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The Air We Breath, the Automation We Need

The value of electronic versus manual procure-to-pay processing has never been more evident. And the notion of “touchless” processing takes on new meaning in the current context.

As people and organizations look at “opening back up,” many are facing the reality that opening up cannot mean returning to things as they were back in January.

What we’ve succeeded in doing is getting a handle on the virus to the extent that medical services and facilities are not now facing a whelming flood. They’re more confident that they can handle the flattened rate of those in need of serious care to beat the virus. That’s all. The virus is still here. And every time we think we know who’s vulnerable and who’s not, some new manifestation pops up and surprises. It’s still unclear how the arrival of summer may affect the virus, and predictions of recurrence in the fall are not encouraging. Already Germany is seeing a rise in R factor to 1.1—it needs to be at 1 or below, i.e. each infected person is only infecting one or less other people, to keep the spread in check.

But back to touchless processing. The fact is, “touch” is not the only concern in transmission. Evidence suggests that the Coronavirus spreads to others through the air of enclosed indoor spaces as well as on surfaces of things. And that is not just from sneezing or coughing. Witness the choir rehearsal in Washington State that spread the virus to 75 percent of the people in the room. They avoided shaking hands, brought their own music sheets, and stood apart from each other. But singing together in a room, as it turned out, was enough to spread COVID-19.

Then there are the examples of office outbreaks. Exhibit A: the call center where a single infected person infected 94 others. He was working on a floor of a building that was separated in two by the building core (elevators & restrooms). Of 216 people on the floor, 43.5 percent of the people became infected. Of those, only four were on the other side of the building; most were in the same open plan section where the infected individual was. It is not known how many contracted it through touch of surfaces versus through the air. But 89 of those infected worked on the same side the floor, sharing air, as the original carrier.

“It serves to highlight that that being in an enclosed space sharing the same air for a prolonged period of time increases your chances of exposure and infection,” says Dr. Erin Bromage, Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, whose blog report went viral last week and was cited in the New York Times’ Monday Briefing on May 11th.

While we’ve all learned to stay six feet apart, it now appears that “Social distancing guidelines don’t hold in indoor spaces where you spend a lot of time,” Bromage says. “Interestingly, even though there was considerable interaction between workers on different floors of the building in elevators and the lobby, the outbreak was mostly limited to a single floor. This highlights the importance of exposure and time in the spreading of SARS-CoV2.”

“The principle,” says Bromage, “is viral exposure over an extended period of time.”

Electronic and automated processes suddenly prove a huge advantage, allowing some or even all payables staff to work remotely, something that manual processes do not. Companies can limit onsite staff at any one time. That in turn, reduces exposure for everyone. Use of electronic workflows, which have increased across businesses incrementally for years, are now a boon.

Certain automated processes even remove the need for staff intervention altogether. A specific example is vendor self-service invoice inquiry. It allows vendors to find the information they want without having to contact AP staffers for help. Some 80 percent of vendor inquiries can be handled by a well-designed, automated self-service application like InvoiceInfo. That means a significant savings of time for AP (and even procurement) staffs.

Vendors can’t be faulted for wanting to know when they will be paid. And they are more anxious now than ever to know payment status. Implementing vender self-service inquiry technology to replace the calls, emails and research time can save costs, time and headaches, lessoning the AP department’s load. The vendors themselves handle the tasks on their timetable, not just remotely but automatically.

For more information on getting InvoiceInfo vendor inquiry service started, contact us.

“The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them,” Erin Bromage, Ph.D., May 7, 2020

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