Providing Nimble Accounting Automation Tools in an Uncertain Environment

Disruption is increasingly becoming a bigger and bigger constant in today’s business environment. That’s proving to be both an opportunity and a challenge. An innovative new automation tool that helps business run more smoothly and efficiently is what I like to call positive disruption. Unnecessary immigration, tax and regulatory uncertainty is disruption that makes it tougher on those same innovators.

With Brexit in the UK and a surprising regime change in the US, businesses on both sides of the pond are left unsure of the eventual impact these events will have on day-to-day operations. Reduced taxes and elimination of needless regulations can certainly spur business activity, but too often well-intentioned executive and legislative actions can create problems. H.L. Mencken famously said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

Most of what we’ve seen so far this year seems to fall in the “simple and wrong” category. Rushing to solve a non-existent problem or appearing to solve a real one too often creates unintended consequences that slow the pace of business. Like it or not, ours is a global economy and any action disregarding that fact will cause problems.

Everything from freezing premium H1B Visa processing to repeated attempts at instituting blanket travel bans creates uncertainty for the international community. Business trips get canceled, version releases are delayed, parts orders are put on hold. If I’m unsure about being able to re-enter the country, how bad do I need to attend the next trade show abroad? If some of my key developers won’t be able to get their visas renewed, can I commit to delivering software upgrades on the current schedule? What if my made-in-the-USA climate control system relies on components imported from China?

This type of activity is the lifeblood of the world economy, so when the rules and regulations governing domestic and international commerce become more complex or are simply left in limbo, we all have our work cut out for us.

A Different Set of Tax Rules for Every Supplier

This is a big issue if you really think about it. I’m obviously coming at it from the perspective of an accounts payable (AP) automation solution provider, but my challenge speaks to the broader issue of how sudden or poorly conceived change from the status quo can impact business worldwide.

If you’re manufacturing a complex product with components from suppliers in numerous countries, many of the proposals being discussed by legislators will have an impact on your production. You will need automation tools capable of anticipating and adapting, otherwise you might revert to manual process to close functionality gaps.

For example, AP automation tools should be easily configurable to deal with suppliers facing import tariffs or border taxes. Inventory and production management software will need to smoothly adapt procurement directives and production cycles to match a fluctuating list of preferred suppliers and longer, more arduous border inspections.

Maybe all the things we worry about will happen. Perhaps none of them will. A big part of being an innovator involves preparing the user for inevitable change. In most cases, evolution happens at a pace befitting the word itself. Other times, like now, a lot of things may happen all at once.

Keeping Up With Compliance

For the last four or five years, compliance auditing has been an in-demand accounting niche. The ACA created a bunch of uncertainty when it was first implemented in 2011. Organizations raced to adapt. Replacing it just a few years later, will almost certainly produce more of the same needs.

Except this time re-reforming the health system may only be the tip of the regulatory iceberg. With rollbacks promised to almost every sector, organizations will struggle to respond. It’s our job as technology innovators to help them. We may, in fact, be their best and only hope.

How Can Innovators Help?

Effective automation tools resolve a matrix of unique challenges to create a complete solution for a specific process like AP. For example, Entryless deploys optical character recognition (OCR) technology as part of its solution, even though we know our users receive fewer and fewer invoices that way. Even if only 5% of invoices arrive in the mail, any automation solution that doesn’t account for them limits its own effectiveness.

We have to look at tax and regulatory uncertainty through the same lens. What are the likely variables confronting our users? How is our platform currently positioned to meet their current and  future needs? Do we need to add or modify features?

It’s not easy. Resources are finite, even at places like Oracle and SAP. A CEO can’t just poke his head out the office door and yell, “I need ten thousand lines of code, stat!” The automator/innovator confronting uncertainty has to weigh numerous factors before committing to additional development.

I recognize the responsibility my company has to its customer base and that’s why we’re taking potential global disruption of the supply chain seriously. Ours is a solution that accountancies and businesses depend to keep their AP running smoothly. We understand the smarter our platform can be, the lower the risk of disruption for our users.

Automation, specifically intelligent automation capable of evolving along with compliance requirements, offers a way for organizations to cost-effectively respond to change.

Automation Protects and Promotes Positive Disruption

When I founded my company Entryless, it was with the intent to solve a relatively narrow problem for businesses and accountancies—eliminate the costly and time consuming manual tasks associated with processing AP. Now that we are a thriving company with over thirty thousand subscribers and growing, our goals have become loftier.

By creating an intelligent accounts payable platform, we are building the ability to automate adaptation. Imagine an AP platform that can ingest a tax, tariff, or regulatory change, and then modify the transaction process automatically to comply with it. Now consider similarly enabled intelligent automation managing inventory, streamlining manufacture, and optimizing your IT.

This potential is why I believe the best protection against the uncertainty created by a shifting regulatory ecosystem is technology. Technology disrupting tradition, challenging the status quo, and daring organizations to become smarter and more efficient. It’s up to those of us providing SaaS to lead the way—creating positive disruption to help businesses deal with uncertainty.