Introducing an app stack for data and process automation

Financial services outsourcing and advisory services require highly agile internal processes and close external client collaboration. Find out what innovative tools you can use to build the basis for delivering high value financial outsourcing services with great customer experience.

Nowadays, more and more practices are aiming to extend the range of their services and move away from conventional accounting to advisory. Their clients expect more than just compliance and tax filing, they want to continuously measure their own performance, control costs and make sure they’re doing as well as they can in the current environment.

Advisory services are, in essence, focused on understanding an organisation’s financial health to figure out how to move the business forward. Unlike basic compliance services, which are provided on a scheduled basis, advisory services are continuous by nature and require a deep day-to-day engagement in the clients’ operations and business processes.

In order to deliver such services, accounting practices must be exceptionally agile in the way they run internal processes – while ensuring the best customer experience. A truly tall order, which calls for the support of the best systems on the market.

The provision of advisory services is based on three building blocks: data automation, workflow automation and customer experience.

Essentials of end-to-end automation for advisory services

Data automation.

All operational data needs to be digitised and stored in the cloud to have them readily available for both the practice and their clients. Efficient financial advisory relies on accounting data that is enriched with business context to make it actionable. In practical terms this implies extending GL codes with business-oriented coding so that accounts payable and accounts receivable information can be translated into company performance indicators. Such business-oriented codes are always specified together with the client and then continuously validated by their decision makers via timely reviews and approvals.

Workflow automation.

Efficient process automation is vital for the successful delivery of advisory services. Client collaboration needs to run seamlessly, which simply cannot be achieved using paper or email-based systems for task handovers. Here, an application that automates workflows, sends push notifications, allows real-time status tracking and keeps processes on the surface is a real game changer. Everything is executed exactly as predefined with cloud-based workflows that also capture the complete history, which leads to significantly less time wasting.

Customer experience.

Frictionless collaboration with clients is business-critical, as is outstanding customer experience, so it’s important to leverage technology to the fullest. Mobile apps for successful client communication are a key element for ensuring swift and easy collaboration. They provide access to relevant data on mobile platforms and facilitate interaction with clients regardless of their location.

End-to-end automation: data flow and systems view

Here is the illustration of an end-to-end bill automation flow using an automation app stack that consists of a cloud accounting system (Xero or QuickBooks Online), Receipt Bank for pre-accounting data capture and ApprovalMax for bill automation. This workflow setup enables access to real-time verified data that can be used for spend control, reporting and cash flow forecasting. The seamless integration between client-facing tools (Receipt Bank and ApprovalMax) and the practice-facing cloud accounting system enables efficient collaboration with the client and ensures great customer experience.

Digitising invoices

The first step of end-to-end automation is creating digital bills: Receipt Bank extracts the relevant invoice data, enters this information into the fields of a digital bill and then attaches a scan of the original invoice. These digital bills including their attachments are subsequently published to ApprovalMax for authorisation. Alternatively, bills can be created directly in ApprovalMax by authorised users like suppliers or contractors. For this, all the relevant information such as supplier name and inventory items is automatically synced from the cloud accounting system to enable the same user experience as if working in Xero or QuickBooks Online. Both invoice digitisation methods prevent unauthorised bills in the accounting system and shield sensitive accounting data from users who submit bills.

Validating data

For all bills with a corresponding approved purchase order it is possible to match bill and purchase order in ApprovalMax, which includes copying certain information such as the bill's coding from the original purchase order. This step is optional.

No matter which way bills arrive, after entering ApprovalMax they will be reviewed and coded by an accountant first. In this step, the accounts and tracking categories are checked to ensure that the spend allocation is correct. After this initial control, usually performed by the practice, bills are routed to the responsible budget holders on the client side. ApprovalMax runs a fully automated multi-step and multi-role authorisation process which is based on one or several criteria pulled from the accounting system (supplier, amount, GL code, tracking category, etc.). The highly flexible approval matrix can easily be extended to suit growing businesses with increasingly complex spend tracking patterns and a rising number of approval criteria that need to be accounted for.

Pushing approved bills to the accounting system

After full authorisation, outstanding bills are pushed to the accounting system marked as ready to be paid. Any bills that have already been paid before approval will be published to the accounting platform together with the payment information. An audit report that captures the authorisation history including approver comments is created automatically and attached to each bill; it can be viewed directly in the accounting system.

Additional product capabilities of the data and process automation app stack

Data capture and review via mobile devices

Receipt Bank and ApprovalMax provide mobile apps which allow quick invoice data capture and swift bill approval on the go. Users who submit bills can snap an invoice with Receipt Bank or use ApprovalMax to create a bill on their mobile device. Budget holders away from their desk can approve bills via the ApprovalMax mobile app, which shows all decision-relevant information.

Automated audit reporting

As part of the approval process flow ApprovalMax generates automatically an audit trail for all processed finance documents such as bills or purchase orders. Audit trails contain all authorisation decisions and exceptions that have occurred and include comments, delegations, rejections and other details. On completion of the approval workflow, an audit report is created for and attached to every approved document. Both will be kept in the accounting system, where the audit reports can be viewed without having to log into ApprovalMax.

Notifications to all process participants

The app stack ensures that everyone is on track with what’s going on and gets notified immediately of new requests pending their decision. ApprovalMax sends automated notifications to approvers and shows real-time report views of the approval progress, which also helps to identify approval process bottlenecks and forecast delays. Comments can be added in any approval step to enhance team collaboration.

Why practices need process automation

When implementing a reliable foundation for the delivery of complex business-oriented financial services, you’ll need the best technology available and this data and process automation app stack really is cutting edge: truly real-time and actionable data, efficient and fully automated workflows and, last but not least, higher client satisfaction. Practices who employ the app stack enjoy the following benefits:

  • Full data and process automation for AP and AR to establish actionable data and enable easy contextual client collaboration
  • Complete eradication of error-prone paper or email-based processes and real-time data in an instant
  • Data accessibility at any time from any device in any location, with everything under control in automated processes on the surface
  • Centralised spend control through approval automation as well as shared accountability with the clients regarding payments

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