Matter: 5 Key Takeaways to Maximize Your AP Process

Accounts Payable Metrics that Matter: 5 Key Takeaways to Maximize Your AP Process


As the world continues to adjust to the new normal, Accounts Payable (AP) professionals strive to keep up. After a year of trying times and unexpected hurdles, your organization depends more on you than ever. As pressures persist from all angles—financial, operational, strategic—it can be hard to know where or how else to improve performance in AP processes.

This blog outlines five notable takeaways from Tradeshift and Ardent Partners’ March 2023 webinar: Accounts Payable Metrics that Matter in 2023, hosted by Bob Cohen and Michael Creeden. Get your copy of the 2023 Ardent Partners Metrics that Matter report here.


1. AP Has the Attention of Senior Executives

Executives are finally starting to view the Accounts Payable (AP) function as an integral and necessary part of their business. The percentage of executives that say that Accounts Payable is exceptionally or very valuable has changed dramatically over the past six years, more than doubling from 32% in 2017 to 66% in 2023. This increase is a direct result of the political unrest, pandemic, and supply chain issues that have caused organizations to recognize the importance of AP in their operations.

Finance executives now leverage technology to improve their AP process and prioritize tasks accordingly, recognizing its value as a strategic area within their organization. The demand for greater supply chain visibility has also put AP teams and the information they generate front and center when it comes to developing and maintaining healthy supplier relationships.


“We all understand what’s gone on over the past four or five years with the pandemic, geopolitical unrest, supply chain issues, and so on. This has all impacted AP’s visibility in the organization. What we see now is that AP is viewed through a different lens and much more positively. That’s very encouraging.”


– Bob Cohen, Vice President of Research and Marketing, Ardent Partners


2. AP Teams Have Their Sights Set on a More Strategic Role

Accounts Payable (AP) is increasingly becoming a strategic priority for organizations looking to improve their financial operations. With the rise of digital technology and automation, AP can move from a manual, labor-intensive process to an automated, data-driven approach to optimizing cash flow.

AP automation systems are making it possible for organizations to move away from paper invoices and focus on processing invoices electronically. This makes it easier for companies to keep track of vendor invoices and manage their cash flow more effectively. As part of this shift towards automation, AP departments are also able to develop more sophisticated analytics capabilities that can help them make more informed decisions about their financial operations.

Automating accounts payables management processes via AP automation software also increases accuracy and reduces errors associated with manually entering data into multiple ledgers or databases.

By leaning into the automation of tasks, businesses can access even deeper insights into their financial operations and prioritize tasks accordingly. These efforts will help streamline invoice processing and help organizations better understand their overall financial performance to make better business decisions going forward.

The vision for AP as a more strategic function might be clear. But, there remain questions over the degree to which AP teams are equipped to make this leap, especially if suppliers continue to rely on manual invoice submission methods.  If the core connectivity between buyer and supplier is not digital, then any aspirations for better automation or improved data analytics will likely hit a roadblock.


“AP teams have the right priorities, but I’m concerned they might well be in the wrong order. It’s difficult to improve the quality of reporting and analytics if data coming in from your suppliers is either not digital, is still paper-based, or worse, is incomplete. If you’re not prioritizing that first, then attempts to automate or improve data reporting and analytics are going to fall flat .” 


Michael Creeden, Manager, Solutions Consulting – North America, Tradeshift


3. Electronic Invoicing Passes 50%, but It’s Still a High-touch Process

The good news is that more than 50% of invoices are now being received electronically, but this is now beginning to level off. In other words, there’s still a long way to go before we get rid of paper and manual processes entirely.

Even businesses that have successfully moved from manual to electronic invoicing are still experiencing challenges with incorrect or incomplete data that needs attention. As a result, organizations responded that they’re only experiencing touchless invoicing at a shade over 30%.


45% of those surveyed indicated a high percentage of invoice exceptions prevents AP teams from achieving better results.

High-touch invoicing is slowing down the AP process and preventing teams from achieving better results. Businesses aren’t always getting the information they need in the right format. As a result, teams will often need to go out and contact suppliers directly to get the information they need.  Best-in-class businesses are more than twice as likely to be able to process an invoice straight through without any human intervention. Best-in-class businesses are finding success by using technology to address the fundamentals of getting better, cleaner data from suppliers.

“Even the best organizations still have some way to go to improve their processes. AP automation is a journey and not a destination. It needs to be worked at continuously.”

 – Bob Cohen, Vice President of Research and Marketing, Ardent Partners

4. Supplier Inquiries Remain a Significant Time Suck

Suppliers want visibility over the status of their invoices and when they’re going to get paid. When they can’t get that information for themselves, they pick up the phone. Around a quarter (22.5%) of AP staff time is taken up handling supplier inquiries – that’s approximately 9 hours out of a standard work week.

Ardent’s research shows that only a third of organizations use digital communication methods such as a supplier portal or a business commerce network to exchange information with suppliers. For the rest, that means inquiries typically come through via email or over the phone. Greater adoption of digital tools can greatly reduce supplier inquiries, allowing suppliers to track their payments in real time without needing to contact the AP team.

Eliminating the need for a supplier to call in to check the status of an invoice is a ‘win-win.’ Suppliers can be more efficient in their operations with better access to data and analytics and quick payment information. AP teams get back a good chunk of valuable time they can then use to focus on more strategic, value-adding tasks.

“It’s encouraging that businesses are seemingly moving towards self-service options for suppliers. But there’s a risk of portal fatigue as suppliers are asked to use multiple portals for multiple buyers. We need to move beyond this buyer-centric framework and look more at business networks that allow suppliers to connect to multiple buyers.”

Michael Creeden, Manager, Solutions Consulting – North America, Tradeshift

5. Digital Transformation Needs To Be Two-sided

Supplier engagement is critical to the success of any AP digital transformation strategy.  As large organizations look to digitize relationships across their supply chains, it’s vital that suppliers feel incentivized to come on that journey with them.

Digital transformation needs to be approached as a two sides process where organizations and their suppliers both get to share in the benefits that come from a relationship that is digital by default. All too often, the technologies suppliers are being asked to use are buyer-centric, with no real upside for the suppliers. It’s no wonder, then, that a lot of organizations struggle to get suppliers to adopt new processes.

Businesses looking to increase the number of invoices they are receiving electronically should evaluate whether the system they are using or plan to implement has a strong enough value proposition for suppliers to encourage them to change.

Recognize, too, that change won’t happen overnight. Fully digital invoicing should be the end goal, but the system you implement should also include flexible invoice submission options so that you remove any friction and barriers for suppliers to start making that transition. In some cases, that might be allowing suppliers to continue sending machine-generated PDFs, which can then be converted to a digital format.

“One size does not fit all. There’s smaller suppliers submitting one or two invoices a month, and then there are others submitting hundreds a month. You need to make sure that you have the right tool in place to accommodate each supplier.”

 – Bob Cohen, Vice President of Research and Marketing, Ardent Partners

Electronic invoicing penetration is rising, but problems with data accuracy mean that there’s still a heavy requirement for manual intervention to address issues. AP teams might be setting their sights on a more strategic role, but making that leap to the next level will be tough if they’re still spending a large chunk of their time fixing errors and dealing with supplier inquiries. To break this cycle, organizations need to prioritize systems that promote a fully digital approach that delivers a strong value proposition to suppliers.

To get into further detail, we encourage you to read our full report outlining these topics in depth. Find the full report here and maximize your AP processes today!

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