In the latest episode of the “Net 30” podcast on the AvidXchange Podcast Network, host Chris Elmore, AvidXchange’s chief evangelist, and Rhonda Greene, AvidXchange’s principal solutions consultant, discussed the digital skills gap many accounts payable (AP) departments are experiencing today.
Elmore and Greene have decades of experience in AP and corporate finance. On this podcast, they shared details about how AP has changed over the years, how teams are using technology to improve processes and why it’s beneficial for AP professionals to learn new digital skills.
Greene shared that she started her AP career before personal computers were prevalent at work. She opened invoices with a letter opener, dealt with paper jams in the check printer and oversaw two employees whose full-time role was filing.
While some organizations have at least partially updated these manual processes, others are resistant to change and may feel like the effort involved in digitizing processes is not worth the risk. Greene noted that most finance professionals are experts at risk mitigation, but this is one instance when they should let go of that approach.
Digitization Upgrades AP
Most AP professionals fear that automation is going to take over their work and leave them without a job, according to Elmore. He and Greene agreed that’s not the case. Digitizing tasks eliminates some of the manual work involved in the AP process, and in doing so frees staff to focus on more strategic work. This could include taking on new projects or learning new skills.
Elmore and Greene empathized with finance workers who are cautious about change but suggested that they dive into digitalization.
Addressing the Digital Skills Gap with Upskilling
In order to take full advantage of digitization within AP departments, finance employees must have the digital skills necessary to use these tools. However, there’s a discrepancy between the digital skills AP teams need and those possessed by the existing workforce, known as the “digital skills gap.”
In our recent whitepaper, “Closing Digital Skills Gap Propels Finance Transformation,” we examine the ways digital upskilling programs can benefit both the organization and the individual. By empowering employees with tech skills, AP teams can streamline processes, reduce errors and increase efficiency. Upskilling is less expensive than hiring externally and it boosts employee retention and job satisfaction.
Elmore and Greene agreed that upskilling helps AP departments improve working conditions for all team members.
Please note: The “Net 30” podcast is designed for audio consumption. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Welcome to the Net 30 podcast presented by AvidXchange where we are tech-focused, people centric and business minded. AvidXchange is transforming the Accounts Payable process one company at a time.
On today’s episode we’re going to talk about digital skills. Not just digital skills – we’re going to talk about closing the digital skill gap. So three things that we’re going to cover. We’re going to cover what is the current state today, and we’re going to cover digital transformation in financial departments and we’re going to cover upskilling and how it can kind of be a win-win for both employees and leaders of the company.
So my name is Chris Elmore. I’m going to be your host today. I’ve been in and around accounting departments for the last 25 years and I’m joined by someone who has way more experience than me – Rhonda Greene.
Well, hello Rhonda. How are you? I’m doing well, Chris. Yeah, thanks for coming on and joining us here on the show. We got a lot of great stuff to talk about. We’re, we’re gonna talk about the, uh, the, uh, digital transformation and the digital skills gap.
So what should people, what should people know about you?
I have been at AvidXchange for 11 years. I can’t believe that. Yeah. But prior to joining AvidXchange, I actually was a, a longtime AP manager for several different, um, large-ish corporations where I ran large AP teams, implemented automation at the last, uh, company that I worked for before I came here. So know firsthand the manual world of AP from back in the day and how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.
That’s the thing that, uh, I’m hoping folks are gonna get out of this is that, you know, we’ve, we’ve come a long way, but we’ve come a long way in a short time. Absolutely. You know, I’ve always wanted to ask you this question, you know, and I know, I know a lot of personal stuff about you, which totally makes you nervous on a podcast like this, but I’ve always wanted to ask you. So here you are, little girl, Rhonda, and you had big dreams in your life. Yeah. Was it accounts payable?
No. What? I know, right?
That’s, that’s my thing too, is that if you would’ve told me, you know, uh, 35 years ago when I was in college – I don’t care, people know – but 35 years ago when I was in college, if you’d have said, yeah, you’re gonna, you know, help start an accounts payable automation company, I was gonna be like, what’s accounts payable?
Exactly. Yeah. Yeah.
Did you go to school for accounting and finance?
I did go to school for accounting and finance, which is why I did not necessarily just think I was going to live in accounts payable. Right. Way back in the late eighties, early nineties, everything was manual.
So what I wanted to talk about, so when you got out of school and you entered into the work world. Mm-hmm. Paint a picture for folks about what that was.
Sure. So literally before computers, personal computers, right. So you had a big data processing center where all of the invoices that came in, you know, after we opened them by hand with letter openers, we would actually code them, hand write the coding and then send them back to data processing.
So there was just a bunch of data entry people back there, but then the invoices would come back and then we would actually, you know, have to process and do check runs, which literally sometimes took two days to do. Really? Um, exactly. It was just all effort. It was all effort. And you had to have a lot of people to support all that paper because of the filing.
You know, you had to have all of your information for a minimum of seven years. So you had file cabinets literally everywhere. You paid for offsite storage because you know you can’t throw or shred these invoices because you don’t have digital copies at the time.
And then, and then someone says, I need you to get some invoices from six years ago. Yeah, you had to go into the depths.
You did. But there’s always that chance that you can’t find that someone filed it wrong. And that was always a huge fear of mine because also when the auditors would come in to audit, you know, they give you a selection. “Here, I want to see these 100 random invoices.”
Like, oh my gosh, what if they’re filed wrong? Yeah. And we can’t give it to them. I’m gonna fail an audit.
You know, somebody told me once upon a time it cost $7 and 95 cents to find an invoice.
I believe it. I did too. You know, I had one point had, um, probably, I think the largest AP team I ever had was about 14 people. That’s a lot. It is a lot. Um, and a couple of them. Were just filing. I mean, that’s all they did day in and day out. And I always just made it my mission. Like, gosh, I’ve gotta like, have people spend so much time doing that and then rotate ’em out because who wants to do that, you know, all day, every day.
All right, so today’s topic is the digital skills gap. Financial departments are improving tech stacks. You know, there’s all kinds of disruptive technology happening in a positive way.
Disruptive can be somewhat of a negative word, but it says here, and I love this in the notes so I’m gonna read it verbatim, is that savvy finance leaders are also, uh, earmarking budgets for mentoring upskilling programs to help close the digital gap. You seem pretty excited about that.
I love that.
Yeah. Why’s that?
Well, I do a lot of that here, you know, uh, helping people understand, you know, AP so that then they can understand automation and what we solve for. But, you know, one of the things that we hear when we’re talking to prospects is, you know, “We just love Sally and Jane. They’ve been doing AP for 20 years, and I don’t wanna let ’em go.”
Like, I’m like, you don’t have to. This is your opportunity to teach them new skills. So that’s exciting to me.
But also it can create a lot of anxiety. Oh yes. And then if you do it wrong, it can also, um, be terrible. Agreed. Yes. Every podcast should have some drama and I just dropped it.
We’re gonna cover three things today. The current state of the digital skill gap, a digitization, how it can help finance groups, and then upskilling is a win-win for financial staffs. Maybe not necessarily that order, but I think it would be interesting to start with what’s kind of going on today. So the way that you see digitization, what’s that kind of look like today?
Well, what’s going on is that, especially since the pandemic businesses really realized, then it hit them in the face that, oh my gosh, we have to digitize our AP. We’ve gotta get this automated. Because people couldn’t come in the office and go in their multiple filing cabinets. Um, they couldn’t access their invoices to even open them, and they couldn’t make their payments because the check printer that you know, had the nicer ink was in the office. So really that changed everything.
And since then, uh, we continue to see that, but that was the catalyst. And I think too, a lot of peer pressure is happening. Yeah. Uh, CFOs are talking to their fellow CFOs and yeah, they’re, they’re automated and their, their understanding like, well, why aren’t you buddy? This is a no-brainer. Um, and so, and it’s not just AP, you know, it’s also AR and really, you know, uh, BI – business intelligence.
There’s so much information out there today and we’re actually able to access it easily. Yeah. And not have to pull 20 different files and look through things to be able to start an Excel spreadsheet. So things are changing and I think people are embracing it for the most part.
It’s for sure scary, but I think that they realize this is the wave of the future and they’ve gotta get on board.
So there is a thought, Rhonda, that one day robots are gonna take over your job. Automation is gonna take over your job, you’re gonna be displaced. I used to do this thing at conferences where I would say, all right, um, if I walk into the room and as the leader of the company and say, “Hey, guess what? This is so exciting. We’re gonna automate AP. How many people – raise your hand – think you’re out of a job?” And a hundred percent of the people would raise. Oh, a hundred percent. Yeah, for sure. Is that the truth? So the perception is they’re outta work?
Yeah. No, it’s absolutely not the truth. And it’s something again, that I’m passionate about when I’m talking to AP folks. They’re still very much needed, but now they’re doing the more strategic tasks, so they’re still making sure that invoices are coded correctly, that they’re being batched and, and you know, synced back over to their accounting system and they’re still in complete control over selecting what invoices they want to pay, when they want to pay them.
And those are the most important decisions. They’re just not having to do all of the manual work that goes with it. And as I mentioned, if you’re able to, then, because they have an extra, you know, so many hours a week now to do other things, teach them those other things. I mean, one of the things that I am so passionate about is when an AP person has time to be able to go in and clean up your master vendor file. Mm-hmm. Um, because that is, it’s not sexy work. It’s not, but it, it, a lot of times it’s the root of all evil because if you’ve got a, you know, duplicate vendors, you’re running a risk of paying, you know, duplicate payments or of paying the wrong vendor altogether.
And so doing all of that work, cleaning everything up, you know, Asking for W9s all over again, doing 10-matching, all of that stuff that is kind of, you know, like not fun, but so important. Yeah. And, and really only, you know, a seasoned AP person really gets that and knows what to look for. So that’s always one of the first things that I suggest is to, is to work on that.
How many staffs do you think know that they should do a task like that, clean up the vendor master file, and then just don’t.
I think a good portion of ’em know that they need to do it, but they don’t because they either don’t have the time because they’re so busy.
They’ve got these daily deadlines of getting invoices in. Um, but taking the time saves so much, you know, obviously on the duplicates that I was just talking about, but also from a 1099 perspective, because AP Departments process 1099 and there’s a lot that goes into that. So you have to make sure that when you’re setting up vendors, that you’re doing your due diligence and collecting all the right information.
But once you take the time to standardize your process, get it all cleaned up, all you’re gonna do is be like, so thankful that you did it because everything is gonna change for the better. Then go ahead and teach those folks how to do account reconciliation. Yeah. Teach them how to work with vendors. Maybe there’s a, you know, a way to negotiate better terms. You know, hire people that you want to upskill, you want them to be able to learn other things. Yep. And give ’em the chance.
But the, the other thing that you’re doing that hopefully the audience can kind of get ahold of is that when you upskill someone, it doesn’t have to be big leaps. No. It can be taught small. Yeah, go ahead.
Yeah, go ahead. Right. No, you’re absolutely right Chris. It’s the small things, but they make a huge difference.
I’ve always said that, you know, our software is only as good as the time that it’s freed up. Yep. But then to be very clear about it is that whatever that time that’s freed up, time has gotta be put to something else that’s more important, that has an impact. Yep. And really kind of makes the department shine.
A hundred percent. And now with AI, with business intelligence, now AP managers can look at the information to see which vendors they’re spending more with and really go back and think, “Well, could I get a better price with this company knowing that I spend X over the course of six months or a year or what have you.” So it’s also now letting your AP team do those kinds of initiatives where before, maybe that was in another department or just wasn’t done at all.
What projects aren’t getting done that should be getting done, that you can use that new time to do? Mm-hmm. And then when those new projects get done, who in the organization is gonna celebrate that at the highest level, and how’s that gonna affect your career?
Oh, for sure. I mean, I’ve never worked with an AP person that didn’t want to, to make a difference. Right, right. To have an impact. And you know, I’ve told you this many times for many years, that no one really thinks about AP until something goes wrong and an invoice is coded wrong, or something gets paid late and you miss a discount and then you know, you’re getting yelled at. So, um, I, I’m always about, let’s celebrate them because it’s kind of a thankless job, but it is so very, very important. Very important.
Here’s what I believe. And it’s rooted in something that is fundamental in accounts payable that almost stops really good accounts payable and accounting professionals from changing. That is this word that we love in finance called risk. Oh yes. What’s your reaction to risk?
That is a good point because you know, you go into finance and working in those related fields, and you understand that that is something that you have to mitigate at all costs. That is your job.
That’s my point. That’s so you’re scared, right? And of change. I always say if anyone is marginally good in their accounting position, they’re gonna be an excellent risk mitigator.
I’m doing a good job name dropping Jon Land, one of our sales reps. He was talking about a friend of his who’s a CFO for a large company, invited him over to show him his new pool and instead of taking him through how the pool worked, he was showing this, this is a CFO professional. He was showing all the places that he made it safer. He de-risked his pool.
I love that.
It’s pretty smart. I love that. So going back to this idea that the next generation won’t necessarily, when we’re talking about digital skills here, just automatically bring all their technical aptitude.
It’s the thought is that if you’re marginally good in finance, you’re gonna be a great risk mitigator, right? If you take a job as a young person and somebody teaches you that job, they’re gonna teach you in current state, then what’s gonna happen? I’m following the thread here. What’s gonna happen is that as you become a leader, you’re gonna keep the current state because of risk.
That’s my whole point.
That’s a good point too because you know, you know what you’re doing now. Your processes today are audit tested and you know that everything is running as it should. So to go in and make a change really is scary. And, and you’re right, Chris. I mean, when you, especially when you’re talking to controllers and CFOs, they understand that they need to make these changes, but they’re deeply concerned about changing their fundamental processes, which automation does not do. So it’s really our jobs to educate them on that.
Well you say that, but what’s the perception?
Oh, the perception for sure is like, okay, you’re gonna change everything. And I can’t, I can’t have that. That’s right. You know, I still need to do A, B, and C.
That’s right. Um, but, so sometimes it’s a conversation and it is a journey, you know, to usually you don’t talk to people and they go, okay, I’m sold. You know, like right now. You know, so they have to like dip their toe in, right? But really, like I said, I think we’ve seen a lot of uptick in that peer-to-peer conversation where, um, you know, people are talking to their counterparts at other businesses saying, you know, I was scared too, but we’re taking the leap now.
Well, uh, so we’re talking about the current state. We kind of zigged things, zagged on this, but just so we can put a bow on it, what do you believe the current state is um, as far as the, the digital skill gap goes?
You’ve still got a lot of people that have been in accounts payable, a lot of accounts payable professionals that have been doing. That job a long time. Right. Maybe they’re afraid to venture out or whatever. More and more of those people are starting to retire one. And you are starting to get the younger people in. So I think we’re in a transition period where we are maybe digitizing our invoices now, like we’re scanning them in so that we’ll have a digital copy.
But that’s as far as we wanna go. So we’ve done a little bit of automation, that’s what we always hear, but they’re afraid to go full in because again, of the unknown.
Well, so let’s talk about that because I have a hypothesis. The thought is that if I just dip my toe into it, then I can de-risk this whole thing. But what I believe the hypothesis is, mm-hmm. The dipping in the toe is actually worse than going all in. What’s your reaction?
You know, that’s a very valid point, um, because a lot of time people will get complacent. They’re like, well, we’re scanning, we’re spending, you know, two hours a day scanning all of our invoices in, and we’re still making copies, by the way, of all of the checks that we’ve cut too. But we’ve decided we’re gonna keep the paper too for at least a year or two. So really they’re not getting anywhere.
So that you, you’ve backed up my hypothesis here. So I think once you’ve done that, it becomes a theory and the, and the, the theory is that when you dip your toe into digitization, let’s, I mean outside of accounts payable, but when you dip your toe into digitization, you actually double your work.
Yeah, true. That’s the point. In any automation I’ve always said is it’s only as good as the time that it frees up. Yep. I believe that that’s the big outcome.
Yep. And I don’t, you know, sometimes we’re talking to prospects and you know they want the, uh, approval workflow. They wanna be able to have that automated and be able to approve from anywhere, but they’re still afraid and want to still enter their own invoices.
And that is a perfect, um, analogy that you just said, Chris, because what are you saving because you’re still opening the paper and entering everything in yourselves and scanning them in. Um, and it’s because of that, that fear, you know, the risk. They’re afraid of losing control, and that’s unfortunate. We’ve been doing this a long time trying to change these mindsets and we still have a ways to go.
So that brings me to kind of topic number two is that how can digitization help finance leaders?
Oh, I mean, you have your information at your fingertips. Right. Yeah. So AP one of the, the big goals at all times is to be able to state your liabilities correctly, right? And that’s getting those invoices into the system as soon as possible.
And if they’re sitting around on people’s desks who still haven’t approved them, and we’re gonna go ahead and, uh, send them down to, to Joe. And then once he approves them, then we’ll enter them in. You know, you’re not stating things correctly and digitization being able to capture like, that invoice as soon as it comes in, which is what AP Automation affords, uh, us, is that it’s life-changing because we’ve got it, it’s there.
We have tools that can even help code. Yeah. Um, so that, that becomes a much easier process. So really all you’re doing is looking at the screen going, yep, I did order that. That invoice looks good. Approved. So it’s. I love what you’re saying because the more I talk about it, you’re right. I mean, you’ve got to go all in on this thing, right? Right. Yeah. I mean, or you are really adding double work.
Which is the opposite reason to use technology. You should go the other way. But, so it brings me to a point here, another point that I want your reaction on, and which is that I believe that people are buying this all wrong. The thought is that they buy the technology when they actually should buy the outcome.
That is brilliant. Again, it’s looking at the big picture because the efficiencies alone that you will gain is night and day. So a task that, let’s go back to my check run example, where we would spend literally the entire day we were cutting a thousand checks. So we were loading up the check printer. We were having to stand by the check printer. We were having to fix jams. We were having to take it in to get signed or we’d have to stamp ’em or whatever, and it, it’s so tedious. So to be able to take that eight-hour process and boil it into, oop, I hit a button, and now my payment file is gone and all I have to do is just, you know, keep an eye on it, but I know I don’t have to worry about it any longer. Digitization is, you know, obviously the efficiencies, but the cost savings.
Mm-hmm. I mean, just imagine it’s hard and soft costs. Um, but it’s also, to me as an AP manager forever, to me it’s peace of mind because I’ve got all of my information right here in front of me so I can run reports to see how we’re doing, how many invoices are still awaiting approval.
So they should buy the outcome versus buying the thing. You had mentioned something about the internal training that we do.
We have a team, a project team that’s assigned to each customer that helps them, you know, not only load their information in in the beginning and get them all set up and ready to go, but also. We train them so that they can, uh, they’re empowered to be able to make changes themselves going forward.
So if they need to change a workflow or add a new one or whatever, then they can do it because we’ve trained them or they can contact us, um, you know, our customer care team and get the support that they need. Yeah. So we need to do a good job of making sure that they understand that there’s a whole network there to support them.
So the thought is by the outcome, not the tech, this whole thing of the digital skills gap, it’s gonna widen unless you do something about it ’cause you know, the thought is that, you know, you mentioned AI, people are terrified of AI and computers taking over their jobs. Yep. And the reality is they will take tasks, but they won’t typically take jobs.
Right, exactly. And so everyone needs to, to be willing to learn something new, right? I mean, I think that’s what, that’s what I like. I mean, I don’t wanna do the same thing over and over and over again. And I think automation just makes our jobs that much easier and it’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of.
Um, I mean, given the, the opportunity to be able to, to not have to work every weekend, you know, as an AP manager, I’m gonna take that every day. Yeah. And even, you know, at year end where things are just crazy to be able to, especially at year end, be able to run a report to see what, what’s happened during the year.
You know, how many did I process? What do my 1099s look like? I need to see what all I’ve paid. And that is so much better than like accruing invoices, even having to enter each one on a spreadsheet, uh, that is, that is insane. And, but that was our lives for many, many years. And still today people tell me that, that they continue to do that.
So I get really nerdy and, and completely geeky about how much, how much they’re gonna be able to save. And it’s a huge win. But you gotta get the people over the hump.
Yeah. Yeah. And, and that’s hard to do. It is, but the thing is, once they’re over that, It’s a win-win. That’s topic number three, is that why is upskilling a win-win uh for finance staffs and leaders. In your opinion, what’s, what’s both sides of the win?
I ran what’s called full cycle AP shops, where my accounts payable specialist actually knew how to code. They knew how to, to read the chart of accounts. They knew how to, uh, apply the GL coding.
And so to be able to say to them, okay, instead of me doing this account rec, um, I want you to do it and let me show you how easy it is to do that. Or you do the bank reconciliation, um, and being able to teach them something else gives them the ability to grow. And yes, did I lose people to other positions?
Yes. And I was sad. Did you make ’em feel guilty? Kind of a little bit. Sure. Because it always put more work on me until I found somebody you should, to replace them. But, but, I always felt good about that. And at my age now, you know, even all the people that I’ve hired here at AvidXchange that are still here, yeah. I’m so proud. I want to see people succeed. Right? And you always need to to be learning.
There you go. Always need to be learning. Rhonda, thanks so much for your time and appreciate your dropping some mad knowledge bringing us back to the day where paper cuts was a, a pretty big thing.
I still have scars, Chris.
Oh boy. Mentally and physically. Oh, for sure. Thanks Rhonda.
Thanks for listening to the Net 30 podcast presented by AvidXchange. If you like what you heard, leave us a review. Five stars would be great. Subscribe so you can get the most up to date information.
Now while you’re waiting for the next episode, if you want to read more or learn more about this topic of the digital skills gap there’s a white paper at AvidXchange.com. It’s under resources and it’s called Closing the Digital Skills Gap Propels the Finance Transformation.
Alright, one more thing before we leave. If some of this has sparked any interest in AvidXchange accounts payable automation – I’ve always said this. It shows way better than it tells. So if you want to physically get a demonstration, see what it looks like, have a conversation with a professional on how it can specifically help you. Go to the website again, click on that demo request, fill out the information and someone’s going to be contacting you.
Thanks again for listening to the Net 30 podcast. Again, this is Chris Elmore. I really appreciate your time and attention. And I’ll see you soon.
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