When it comes to utility bill management – a subset of utility expense management – there are certain functions and responsibilities that are easy to overlook because, quite frankly, there are more interesting things to focus on. However, overlooking some of these key utility bill management functions (which we explore below) can lead to inefficiencies, errors, and additional challenges and difficulties.
In this article, we cover vital block-and-tackle fundamentals that make up strong accounts payable process management for utility services. There are four areas that do not typically receive much utility bill management love:
- Utility scanning and imaging
- Utility general ledger coding
- Utility reconciliations
- Utility archiving
These areas, amongst others, that we will cover in future articles, are absolute musts for a well-managed utility bill management program.
These are areas that you will also want to inquire about in your next utility bill management vendor discovery process. Whether the expense management vendor is a TEM provider that also manages utilities, like Tellennium, or only manages utilities, these areas also deserve consideration.
Four Important Areas of Utility Bill Accounts Payable Process Management
1. Utility scanning and imaging bring automation love to your utility bill management program
Modern-day 3rd party bill management providers will invest heavily in technology to facilitate automation and limit rote work for staff.
This means a robust technology platform that houses all your program’s data is crucial. It will also mean investing in supporting technology such as optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities that allow for more rapid and frictionless transfer of data from paper invoicing into your system in electronic form.
Enhanced document management will also accompany this effort. And this will mean – for most reputable 3rd party expense management providers – that they have the capability to properly organize, and file easily retrievable electronic data and scanned documents related to all invoicing and related material within the technology platform.
Your utility management provider will be doing most of the heavy systems and process lifting. And your internal accounts payable team will be afforded the luxury of easy access to important data and documents with a few clicks of a mouse.
Forget about all the old-school repetitive and manual paperwork; we can leave that in our memories along with the typewriter.
Now, this is big love, movie-style. Not bad for accounts payable utility industry types. (There’s hope for us all after all.)
2. Utility general ledger coding which is highly automated will keep your internal accounts payable staff off the top of a bridge
For those who’ve worked in accounts payable within large enterprises, horror stories abound relating to coding errors that ran amok.
For example, consider the tired employee who makes a coding error or errors that go undetected for months on end. Naturally, this scenario creates a multitude of headaches for the organization: work needs to be redone to reassign allocations to the proper business unit(s), reporting and systems need updating, the client could be severely impacted and inconvenienced, etc.
The bottom line is that almost every enterprise accounts payable team has experienced this in the more manual past and it’s just too painful to repeat if it can be avoided. It’s simple nowadays. Human beings should not be doing highly repetitive and rote work; it’s just too susceptible to human fatigue and corresponding errors.
A reputable 3rd party utility bill management provider will have strong technology, systems, and procedures in place to highly automate the imaging, scanning, and coding process as per defined rules set by your organization and team. (There will also be checkpoints to catch any errors proactively.)
Your internal staff will be reserved for higher-order management oversight activities or other challenges that require deeper strategic and analytical thinking. It’s about letting the machines do what they best excel at and relieving humans to attend to the work that allows them to make greater contributions.
Now, this will keep your internal accounts payable team off the bridge and remaining on your team. And, if they find their way to a bridge, they will be bringing a smile and bungee jump rope. This is something we can all live with.
3. Utility reconciliations supported by strong process reduce program drag and grey hair
We live in a youth-obsessed society, so no one wants to lose the color in their hair, provided they are lucky enough to keep their hair.
A competent 3rd party utility bill management provider will provide some relief here. Even though we can all relate to how much fun this type of work is to perform manually, most would agree that the degree to which reconciliation activities can be automated and streamlined with strong technologies and systems, the better.
A reputable provider will be able to speak to the use of the technologies noted above and how they can be employed along with best practices to flag discrepancies proactively on the front end of the process. The point is to naturally minimize human intervention in the reconciliation process.
Moreover, modern expense management providers will also have the capability to integrate their platform with other enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems or external accounting systems and applications, which facilitates expedited coordination between relevant parties in reconciliation activities.
Your seasoned male employees can now stretch their Just for Men shampoo for a few extra months so it’s a win-win for all.
4. Utility archiving well done means forgetting about manual archiving (e.g., Iron Mountain)
Again, no one wants to deal with paper anymore. It’s just too cumbersome and slow to work with. Modern-day archiving by a reputable 3rd party utility expense management provider will employ all the technology and automation techniques mentioned above.
Data will either be entered into the system via electronic data interchange (EDI) i.e., exchange of data between systems, or scanned via OCR capabilities mentioned earlier.
Once within the technology platform, it’s within one central location and will be indexed according to set rules, and easily retrievable for any number of reasons. Examples could include auditing, disaster recovery purposes, or compliance with data retention policies.
Iron Mountain and physical storage of records may be going away but your electronic documents won’t.
Closing Thoughts on Utility Bill Management & Accounts Payable Processes
As the saying goes, “It’s all fun and games until someone screws up the AP file.” Okay, maybe not but you get the idea. Accounts payable folks working in the utility industry have two strikes against them already: (1) They are working in AP and (2) they are working in utilities (just kidding, really). So, let’s not give them another strike and keep them in the ball game.
We covered a few areas here as a reminder that it takes a team and that it’s not just the quarterback or star receiver that should get all the attention. These are four areas that can add real value to your overall program so keep them in mind during your next utility bill management discovery process.
If you’d like to consider Tellennium in your utility expense management platform and vendor comparisons, contact us to schedule a brief demo of our solution.
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