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AI-Enabled Automation Streamlines Local Government Finance

Finance automation, powered by artificial intelligence technology, is helping to save Mt. Lebanon, Pa., a significant amount of time and is simplifying the accounts payable process.

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Artificial intelligence technology has helped the finance department of one Pennsylvania town automate various processes.

Mt. Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh, began using the AI-enabled Stampli platform in April 2022 for coding and electronic processing of invoices to increase efficiency, according to Finance Director Andrew McCreery. The effort would also allow users to access the invoices from anywhere with a web-based product and provide spending insights and budgetary controls.

Since the implementation of the platform, McCreery said invoice processing is being completed within a day or two, whereas previously, the process could take a week or longer. In contrast to the paper-based process, the process can now begin instantaneously.

“So, there’s quantifiable metrics there,” McCreery said. “And we can see the efficiencies tenfold.”

The implementation process itself was simplified by the town offering in-house training. McCreery described it as a “teach the teacher” mindset, where the information from training seminars was able to be disseminated from the Finance Department to other Mt. Lebanon employees as needed. The training seminars were also recorded to be used in the onboarding of new employees.

The overhaul effort strategy was led by the Finance Department, but other departments had the opportunity to collaborate or add input.

To help smooth the implementation, McCreery said his methodology was to tackle the solution in reverse — starting at the approval level. This allowed those with approval authority to set expectations and helped each team understand their role in the larger process.

Debates among experts continue over the best path forward regarding AI regulation, but McCreery doesn’t expect future regulatory changes to impact Mt. Lebanon’s use in the space.

The technology is not making a decision in these processes, he explained, nor is it fully automating processes. While the town is currently developing its AI policies, the policy focus will likely be on those technologies that make decisions on behalf of data received, he said.

“If and when we get to that point, that’s when we’ll have to make sure that those policies are in place,” he said.

For other cities and towns exploring similar tools for their finance processes, McCreery underlined the importance of understanding the enterprise resource planning software already in use. When Mt. Lebanon explored accounts payable automation systems, knowing the capabilities of the town’s existing ERP helped McCreery identify the software that would work with the existing system.

“I think, no matter what, in government technology for finance departments, there will be some aspects that can’t be automated, but not everything needs to be automated,” he said, underlining the value of human insight in certain areas, but also noting that certain automations can help make processes more efficient and for a low cost.

Mt. Lebanon is not the only city to automate accounts payable processes with this software; the city of Spanish Fork, Utah, has also adopted the technology.

The city’s finance director, Kent Clark, told Government Technology in 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic made this shift necessary. With a small finance team, one person was responsible for sending about 1,200 invoices per month to the right approvers, and the Stampli platform helped the city send invoices for approval the same day that they arrived.

“What used to take up to 12 hours can now be done in about one hour,” Christy Johnson, a member of Spanish Fork’s accounts payable team, told Government Technology.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.