invoicesCar maintenance, electrical repairs and, as Bruce Springsteen once famously sang, “Working on the highway” are important jobs that require manual effort. Invoicing customers? That’s one job that no longer needs to be manual – though this labor-intensive task remains quite common in small to mid-sized businesses.

It’s also quite costly – in more ways than one.

Think about it. There’s the physical act of printing documents such as invoices, purchase orders and account statements. And those documents must be stuffed, sealed and sent to the intended recipients. This creates a drain on productivity. The budget is certain to take a hit, too, as printing and shipping supplies don’t last forever.

Many of the same administrative hassles and overhead costs apply to folks who fax. And there are plenty of them. Among U.S. businesses, 72% still rely on traditional, paper-based faxing (60% in the UK), according to a survey commissioned by GFI Software. Furthermore, 54% of respondents (42% UK) maintain faxing is a central part of their daily workflow with customers, vendors and co-workers.

How many of those fax communications are invoices, purchase orders or account statements? It’s tough to say, but this much is certain: The delivery and data input processes can be much easier, more efficient, and cost-effective.

“Depending on the wishes of the company and available IT infrastructure, it is now possible to effectively digitize the whole process from receiving an invoice, passing it through budget control, to booking it, checking it and archiving it,” Richard Francis wrote for Yahoo! Small Business Advisor. “This offers greater transparency and superior cost effectiveness, reducing manual activities to speed processes and reduce errors.”

Findings in a 2012 report by the Aberdeen Group place that passage into excellent context. On average, it took more than two weeks (16 days) for companies to process a paper-based invoice. By comparison, fully automating the process completed it in a quarter of the time (four days). The savings were equally eye-opening: The cost per paper invoice was north of $16, while the electronic version was less than $4.

Of course, there’s a gap that must be bridged to transition business workflows from paper to electronic processes.

Network fax server software is built to be that bridge, and automate the process by converting paper, fax and email attachments in the data format that’s compatible with enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications. Companies running SAP® software to manage business operations, for example, can now integrate electronic faxing into their systems, enabling users to email accounts payable (AP) documents directly from their applications.

An Internet connection and the ability to send and receive email are the only requirements. Moreover, the business benefits are immediate, making the investment a justifiable expense. Consider these key features that enable businesses to continue faxing – with the ease of email:

Email-to-fax and fax-to-email – Send and receive faxes from any email system or application, including mobile devices. Images of signed documents can be delivered in a variety of formats, and sent as attachments to emails.

Inbound/outbound fax conversion – Using optical character recognition, faxes can be converted to text, thereby eliminating time-consuming tasks such as searching, archiving, data entry, fax retrieval and fax routing.

Automated fax delivery/inbound fax routing – Automatically route faxes to the recipient’s mailbox, network folders or a specific printer, ensuring messages and documents reach the intended recipient.

Integration with email archiving – Easily distinguish fax emails from regular emails using software that integrates with an email archiving solution.

A web services API – This application programming interface enables you to transmit documents and monitor status using the electronic faxing solution from a cloud application.

Small to mid-sized businesses whose AP departments rely on a manual invoicing system must first realize it isn’t saving money. It’s costing them dearly.

Then they need to act – by investing in a solution that automates the process.

Learn more about how your business can benefit from simple, fast, fax server software today.