One of the major benefits delivered from a Business Spend Management (BSM) implementation is Accounts Payable (AP) automation. Prior to beginning an implementation, a success criteria should be established (e.g., 60 percent supplier-created electronic invoicing within the first six months of implementation, which would result in only 40 out of every 100 invoices requiring your AP team’s manual intervention). Freeing up AP time to focus on value-added activities is a big win; however, AP automation requires up-front strategic enablement planning.

When establishing a supplier enablement strategy, keep in mind these three best practices:

1. Establish a Team Structure, Timeline, and Goals

The most successful supplier enablement efforts are often the ones that begin early, are well structured, and have clearly defined roles for the resources that are involved in the enablement effort. It can be easy to fall into the trap of hyper focusing on the BSM tool design, thus running the risk of missing your automation goals that are best achieved through supplier enablement.

Follow these steps to ensure automation success:

  • Goals & Metrics – Define agreed upon goals and success metrics up front. What percentage of invoices should be supplier enabled within “X” period of time?
  • Supplier Enablement Team – Define key roles within the supplier enablement team, such as an individual who is responsible for collecting and cleansing supplier data, one who should perform a supplier analysis (i.e., identify the top supplier by invoice volume and use this data to drive your enablement strategy), and establish a communications owner who will perform supplier outreach.
  • Timeline – Supplier enablement should start either prior to or at the commencement of the project. Plan for enablement efforts during the BSM implementation (e.g., data collection) and post-implementation (e.g., new supplier outreach). Adopt the mentality of “continuous supplier enablement.”

2. Quality Data Results in Quality Outcomes

Supplier data can often reside in multiple systems, may be inconsistent, have missing elements, and be duplicative and/ or aged. You must be able to ensure that it can be relied upon in subsequent steps. Once the data is solid, spend time to understand:

  • What are your supplier data sources? For example, are there two different enterprise resource planning (ERP) processes that contain supplier data?
  • Using a BSM tool, what data fields are required for effective supplier enablement? Supplier name, contact email, phone number, and entity/ subsidiary are the typical required fields that require collection and cleanup.
  • Who are the suppliers that you have the most invoice activity with? Perform an analysis of the past 12 or 18 months invoice spend and volume data with named suppliers. This volume will help to identify the key suppliers with whom you would want to automate.
  • How is this supplier enabled with other BSM tool customers? For example, some BSM tools can perform a “fuzzy match” against the enablement database to expose how a given supplier may most commonly be electronically set up. This can be a helpful data point in choosing the preferred option.
  • Who is the organization’s most common requester for each supplier? At times, it may be better to leverage established relationships for supplier enablement outreach (e.g., it may be more advantageous to leverage the head of IT to relay the supplier enablement messaging with their technology supplier).

Successfully completing these steps will strongly position your company to build an executable supplier enablement and communication strategy. The process (from cleansing to extracting relevant data) can be time consuming, therefore it is best to start early.

3. Manageable Execution

Once all of the relevant data is collected on one enablement sheet, an analysis can be performed. Layer invoice volume data with the in-scope enablement options (e.g., commerce eXtensible Markup Language [cXML], a supplier portal, email, or paper). Ideally, you will want your top invoice suppliers to be electronically enabled either through cXML or a portal (both require supplier-entered invoice data) to result in material gains on AP automation.

To ensure a manageable execution of supplier outreach, follow these tips:

  • Survey – A supplier needs to be educated on the enablement options, pros and cons of each approach, and have an opportunity to express their preference. A low-touch approach may utilize online survey development cloud-based software such as Survey Monkey or Google Polls as part of an email blast to suppliers in order to gather data on what would be the preferred enablement manner. It can also be an opportunity to verify if the supplier contact is the appropriate individual with whom to communicate.
  • Monitor – Record the results from your outreach in your supplier enablement tracker. You do not want to lose track of your efforts, or worse, double up efforts on the same supplier.
  • Segment – Inviting or connecting with all of your suppliers at once can be risky. You will want to ensure that if there are supplier questions, there is sufficient capacity within your supplier enablement/ AP team to field them. It is recommended that you segment the outreach into waves (e.g., wave 1 may be at go-live and will tackle the top 70 percent by volume, and wave 2 may be two weeks after go-live and will contain the next top 20 percent, etc.).

Overall, supplier enablement is a continuous effort that requires effective planning, management, and execution. In times of doubt, circle back to original success metrics such as AP invoicing automation. Finally, adopt a “continuous enablement” mentality and know that these efforts will continue throughout the life of your BSM tool.