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Differences in Digitization, Digitalization and Automation in APA

Matt Wald
Author:Matt Wald

In the world of finance, technological advancements in accounts payable automation are revolutionizing purchasing and invoice processing. Organizations are seeing massive savings in time and money by making their purchasing and invoice processing processes virtually touchless by human hands.

But to navigate this digital transformation effectively, it is crucial to understand the distinctions between digitization, digitalization, and automation, particularly as they pertain to accounts payable automation.

Because, while these terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to different concepts and play unique roles in streamlining AP operations.

So let’s understand the differences between digitization, digitalization, and automation:

  • Digitization is about moving from paper documents to electronic documents.
  • Digitalization is the way humans interact with and are affected by digitization. It includes new processes to handle your digitized environment.
  • Automation is all about using technology and software to make digital processes touchless by human hands!
    Let’s look at how these differences play out in the world of accounts payable

Many finance staff believe they have achieved AP automation when, in fact, they have only replaced paper-based manual AP processes with digital-based but still manual processes.

Let’s delve into each of these terms to gain a clearer understanding of their significance in the context of accounts payable automation.

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Accounts Payable: Digitization

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Digitization involves converting physical documents and information into a digital format.

It is the initial step in the automation journey, where paper-based documents such as invoices, receipts, and purchase orders are scanned or photographed and transformed into electronic files.

The purpose of digitization is to create a digital repository of documents, making them easily accessible, searchable, and shareable. By eliminating the need for physical storage and manual retrieval, digitization lays the foundation for more advanced automation processes.

In the context of accounts payable, digitization means transitioning from paper-based invoices to electronic documents, capturing and storing data in a digital format. Some companies now insist on having vendors email invoices rather than mailing them. That’s a great first step toward digitization.

This enables organizations to reduce reliance on physical paperwork, minimizing the risk of human error, improving document tracking, and enhancing collaboration between AP departments and other stakeholders.

Accounts Payable: Digitalization

Accounts Payable: Digitalization

Digitalization goes beyond the mere conversion of physical documents into digital files. It involves leveraging digital technologies and data to transform business processes, enhance decision-making, and create new value propositions.

Generally speaking, digitalization is the use of digital tools to get things done.

In the realm of accounts payable automation, digitalization refers to the integration of digitized processes with software systems and tools.

Using internal email to pass around invoices to approvers is a great example of digitalization – it’s humans using digital tools. As is creating a folder scheme on your network to move pdfs of invoices from one status folder to another.

When it comes down to it, you really have to give A/P teams credit for getting creative – because when they don’t have a TRUE AP automation system they use the digital tools they have.

But this is NOT automation.

This is just replacing manual paper processes with manual digitalized processes.

Accounts Payable: Automation


Automation refers to the use of technology to execute tasks or processes with minimal human intervention. It involves the application of rule-based algorithms robotic process automation (RPA), AI, and machine learning to perform repetitive, time-consuming tasks more efficiently and accurately than manual efforts.

Automation streamlines workflows, reduces errors, enhances productivity, and frees up human resources to focus on higher-value activities.

In the context of accounts payable, automation encompasses a wide range of activities, including invoice data capture, matching and validation, payment processing, exception handling, and reporting.

By leveraging technologies like optical character recognition (OCR), machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI), automation software streamlines AP operations, reduces manual effort, increases accuracy, and accelerates invoice processing cycles.

AP automation solutions can integrate with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, eliminating the need for manual data entry, and enabling seamless communication between different departments.

Moreover, accounts payable automation can also extend to features like intelligent routing and approval workflows, where invoices are automatically directed to the appropriate approvers based on predefined rules or AI algorithms.

But some AP automation solutions are smarter than others. For example, only CoreIntegrator accounts payable automation solutions include AI called SmartMatch. SmartMatch automatically matches purchase orders to receipts at the line level. PO matching at the line level is one of the most tedious and time-consuming aspects of AP. But we can make it virtually touchless by human hands. That’s REAL AP automation!

Accounts payable automation also encompasses features like real-time analytics and reporting, which provide stakeholders with comprehensive insights into AP performance metrics.

These insights empower organizations to make data-driven decisions, identify process bottlenecks, optimize cash flow, negotiate better vendor terms, and improve things overall.

This ensures timely invoice processing, reduces delays, and strengthens internal controls.

Bottom Line

While digitization, digitalization, and automation are related terms, they represent distinct stages and concepts within the accounts payable automation journey.

Digitization involves converting physical documents into digital format, while digitalization leverages digital technologies and data to optimize processes and drive business value.

Automation, on the other hand, focuses on minimizing human intervention by using technology to streamline and execute tasks more efficiently.

By understanding the differences between these concepts, organizations can develop effective strategies for accounts payable automation. Thus unlocking substantial operational efficiencies, cost savings, and strategic advantages in today’s digital era.

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