In my last post I talked about AP Automation and AP Workflow solutions for Acumatica (click here).
But how can we lower the barriers to entry for AP Automation?
The SkyKnack AP Automation product is a great way to get into the AP Automation game and get away from paper, without having to justify a big software investment.
Before we get into more on that, let’s look at how SkyKnack AP Automation came to be.
SkyKnack AP Automation is an AP Automation / AP Workflow product built specifically for Acumatica that leverages the strengths of the existing Acumatica platform to deliver, not an “integrated” solution, but an AP Automation solution that is built entirely within the Acumatica Framework.
The Beginnings of SkyKnack AP Automation
Back in the Fall of 2017, I was faced with a prospect who was looking at Acumatica, but one very important thing for them was the ability to stay paperless in their Accounts Payable department.
Their current Accounting software gave them the ability to scan invoices to an FTP folder and have those invoices automatically get brought into the Accounts Payable module where they would do the data entry based on the digital image of the invoice on the screen.
Immediately after scanning the invoice, they “filed” the paper in the shredder, not in a file cabinet. They wanted to keep this same AP Workflow process in Acumatica.
We looked at a couple of different AP Automation solutions for Acumatica, but they were “too expensive” or “overkill” in that they delivered way more functionality than the prospect needed.
I got a little frustrated. We could not get the prospect to sign-up for Acumatica without this feature, at a price-point that they would agree to. We were so close (and yet so far).
So I reached out to Gabriel Michaud to see if he had any Acumatica customization ideas because he’s a really smart guy. He did. And it was a good idea.
Gabriel didn’t want to carry out the idea though because he had more interesting things to work on. That is, Velixo Reports (click here). But I didn’t have more interesting things, so I pressed on 🙂
Gabriel’s idea was to leverage things that are already available in Acumatica rather than build functionality from scratch like other AP Automation software vendors have to do.
AP Automation within Acumatica
1. Acumatica already has the ability to read incoming email from an email address. This is even better than FTP because most copier/scanners out there are already configured to send scanned documents via email.
2. Acumatica already has a built-in document management engine. You can attach files to any record in the system, including, you guessed it, AP Invoices. You can use the default option to have the files stored in the database, or you can use the External File Storage (SM202540) screen to configure Acumatica to automatically store files in Amazon S3, Azure, and Local File storage or use 3rd party plugins for providers like Box.com.
Personally, I like the Amazon S3 option. Do you really think that storing invoices in your file cabinet is safer than storing them in Amazon’s super secure and geo-redundant server farm? Your file cabinet might get wiped out by a fire, a hurricane, or tiny little paper-eating monsters. Amazon will not.
3. The part that Gabriel really helped me with was to point out the Incoming (CO409000) screen and, more specifically, the CREATE menu on that screen. More on that in a second.
Quick sidebar: When you setup an email address in Acumatica, you can configure Acumatica to read all email that lands in a folder (eg. the Inbox) of that email address using the System Email Accounts (SM204002) screen. And you can add a schedule to the Send and Receive Email (SM507010) screen to define how often you want Acumatica to check for new email in that folder. As far as I’ve been able to tell, the most frequent option you have is every 60 seconds (which is good enough for me).
Ok, back to the Incoming (CO409000) screen. All of the email that Acumatica reads from the folder (eg. the Inbox) of your configured email address gets dumped into the Incoming (CO409000) screen. Then you can use the CREATE menu to do something with the email.
The options available on the CREATE menu in Acumatica 2019 R1 are: Event, Task, Lead, Contact, Case, Opportunity, and Expense Receipt.
I never noticed those options before Gabriel pointed them out to me. Thanks Gabriel.
It’s kind of funny though that there is no out-of-the-box option available for converting emails into AP Bills in Acumatica. So, Gabriel’s idea was to add the option.
But what should that action do? Well, I guess it could open the Bills and Adjustments (AP301000) screen and allow the user to enter the data. But how can they enter the data if they can’t see the invoice image? Hmmm, good question. I guess we need to show the image of the invoice on the Bills and Adjustments (AP301000) screen.
The wheels began to turn. Think, think, think.
Enter Acumatica Hackathon 2018
By this time, Acumatica Summit 2018 was right around the corner. And I had decided to participate in the Hackathon which took place the weekend before the Summit.
So I thought, hey, might as well throw out this AP Automation idea to my Hackathon team to see if they want to do it as our project.
I was up-front that this was something that my prospect was looking for so, of course, I personally would benefit the most from the project.
But I also thought that the idea was a good one because pretty much EVERY SINGLE ACUMATICA CUSTOMER USES ACCOUNTS PAYABLE.
Not everyone uses the “cool” modules like Field Service, Project Accounting, or Manufacturing which attract all of the attention in demos. But everyone uses Accounts Payable. And everyone could benefit from an AP Automation solution.
After exchanging a bunch of emails, my Hackathon team agreed to take on the project. Thanks Hackathon team.
I had a lot of fun at the Hackathon. For more on my experience at Acumatica Hackathon 2018, click here.
We named our solution AP Nashville since the Hackathon took place in Nashville, Tennessee. Clever huh?
Although our presentation wasn’t “cool” enough to win any awards from a predominantly geeky voting panel, we had the internal satisfaction of knowing that it would be useful to pretty much every single Acumatica customer out there who didn’t already have some kind of AP Automation solution.
The Hackathon started on a Saturday afternoon and ended the next day on Sunday afternoon. The idea of a Hackathon is to come up with something to show, but of course it’s not enough time to build a fully functional, polished product.
But it was a good start.
After the Hackathon
Our Hackathon team came up with a great solution. But there were still things that needed to be done to finish it off.
Also, I really wanted to have someone, preferably a company, who would support it on an on-going basis, knowing that there would be an ongoing need to squash bugs, incorporate additional functionality, and make adjustments in case things changed in the core code of future Acumatica versions.
There was only one developer on our Hackathon team who didn’t work for Acumatica. So, of course, I first asked his company if they would like to take this on and support AP Nashville as a product. But they had too many other things going on.
I was bummed.
But, then I connected with Fernando Amadoz at the Summit which started the day after the Hackathon.
Fernando founded a company called SkyKnack which focuses 100% on developing customizations for Acumatica. I liked the idea of going with a company that focuses exclusively on Acumatica.
I also liked that Fernando was part of the M5 team that built what is now the Acumatica Field Service module. M5 had a good reputation within Acumatica (when I worked at Acumatica) of being a team that really understood the Acumatica platform at a deep level. And that’s not an easy thing to do. It’s rare to find developers who really understand the Acumatica platform at a deep level.
You can imagine then how thrilled I was when Fernando said that SkyKnack would be interested in taking on the AP Nashville project as a SkyKnack product.
First SkyKnack AP Automation Deployment
SkyKnack finished off the AP Nashville customization and “polished it up”. I showed it to my prospect, the prospect became a customer, and they are now happily using what we now refer to as “SkyKnack AP Automation” in their Production environment.
SkyKnack didn’t charge me anything for taking the Hackathon code, finishing it up, and polishing it for my customer’s Production environment. They did it with goal of offering it as a product to the entire Acumatica customer base.
For my part, I offered to create a post here on my blog to tell the Acumatica world about SkyKnack AP Automation. You are reading that post now.