Accounting & Bookkeeping

What is Invoice Capture: Importance, Methods, and Challenges

Invoice Capture
Written by
Published on
Share This

Data extraction from invoices is called invoice capture, a crucial step in the accounts payable process. However, an Accounts payable department faces several difficulties if traditional capture procedures are not adequately managed. Automation allows for effortless recording, automated coding, and sped-up approval and payment procedures, resulting in best practices for invoice capture. In this article, we discuss the difficulties with invoice capture today and how automation might speed up the payment of invoices.

The act of taking data from an invoice and inserting it into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system so it can be processed is known as Invoice Capture. Invoices can be delivered to businesses in various ways, such as electronically via email, physically through the mail, or via fax.

The data from the invoice must be entered into an ERP system for bookkeeping, regardless of how the invoice gets to the Accounts Payable department. Therefore, the details from each invoice must still be manually entered into the ERP system for several departments as part of the capture process.

A tangible paper copy of the invoice would need to be moved manually from desk to desk to be approved. If there are few bills or the firm is tiny, this might not be a problem, but if there are many invoices to process, it can be time-consuming, complicated, and prone to mistakes and late payments.

Other invoice capture methods include employing an EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) system, which enables suppliers to send invoices directly to the ERP system or allows invoices to be quickly scanned and submitted automatically.

Why Is Invoice Capture So Important?

An organization needs to capture all the information from the invoice and record it for further use. Errors in capture result in errors in processing, payments, record keeping, and other areas. This might lead to issues with vendors receiving payment appropriately and on time, leading to tense supplier relations.

Data entry errors are far more likely when invoices are manually entered. When the same invoice is resent due to nonpayment, delays in invoice capture can result in duplicate invoices. Additionally, until the problem is remedied, cash flow may suffer if duplication results in double payment. As invoices arrive in various formats—some online, some via the mail—they are all entered into the same system for centralized processing when they are captured.

Because accurate data and prompt processing of bills are crucial and can affect a company’s bottom line, invoice capturing is critical.

Invoice Capture Methods

1. Manual Data Capture

Manual data entry is the most time-consuming and fundamental way of invoice data acquisition. Although data entry by hand may appear inexpensive, the long-run cost is substantially higher. Additionally, it gives room for faults and mistakes to happen.

2. OCR

OCR, often known as optical character recognition, is one of the most used technologies for more rapid invoice data collection. It extracts characters, numbers, letters, and symbols from files in various formats, including PDF, JPEG, TIFF, and PNG. The invoice-capturing software must include an OCR. It extracts information and generates raw, unstructured data that must be organized. But it performs a lot better than hand keying.

3. Intelligent Invoice Capture

The way that invoice data capture is done has been completely transformed by machine learning and artificial intelligence. Organizing further. Combining AI, machine learning, and OCR produce the most precise and quick results. First, sort the invoices using data extraction and scanning software, then export the data as Excel spreadsheets for further processing.

4. Outsourcing The Task

Many organizations contract out the data entry for their invoices. This approach involves sending the bills to a third-party company like Profitjets, which then delivers the sorted data to the provider. We at Profitjets extract the data primarily by hand. Technically speaking, it still requires the inconvenience of manual keying; the only distinction is that it is no longer your problem.

Invoice Capture

Invoice Capture Process - Step-by-Step Guide

The invoice capture process is the foundation of streamlining accounts payable (AP) workflows. It involves collecting invoices from various sources and extracting the essential data for recording and processing payments. Traditionally, this process relied heavily on manual tasks, leading to inefficiencies and potential errors. However, technological advancements have paved the way for automated invoice capture solutions, significantly improving efficiency and accuracy.

Here's a breakdown of the typical steps involved in the invoice capture process, considering both manual and automated approaches:

1. Invoice Acquisition:

  • Manual: Invoices can arrive through physical mail, email attachments, or be dropped off in person.  This requires sorting through paper invoices and potentially manually entering data from emails or online portals.
  • Automated: With integrated solutions, invoices can be automatically uploaded through various channels like email, fax, or online portals.  Additionally, some systems can connect directly to vendor portals to retrieve invoices electronically.

2. Data Extraction:

  • Manual: This traditionally involved manually keying in invoice information like vendor name, invoice date, due date, line items, quantities, unit prices, and total amounts. This method is time-consuming and prone to human error.
  • Automated: Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology is crucial in automated data extraction. OCR scans invoices and extracts high-quality text data, significantly reducing manual data entry. Advanced systems can even extract data from tables and recognize logos for vendor identification.

3. Data Validation and Approval:

  • Manual: After manual data entry, a thorough review is necessary to ensure accuracy. This may involve comparing entered data with the original invoice and contacting vendors for clarification in case of discrepancies. 
  • Automated: While OCR excels at data extraction, some level of validation may still be required. Automated systems can flag potential errors or inconsistencies for manual review, such as missing data fields or unusual amounts. Additionally, the system can establish approval workflows to route invoices for authorization before processing.

4. Data Integration:

  • Manual: Once validated, the extracted data must be manually entered into your accounting software for further processing. This can involve creating new vendor records and updating accounts payable records if necessary. 
  • Automated: Automated invoice capture solutions seamlessly integrate with your existing accounting software. Extracted data is automatically populated into the designated fields, eliminating the need for manual entry and minimizing errors. This integration also allows for the automatic creation of payment batches and schedules.

Benefits of Automated Invoice Capture:

  • Reduced Errors: Manual data entry is prone to errors. Automation minimizes human error and ensures accurate data capture from the start.

  • Improved Efficiency: Automating the invoice capture process frees up valuable staff time for other critical tasks, such as vendor communication or financial analysis.

  • Faster Processing: Automated systems can process invoices faster than manual data entry, leading to quicker vendor payments and improved cash flow management. 

  • Enhanced Visibility: Automated capture provides a centralized repository of all invoices, improving visibility and control over your accounts payable processes. Reports and dashboards can be generated to gain insights into spending patterns and identify potential cost-saving opportunities.

By implementing an automated invoice capture solution, businesses can significantly streamline their accounts payable workflows, reduce errors, and free up valuable resources to focus on other strategic initiatives. 

How To Integrate AI into Invoice Capture?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing invoice capture by offering a powerful combination of automation and intelligence. By integrating AI into your invoice capture system, you can achieve a new level of accuracy, efficiency, and adaptability. Here's a closer look at how AI can be leveraged to enhance your invoice capture workflows:

  • Enhanced Optical Character Recognition (OCR): Traditional OCR technology can extract text data from invoices. However, AI can take OCR to a whole new level. Machine learning algorithms can continuously learn and improve data extraction accuracy over time. This allows the system to handle variations in invoice layouts, fonts, and even minor imperfections from scanned documents. AI can also recognize and extract data from handwritten elements on invoices, which can be particularly challenging for traditional OCR.

  • Intelligent Data Extraction and Classification: AI goes beyond simply extracting text. It can analyze the extracted data and categorize invoices based on various criteria, such as vendor type, expense category, project code, or due date. This automatic classification streamlines the processing workflow by routing invoices to the appropriate departments or accounts for approval. AI can also identify recurring invoice patterns and learn to populate certain data fields, reducing manual intervention automatically.

  • Exception Handling and Anomaly Detection: AI can act as a vigilant watchdog in your invoice capture process. AI can identify potential errors or inconsistencies by analyzing extracted data against historical trends and established business rules. For instance, the system might flag invoices with significant deviations from a vendor's typical purchase amounts or highlight missing information in crucial data fields. This allows for targeted manual review and correction, minimizing the risk of processing errors and fraudulent invoices.

  • Improved Approval Workflows and Automation: AI can streamline invoice approval by integrating with existing workflow management systems. Based on extracted data and pre-defined rules, invoices can be automatically routed to the appropriate personnel for approval based on spending thresholds or vendor categories. This reduces manual task allocation and expedites approval, leading to faster payments and improved vendor relationships.

  • Advanced Analytics and Reporting: AI-powered invoice capture solutions can generate valuable insights from your data. By analyzing spending patterns, identifying frequently occurring vendors, and tracking invoice processing times, businesses can gain valuable insights to optimize their procurement processes, negotiate better deals with vendors, and identify potential cost-saving opportunities.

Integrating AI into your invoice capture process is not simply about automating tasks. It's about injecting intelligence and adaptability into your workflows. This allows your system to handle the complexities of real-world invoices, reduce manual intervention, and provide valuable insights to support better financial decision-making.

Challenges in Invoice Data Capture

Despite the numerous benefits that invoice data capture offers, there are certain challenges that businesses need to be aware of and address to ensure smooth and accurate processing. Here's a closer look at some of the common hurdles encountered in invoice data capture:

  • Inconsistent Invoice Formats: Businesses receive invoices from a wide range of vendors, and these invoices often come in different formats (paper, PDF, email attachments), layouts, and data structures. This inconsistency can pose a significant challenge for traditional OCR technology. Invoices may have varying data field placements, use different fonts or layouts, and some may even contain handwritten elements. These variations can lead to errors in data extraction if the OCR system is not equipped to handle such complexities.

  • Poor Image Quality: In many cases, scanned invoices or photos of invoices may need better image quality due to low resolution, blurry text, or background noise. This can further hinder the accuracy of data extraction. Blurry text or faint markings can be misinterpreted by OCR, leading to errors and requiring manual intervention to correct extracted data.

  • Handwritten Data: While some invoices may be entirely typed, others may contain handwritten information, particularly for smaller vendors or specific data fields like purchase orders or approval signatures. Current OCR technology can struggle with interpreting handwritten data, leading to potential errors or missing information during the capture process.

  • Incomplete or Missing Information: Sometimes, invoices may arrive with missing or incomplete data, such as missing quantity fields, incorrect product descriptions, or absent tax information. While automated systems can flag these inconsistencies, manual intervention may be necessary to contact the vendor and obtain the missing details, potentially delaying the processing cycle.

  • Approval Workflow Delays: Human oversight is still necessary for invoice processing, even with automation. While important for ensuring accuracy, manual approval workflows can introduce delays in the process. Depending on spending thresholds or vendor categories, invoices may need to be routed to different personnel for review and authorization. These delays can slow down payments to vendors and impact cash flow management.

Overcoming Invoice Capture Challenges:

Fortunately, there are strategies businesses can adopt to overcome these invoice capture challenges and achieve efficient processing:

  • Standardize Invoice Requirements: Establish standard invoice formatting guidelines for your vendors. This includes specifying the layout, data fields, and acceptable file formats (e.g., PDF with searchable text). While some variation may remain, standardization can significantly improve OCR accuracy and reduce data extraction errors.

  • Invest in High-Quality Scanning Technology: Using high-resolution scanners or implementing software to improve image quality for processing can significantly enhance OCR accuracy. Sharp scans with clear text will provide a better foundation for accurate data extraction.

  • Choose AI-powered Solutions: Advanced invoice capture software with AI and machine learning capabilities can handle variations in invoice formats and even learn to interpret handwritten data over time. These intelligent systems can adapt to different layouts and improve data extraction accuracy by processing more invoices.

  • Implement Automated Workflows: Automate approval processes for invoices with minimal exceptions. This can involve setting up pre-defined rules based on spending limits or vendor types. Automating approvals can streamline the process and expedite payments to vendors.

  • Leverage Data Validation Tools: Utilize software features to identify potential errors or inconsistencies in extracted data. This allows for targeted manual review and correction, minimizing the risk of processing errors and ensuring data accuracy before integration with your accounting system.
Invoice Capture

Conclusion

By acknowledging these challenges and implementing appropriate solutions, businesses can significantly improve the efficiency and accuracy of their invoice capture processes. By leveraging automation, AI capabilities, and best practices, businesses can unlock the full potential of invoice data capture and achieve a more streamlined and error-free accounts payable workflow.

Contact Profitjets for professional accounting and bookkeeping services at a budget-friendly rate.