6 Steps for Gaining Approval for an Accounts Payable Automation Initiative
We get to talk with people every day who are interested in potential accounts payable automation projects. Some are very confident in what they need to do to move forward, gain approval and get projects moving forward within their organizations, and they are successful in doing so. Others may feel they are confident only to have the rug pulled out from under them by not having the appropriate support or following the appropriate process to get the project approved, funded and staffed. Yet others confess their complete lack of knowledge and understanding about how to move forward towards a potential project.
The following outline should help all parties interested in moving forward with an accounts payable automation project to get organized, move through the process, and gain project approval.
- Understand your organization’s approval process – Organizations have a process for how new company initiatives are evaluated and approved. Some organizations have formalized and documented this process while others have not. Before starting down the path of trying to get a project approved and funding, find out how your organization reviews and approves projects. If a formal documented approach exists, that’s great! If not, talk with others within your organization who have successfully navigated these waters to gain insight from their experiences.
- Identify the business need you're trying to fulfill – This process needs to start from the top-down view. Start with the organization’s vision and strategic goals. In order to get your project approved, it should align with the company’s overall goals, as you'll be competing with a lot of other initiatives for attention, capital and resources. If two projects are looked at side-by-side, the one which is more aligned with the organization’s overall direction will most likely win out. Said another way, if your project isn't strategically-aligned, it’s unlikely to gain approval.
- Identify and align with key influencers within your organization – Not all executives are viewed equally within organizations. Some of this may be because of the DNA of your organization. For example, some businesses may be sales-oriented while others focus on research and innovation. When it comes to accounts payable automation, having finance and IT executives aligned with and supporting your project is critical. You'll also want to see if there are any adjacent projects being discussed within your company – ones that would focus on document imaging or content management could influence or impact your potential success.
- Understanding the specifics of your project – You need to have a clear understanding of how the project will be implemented, what resources you'll need to accomplish it, what the intended business outcomes will be, and how you'll measure them – both before the project and after completion. Regardless of your position and role within your organization, you'll be selling this project. You need to have the most knowledge and information in the room when discussing your project and be well prepared to answer the tough questions.
- Understanding key metrics for analysis – In alignment with understanding your organization’s overall approval process, you'll need to understand what key business metrics are used to analyze potential projects for approval. Some of the most common ones seen across organizations include return on investment (ROI), project payback and Net Present Value (NPV). There are good, solid business analysis tools available which can be used to generate this information. Just make sure you know which ones you need to focus on and what the expected hurdles are you'll need to get over before starting down the path.
- Obtain approval from your executive decision makers – Now that you understand and have followed your organization’s process, have gathered all of the key information needed, and have the backing of key influencers in your organization, you’re ready to go for formal project approval. There are likely capital expenditure request (CER) procedures within your organization and may likely need to present to an executive team to gain their final approval. Because you've armed yourself with the appropriate project information above and have the backing from key influencers, you're ready to do so with confidence.
We hope this information will help you move forward to gain approval for your accounts payable automation project. What have your experiences been with getting project approval? Any words of wisdom you'd be willing to share on this subject?