For many smaller businesses, cloud functionality is all about storage and backup, but it can be transformational, enabling the business to effectively compete with businesses ten times bigger.

Nowhere is this truer than in those time consuming and frustrating tasks involving back office functionality, particularly in the finance function. In addition to processing invoices, managing payments and planning cash flow, small and medium sized businesses need to keep an effective paper trail for audit.

As much of this is office based work, it relies on busy bosses being in the office to approve transactions, causing further delays and frustration to suppliers.

Automation

New developments in cloud functionality enable businesses to streamline the finance function and reduce the time needed to ensure compliance. All a business needs to achieve this is access to a scanner.

These services enable businesses of any size to scan every invoice when it arrives at the office, immediately ensuring that there is a secure and backed up copy available to find online.

However the real business breakthrough comes from the complex software that extracts the information on an invoice and automatically imports this into a payment system or workflow.

This process reduces the need for a server, software and hardware maintenance and staff to process invoice information. It also reduces the number of manual inputting errors that can take place.

The most sophisticated systems will be able to handle invoices that arrive from different sources: email; pdf; paper; XML or any other format.

Transforming processes

Indeed these invoices can then be compared to purchase orders that are already within a payment system and (assuming that the volumes and overall costs match) can be sent to the relevant person to approve for payment.

Whilst this may sound, on the face of it, like a small change, it can have a transformational effect, particularly if the cloud service also has a mobile app.

Staff are freed from processing invoices to focus on the small number of exceptions that the software throws up. Managers are able to approve invoices wherever they are on their mobile, rather than spending valuable office time processing piles of invoices.

Cloud-based invoice systems enable small businesses to take advantage of services that were previously only available to the largest companies.

Savings of 75% of time within the finance function are not uncommon, particularly for companies that have a large number of suppliers and have to process more than 5,000 invoices per year. Most effective of all is the reduction in management time spent on administration, freeing up time to grow a business.

  • Simon Shorthose is Managing Director of Readsoft UK. Readsoft is a leading provider of business automation services for back office processes.