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What March Madness brackets reveal about document management and accounts payable

Every March, millions of Americans fill out brackets for the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament, aka "March Madness." At least 40 million people across the country are expected to participate, amounting to 70 million tournament brackets for the occasion, while collectively wagering over $2 billion on the outcomes, according to the American Gaming Association and GfK Custom Research North America.

The sports brackets that these fans work on are tree diagrams with the names of the 68 qualifying schools. The layout looks simple on paper, but predicting an even remotely correct result is as challenging as trying to handle a complex revenue recognition workflow with nothing more than Excel:

  • The odds of coming up with a perfect bracket, which entails picking all 63 non play-in games correctly, are about 1 in 9.2 quintillion. For context, you have a far better chance of getting struck by lightning, winning the lottery or becoming a successful NBA player.
  • Most brackets today are electronic, but visualizing them as paper documents can be mind-blowing. A stack of all possible bracket selections, printed out, would weigh 184 trillion tons and be extensive enough to circle the globe 21 million times.

As a time-consuming, draining and ultimately impractical endeavor with deep roots in both mathematics and manual processes, bracketology has a lot in common with legacy SMB accounting practices. Sports fans used to scratch away at paper brackets and hand them over to a bracket master who managed the submissions pool, but most of them have since moved on to the relative convenience of online submissions. Accounting teams, however, have not been as fortunate. Many still waste hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars each year on old-fashioned accounts payable workflows, often with a lot of actual paper in the mix.

"Teams waste hundreds of hours yearly on outdated accounts payable workflows."

This is the business equivalent of doing all of your brackets by hand: both inefficient and in vain, with dismal odds of actually catching the proverbial white whale (i.e., a perfect bracket, or real-time visibility into AP activity) at the end of the day. On top of that, some SMBs try to solve their problems by seeking out document management solutions, when in many cases what they would truly benefit from is accounts payable workflow automation via cloud software.

Bracketing it off: The lines between document management and AP workflow automation

An NCAA bracket clearly separates teams and regions from each other. Similar clarity is needed in distinguishing document management and accounts payable workflow automation, which often get confused as SMBs look for a way out of their manual processes. Each one is useful in specific situations.

Document management solutions
Definitions of document management vary, but the uniting principle is going paperless. Deep reliance on paper is a huge liability for most organizations, due to a combination of high costs for materials (printers and inks, in addition to the paper itself), bottlenecks in retrieving key documents and risks of data loss in the event of a fire, flood or other accident:

  • Ninety percent of critical business data only exists on paper, yet the bulk of it is not even handled in accordance with any protocol that would ensure preservation, according to Coopers & Lybrand.
  • Professionals spend an average of 18 minutes searching for the typical document, which translates into around $14,000 of lost productivity per employee each year, according to numbers from Gartner and IDC Canada.
  • An IDC white paper commissioned by Ricoh once discovered that dependence on document-based processes had caused "serious incidents" at 75 percent of organizations in the five years leading up to 2013.

SMBs don't have to be knee-deep in the amount of paper it would take to print out all possible NCAA brackets in order to court these risks. Enter document management solutions, which uses automation to streamline activities such as initial processing, retrieval and archiving.

Filling out March Madness brackets is a popular hobby in the U.S.

Filling out March Madness brackets is a popular hobby in the U.S.

More specifically, document management tools help accounts payable teams store scanned documents and work with a variety of types and formats, including faxes, emails, Microsoft Office files, etc. These features in turn open up important advantages for accounts payable workflows, including fewer errors when processing invoices, easier vendor relationship management, quicker validations and approvals and enormous savings in terms of time invested and money spent. It is as big a leap forward as the Internet was for bracketologists. However, document management is not always the most on-point solution to common accounts payable pains, no more than convenient point-and-click bracket selections were ever the secret to crafting a 99th-percentile bracket.

Accounts payable workflow automation
An AP automation solution that is fully integrated with cloud financial software (such as Intacct) helps address particular issues like over-reliance on manual processes. It streamlines the payment cycle by providing comprehensive automation, drag-and-drop design and plenty of integrations and modules.

With AP workflow automation, SMBs can tap into:

  • Real-time visibility into payments, approvals and reports, at any time and from any device. There is no longer a need to wait on batches to post. It is similar to how bracket-makers now have on-demand access, through the Internet, to past game results and team statistics that can help them make smart picks.
  • Support for essential document management tasks via  tools like AvidXchange, including automatic capture of invoices, importing of approved invoices into AP, secure Web submission and access to full audit trails.
  • Tight control over configurations and processes. Users can define workflows, approvals and internal controls that are appropriate for their businesses. As a result, they gain insight into the entire AP cycle and can better ensure compliance with regulations and policies.
  • Automation of critical tasks. Electronic NCAA brackets simplified the tedious process of writing in teams' names and scratching out mistakes with pen or pencil. In a similar way, AP workflow automation speeds up data entry with defaults for items like discounts, GL accounts and payment priorities.
  • Tons of standard invoice and bill reports, as well as straightforward mechanisms for bill payments that respect existing approval workflows and banking relationships.

Up the bracket: Why cloud financial software is the right pick

These wide-reaching capabilities of accounts payable workflow automation software make it a much sounder pick for AP tasks than legacy manual processes. Plus, it can better solve many of the problems that a lot of finance teams have traditionally tried to address through document management tools. Ultimately, both of these solutions help reduce the risk to core financial processes and unlock pent-up productivity.

Bracketologists often talk about "bracket busters," which are overlooked teams that, by winning a game or two, can shatter the consensus predictions and ruin literally millions of brackets. The impact of a bracket buster is often compounded. For example, a highly touted team that was picked in a given bracket to advance deep into the tourney but was eliminated in the first round would ensure that a huge portion of that bracket would be incorrect for rounds to come.

For accounting departments, there is a similar risk of outdated data, manual keying errors and/or inefficient paper-based processes throwing accounts payable off course. Fortunately, AP workflow automation ensures that these errors are avoided and that everyday activities are easier to perform across the whole organization.

Tagged With: Sage Intacct, Altec, AvidXchange
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