Spend management

Key benefits of approval workflow automation


An automated approval workflow is key to optimizing your purchasing process. It enables you to fast-track simple to complex multi-level approval structures with improved transparency and informed decision-making at every touchpoint in your approval line.

But first, let’s address why manual and paper-based systems don’t meet organizational purchasing and expense management requirements.

The true cost of manual, outdated approval workflows

Manual and paper-based approval workflow processes account for most purchasing and expense management delays and inefficiencies. These delays slow down the purchasing process and create undue ripple effects such as:

  • Unauthorized spending

  • Stalled expense reimbursements

  • Process bottlenecks that cause penalties for late payments. 

Overall these eventualities stifle productivity and lead to employee frustration and increased costs. Not to mention, the path to approval holds many risks and possible blockers. These include:

Fragmented approval workflows 

The importance of automated approval workflows cannot be overstated. With purchasing and expenses occurring at every level in a business, implementing sound practices for purchase requisitioning, expense claims and approvals is vital for effective spend management.

For instance, manual purchasing and expense management processes can become decentralized in remote workforces or organizations with multiple, dispersed branches. The result is a time-consuming and complex approval workflow, from justifying a purchase to outlining the selection process in multiple email threads, and then repeating it at every level until it is approved. If someone along the chain requests additional details or verification, it usually means the process starts all over again.

Error-prone, lost or stalled requisitions

Manual approval workflows require multiple email threads or paper-based processes that require signatures. Unattended emails, delayed responses, inadequate supporting documentation and human error are the primary reasons for stalled requisitions and bottlenecks.

Out-of-office approvers

Timely approvals can be derailed when the next manager in the approval line is on vacation or on sick leave. This is often where purchasing and expense reporting goes awry. 

The requester may even circumvent processes due to their impatience or frustration, which leads to untracked and unauthorized spending.

Rogue spend

Manual approval processes are completely inept when it comes to ensuring that spend occurs with approved or contracted vendors. 

With no oversight of whether or not a vendor is authorized, managers approve requests blindly and the resulting purchases occur with random suppliers. If this becomes a common occurrence, it completely diminishes the procurement team’s opportunities to save and gain more spend under management with contracted vendors that offer the best value.

Now that we’ve identified the primary contributors to delays and inefficiencies in approval workflows, let’s explore how an automated approval process can optimize your purchasing and expense management processes.

The 8 benefits your business stands to gain with approval workflow automation

1. Automated approval routing

Modern automated approval workflows offer great ease-of-use, which helps you encourage healthy adoption levels and enables your employees to raise their productivity with the software. 

Your employees simply need to submit purchase requisitions or expense reports using the spend management solution’s web interface or mobile app, and the automated approval workflow does all of the heavy lifting for them. Requests are routed for approval, internal controls are automated and all relevant approval data and actions are tracked along the way. 

Approvals should escalate according to configured business rules, such as value and department, and ensure compliance with company procurement policies. From simple to multi-level structures, each requisition gets the right level of authorization, from the relevant approvers.

Invoice approval automation provides an additional layer of control. Your AP department can ensure timely payments and eliminate the risk of overpayment with exception alerts and three-way matching capabilities.

2. Spend visibility

What’s the status of a requisition? Who approved this purchase? Is this purchase within budget? 

These are common, burdensome questions without adequate spend visibility. An automated approval process provides critical visibility into your organization’s spending processes. 

Know the status of every requisition and all relevant data in seconds with access to detailed audit trails. Quickly see where requisitions are in relation to your budget. Create custom reports and analyze spend by user, cost center, department or supplier. 

This oversight and transparency promotes accountability and ultimately a cost-conscious spending culture.

3. Mobility

While most businesses are starting to adopt an automated approval process, the prevailing remote work requirements have necessitated not only digitization, but mobility that enables productivity on any device, from any location. By deploying a cloud spend management solution, you gain automated approval workflows and benefit from on-demand purchasing and expense management processes via a web interface and mobile app.

No more delays due to approvers being in different locations, or unavailable. Best-in-class spend management solutions give you the ability to approve requests on your mobile device, wherever you are, or assign a proxy approver or out-of-office delegate to manage approvals in your absence.

4. Collaboration

With remote and dispersed workforces, internal collaboration is paramount to effective day-to-day operations. Approval workflow automation is a primary example of collaboration that helps to organize processes, delegate responsibilities and track entire transaction life cycles.

Prime examples of internal collaboration that can be supported by an automated approval process are: 

  • Building up a requisition

  • Processing and authorizing a new supplier

  • Soliciting additional verification

  • Being notified of an exception

Digitizing these touchpoints with a spend management solution will fast track and simplify processes while seamlessly connecting users, assigning responsibilities and mitigating risk.

5. Internal control

Approval workflow automation enables effective delegation of authority. This not only relieves top executives or managers of the burdens of approving routine purchases but distributes workloads, accelerates and improves decision-making and minimizes the risk of fraudulent purchases. You can set different permission levels for each manager and control who can view, edit, reject, review real-time budgets and approve requests.

6. Compliance

Spend management solutions enable the configuration of policies within the automated approval process. These risk-mitigating features ensure that all spending is procurement policy and budget compliant with mobile, email or in-app alerts and notifications that highlight any breaches or noncompliance.

7. Time savings

A spend management solution that enables automated approval workflows will accelerate and streamline purchasing and expense management processes - cutting out tedious manual routing and data collection. 

On average, organizations running at full optimization can improve requisitioning, expense claims and approvals by reducing processing times from over a week to less than a day. The time savings will boost productivity and empower employees to channel their time into more strategic initiatives. The productivity gains alone can lead to significant savings overall and even reduce the need for additional hires.

8. Cost savings

You’ll be hard-pressed to stop rogue, maverick, unauthorized or fraudulent spending without adequate technology, automation or spend visibility — you can’t manage what you can’t see. 

An automated approval workflow will not only simplify processes and shed light on spending behavior, it will flag noncompliance and eliminate the need for corrective action as all spending will be authorized, and budget and policy compliant before it is incurred.

Create a responsible spending culture with an automated approval process

Approval automation promotes accountability and transparency and the need for micromanagement is reduced as managers are at ease with delegating ownership of tasks. These factors combined significantly improve spending behavior.

Best in class spend management solutions are powered by agile routing engines that enable efficiency gains and measurable cost savings. Approval workflow automation is all about striking a balance between efficiency and control.

Interested in seeing what approval workflow automation can do for your business first hand? Schedule a custom Fraxion demo to learn how this spend management solution feature can drive accountability, efficiency and cost control.

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