From this blogger’s perspective the Masters Session (at FUSION 2010) hit full stride during the second panel of the day, “The changing Role of AP and AR.”  Moderated by Andre Hale the Director of Accounts Payable at Disney Worldwide Shared Services, this panel aimed at exploring the migration that AP professional have made in their job duties in the past 10-20 years.  Andre created a simple theme – AP shops have traditionally been asked to achieve transactional excellence and over time they have become quite successful at this.  As this goal is achieved it is only natural that the larger organization should ask their AP department to begin adding value.  Andre  sees his role in the AP suite as driving the copmpanies bottom line through his activities.

Eric Jones, the Director of Corporate Payable from Lowes echoed many of Andre’s sentiments by admitting that 15 years ago his staff may have been “pounding a keyboard,” but now they were expected to critically access transactions.  This change certainly underscores the migration from transactional focus to value focus, although Eric did add deep perspective to the  room when he relayed that his entire team back in North Carolina all live by one simple Wildly Important Goal. (WIG) Eric stated that if asked, everyone one of his team would state the department’s “WIG” is to “pay the right amount to the right people at the right time.”  This elegant battle cry speaks to why Lowes’ payables department is a world class operation and it bridges the two ends the discussion.  Paying the right people the right amount at the right time requires both transactional excellence and critical thought and as you further refine your definition of the word “right” you can begin to deliver more and more value to your organization.

Panelist Sherry DePew VP, Customer Development with Lavante spent her previous life running the Shared Services department at Boise Cascade and added that hiring good people was paramount to the success of her AP departments ability to move from transaction-focus to value-focus.  Her ability to hire talented and hard working people served her almost too well.  She said that in time her department was almost looked at as a farm organization to the larger corporation.  Becoming a top performer in an environment which requires you to drive value buy paying bills helps professionals to develop valuable skills and many of her best team members were quickly snatched up by other departments.  Andre agreed immediately and said he has long viewed his department as an “incubator” for his organization.  This point was universally received and many voices from the crowd shared their own pride and frustration about similar issues that they are dealing with.

A panelist on another topic, Susan Trevisano of LMI added, from the audience that in her experience she has seen the successful use of a passport system for employees.  Expected to pass through many different departments, talented workers can build business muscles by learning from many different departments and ultimately add more value and perspective when they ultimate take up residence in one single department.  The panel agreed, specifically Andre who responded by saying he encouraged his staff to spend time understanding the pain of vendors and internal customer.  He specifically said to understand why these groups would ever “cry out in pain.”  Understanding the pain points of your constituents is good for empathy and good for business.

Unfortunately the panel was cut off after 90 minutes and could have countined indefinitely.  It is remarkable how many among the capacity crowd were asking questions and contributing insights.  It was also interesting how many in attendance actually described what they saw as the role of AP and asked the room  to critique or correct their perspective.  The room had a very raw and honest feel and comments in the hallway during break were openly appreciative that some many industry leading companies would assemble top finance officers to discuss such an under the radar yet significant issue.