A Review of Utility Invoice Automation Methods

Ma-Keba Frye  |  February 26, 2020   |  AP Automation  |  Data & Technology  


Over the years, technological advancements have allowed us to improve the way that we handle most processes – even complex, multi-step workflows like accounts payable. However, not all invoices are created equal. Some parts of AP are easier to automate than others, which is why many businesses have still yet to adopt utility invoice automation. That’s about to change. 

In a 2019 study, 47 percent of AP departments said they hope to eliminate paper invoices and reduce manual tasks, while 40 percent listed implementing AP automation as one of their top priorities. It’s not a question of whether to automate; it’s a question of how. Let’s explore the many options for utility invoice automation and how each would impact your efficiency.

47% of AP departments hope to eliminate paper invoices and reduce manual tasks.

Manual Data Entry

Many organizations still see manual data entry into an AP or ERP system as a simple, cost-effective option. While it may be suited for companies that handle a low volume of paper invoices and therefore require little data extraction, it’s not without its faults. 

The main drawbacks of the manual approach are easy to recognize: it’s time-consuming, carries an error rate of roughly one percent (which translates to one error on every three utility bills), and lacks visibility. But many businesses may not realize the implicit costs of training and maintaining a workforce, or the additional late fees incurred from slow, manual processes. 

Businesses can experience better data quality, faster processing, and reduced costs by transitioning to AP invoice automation. This is critical when dealing with non-PO invoices like utility bills, which often have accelerated payment terms and can result in the power or water being turned off for late payment. 

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

OCR software automates the data extraction process by scanning text from a scanned document or image file and converting the text into a readable format that can be used for processing. OCR is a useful method for invoice capture; however, it isn’t 100 percent accurate and requires a significant upfront investment to work. 

The quality and accuracy of the data extracted are dependent on the quality and type of document that is being scanned. OCR can prove to be relatively labor-intensive and time-consuming when human review is required to correct errors. Only by pairing it with AI or machine learning can relevant information can be extracted, interpreted, and populated from paper utility invoices. 

Unfortunately, this method may still require the handling of paper utility invoices, adding additional steps to your processes. OCR typically carries a 90 percent accuracy rate (one out of every ten characters will be lifted inaccurately) and can increase to 99 percent with human intervention. These errors, inaccuracies, and the process to correct them can be costly to your organization. 

Learn how to automate utility invoice capture.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)

EDI completely eliminates the paper invoice and transfers data electronically. EDI offers several benefits: it requires less human intervention, it’s more timely, and has a higher accuracy rate. 

However, EDI has drawbacks, too. The EDI 810 invoice, the standard for utility billing, lacks a standardized format. There’s no bill image included to reference for accuracy. And most importantly, EDI feeds are not widely available across utility providers or geographies. With roughly 3,300 electric providers across the country, only 12 percent of them offer EDI.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

RPA software automates repetitive rule-based processes that would typically be performed by humans. In the case of utility invoice automation, software bots automatically identify, extract, and aggregate data from emailed invoices.

RPA is great for improving accuracy rates, reducing operating costs, and decreasing turnaround time. However, this method can encounter roadblocks. We’ve found that on average, 20 percent of utility provider websites change each year, resulting in costly disruptions to data delivery.

Procure-to-Pay (P2P)

P2P eliminates paper invoices and enables suppliers to submit invoices electronically as part of an end-to-end process. These portals are good for minimizing late fees, preventing overpayment, and increasing data visibility. While this AP invoice automation tool is popular amongst suppliers, it’s not widely supported by telecom and utility providers.

Supplier Account Connection

Through a direct supplier account connection, paper invoices are eliminated, and utility invoices are automatically delivered after a one-time setup. Implementing this option simplifies the AP invoice automation process, enables faster payments, ensures accuracy, and reduces late fees. Extracted data is captured and aggregated at a 95 percent accuracy rate – without any human intervention. 

Urjanet has been capturing utility invoice data via a direct account connection for over 10 years and has the widest telecom and utility coverage, spanning across thousands of suppliers. Enterprises of all sizes and bill payment service providers use our solution to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and ensure accurate, timely utility payments. 

We used to spend thousands of dollars a month on express mail fees, just to get our customers’ bills paid on time. With digitized bill access and payment from Urjanet, the savings are undeniable.

– Leading Utility Invoice Payment Services Provider

Selecting the utility invoice automation method that’s best for your business comes down to several factors: your organization’s budget, anticipated volume, the format in which these invoices are received, and the data that needs to be extracted. Consider which goals are most important to your business and the most pressing problems you’re trying to solve when making this decision. 

Are you ready to streamline your utility invoice automation process? Contact Urjanet today to learn how our utility invoice capture solution can help your business reduce costs and increase automation. 


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About Ma-Keba Frye

Ma-Keba Frye is a Content Marketing Associate at Urjanet, assisting with content development and execution. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading, listening to music, and volunteering.

Tags   AP Automation   |   Urjanet   |   Utility Bills   |   Utility Data   |