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Vendor Self-Service Portals: A Win-Win for
Both AP Departments and Vendors

Introduction

Is responding to supplier calls and emails taking up valuable staff time?  Studies have shown that dealing with basic supplier inquiries, such as payment status and answering suppliers’ calls and emails can use up to as much as 24% of a staff member’s time. 

 

Answering and researching vendor calls and emails is often a time-consuming and labor-intensive task. Whether vendors are calling to ask if an invoice has been received or where it is in the payment process, these calls and emails take staff away from other tasks. In addition, they disrupt what the staff member was doing when they were interrupted, which can cause errors to occur in invoice processing. When the caller is upset that an invoice has not been paid and is unpleasant, productivity and morale suffer.

 

Suppliers can’t be faulted for wanting to know when they will be paid. And, it is usually AP’s job to provide customer service between their company and their suppliers, as well as playing an important role in managing the relationships with those suppliers. But, implementing technology to replace the calls and emails can save costs, headaches and increase productivity. 

 

This report will explain how a vendor self-service portal, sometimes called Interactive Web Response (IWR), can answer vendor inquiries themselves, saving staff time, money and errors.


What Is IWR or a Vendor Self-Service Portal?

IWR or vendor self-service portals are designed to allow vendors to access data regarding the payment status of their invoices via the Internet. The vendor logs in remotely to check on invoice receipt, payment information and other data online without having to call or email. 

 

Types of Vendor Self-Service Portals

There are three ways to facilitate self-service portals: Build it in-house; buy a module as part of your ERP or AP automation suite or use a specialized provider.

  1. Build It In-House. The build (and maintain) it internally version requires significant IT resources that are often hard to come by. If your company is like many others, the AP department struggles to get IT resources and the concept of a self-service portal often does not rise to the top of their list of priorities – since it takes time and talent away from other critical business initiatives. Companies see the benefits of no required capital investment and cost savings of an internally built portal and push to get IT resources. They often end up with changing IT priorities that impact IT’s availability for the project and it doesn’t always turn out as expected. On top of that, portals need to be maintained which can take more time and effort than anticipated and take IT away from other projects.
  2. Vendor Portal as Part of a Full Suite. Many ERP suites, accounts payable automation and workflow solution providers have a module for vendor portals as part of their software services, which can be licensed separately. These ERP systems are primarily designed for AP departments to get invoices processed and paid on time and accurately. Often the invoice query module is a feature that can be complex to activate, inflexible and expensive. The user might find high upfront costs of licensing and set-up fees. Upgrades and new releases can also be expensive. These companies to date have not found the benefit in marketing or selling this feature as a stand-alone product. The benefit is that it ties into the existing ERP system.
  3. Specialized Providers. The third option is a provider that specializes in vendor self-service portals. It is their core business and they focus 100% of their efforts on building the best portal possible for their clients. These systems can be more feature rich and less expensive. The downside for some companies is that it is not part of their AP automation, although stand-alone vendor portals are designed to easily interact with ERPs, accounting and automation systems.

 

Benefits of Vendor Self-Service Portals

  • Sharply reduce inbound calls and emails regarding receipt and payment status that your staff previously handled personally
  • Frees up your staff for higher value assignments by transferring the costly chores of responding to vendor invoice and payment inquiries to a secure, online location where vendors can access answers themselves – quickly, conveniently and easily.
  • Reduces salaries, benefits, taxes, equipment, phone lines and more
  • Reduces inbound calls and emails and boosts productivity
  • Greatly enhances supplier services and relationships
  • Eliminates distractions from vendor calls
  • Studies show confidence in data increases when suppliers can access invoice and payment information themselves, eliminating concerns that “the check is in the mail”
  • Used by internal vendor relationship managers for inquired and invoice-related questions
  • From the suppliers point of view, gets answers to invoice inquiries real time 24/7 with no need to leave messages and wait for responses.  

What to Look for in a Vendor Self-Service Portal

When making the decision of what sort of automated system you should implement, there are a number of things to consider. As a busy professional, you are balancing a lot of balls, so you want a system that is easy to implement and deploy with the fewest IT resources possible so you can get the program up and running and start reaping the benefits as quickly as possible. 

 

An important question to ask any vendor you are talking with is how they keep invoice data separate from internal AP financial systems to ensure security of the data.

 

You need to do a cost justification to take to upper management to get buy-in for the technology. For example:

 

      Including research, response and follow-up queries, each query can take 5 to 30 minutes

      Average cost per hour ranges from $14 to $32

      Total Direct Cost = Time per query

                                    X Cost per hour

                                    X Number of queries per day

                                    X 250 work days per year

                                     = Annual Cost of Queries

 

So, if each query takes an average of 12 minutes to answer with an hourly cost of $23, then twenty-five queries a day costs $28,750 annually. Bottom-line savings are generated when the cost of the supplier portal is less than the savings.

 

Conclusion

According to a study by The Accounts Payable Network, larger organizations with 10,000+ employees are much more likely to have implemented vendor web portals. Large companies tend to have more technology in place than other organizations. Surprisingly, however, the study indicates that smaller organizations typically benefit the most from portals. While large organizations with vendor portals report a 78% reduction in customer service calls, the median organization with less than 500 employees reports an 85% reduction, according to the same study.

 

Implementing a vendor self-service portal helps both your department and your vendors save time and enjoy improved service at reduced cost – so everyone wins!

 

Learn how an InvoiceInfo self-service portal can benefit your company; call (678) 335-5735 today or request more information online!