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4 Tips to De-risk your AP Automation Project

Accounts Payable Automation is the process of re-engineering the accounts payable process to create and improve efficiencies. More often than not it involves digitisation and centralisation of a process that is currently manual and paper-centric. When done correctly an AP Automation project is not just automation of the current process, it is a complete re-imagining of the process.

Organisations are drawn towards AP automation projects because they offer a very large set of potential benefits. These benefits include cost reductions, accuracy improvements, resource reallocation, improved cash management, access to early payment discounts, avoidance of late payment penalties, improved vendor relationships and increased staff satisfaction just to name a few.

Unfortunately for most organisations they need to run a change project before they can access those benefits. This can be challenging as history tells us that approximately 50% of change projects lead to frustrated delivery (failure to deliver on time, to budget and / or the full scope) or completely failed delivery.

We have put together our top tips to avoid being in the 50%. Here they are; 

1. People Leadership.

It should come as no surprise that people leadership sits at number 1 in our list. Despite the significant advances in labour management since the Industrial Age we are still seriously deficient in the way we lead our most valuable resource through these change projects.

If you want to improve your people outcomes on a project then you need to start the communication about the project (what it is, why it is needed, how it will impact the individuals etc.) with the team early on and where possible engage them in some of the decision making. It is important that organisations also let the team know what the non-negotiables for the project are. Allowing team members to think they can change an outcome that is a non-communicated non-negotiable is just a waste of energy that will become a massive de-motivator for the individual when they eventually work out that it is non-negotiable. For this I will use the Bus analogy. The team need to know that the bus they are on is going to a new destination. They need to know that the destination is not open for debate, however, what is open for debate is some of the semantics relating to the journey. e.g. which seat they will take, will there be stops on the way etc. Having the courage to engage the team early will lead to superior project outcomes.

Your project team will need good levels of Executive Support. The key people on the project need to know they have the backing of the executives. They need decisions made in a timely manner and required resources made available to ensure success. They also need executives to step in where needed and remove roadblocks.

Engage your IT department early. In our experience the IT department will be a great ally on a project like this if they are engaged early and are able to make sure their input is heard. The modern IT department is usually very concerned with delivering business value and they will want input. On the contrary, bringing the IT department in late will lead to your frustration as you have to wait while they go about their normal checks and balances.

The final people leadership tip we have is to look after your Subject Matter Expert (SME). Most organisations have a person that is central to the successful operation of the current AP process. This person will be in high demand as you set about planning an automation project. They need to provide significant input into the project. The problem is that these key resources are generally already over-utilised in their normal working week. Having them contribute a significant effort to your project will leave a big hole in the current process that will cause many issues. What normally happens is the day-to-day operational issues take priority on the project and the project slips well out into the future. Good leadership here plans for this resource issue by back training other resources into some of the key components of the SME’s current role. That allows them to be freed up to participate in the new automaton project without significant negative impacts to the organisation.

2. Consider Cloud Deployment.

Research* has shown that cloud delivered AP solutions are 100% more likely to deliver real time visibility into an organisations cash position. This is just one of the benefits that organisations can enjoy when they choose a cloud deployment model.

A cloud deployment model will provide stakeholders access to information when they want it from anywhere in the world. Any modern cloud based solution will offer mobile access to information as well as allowing staff to process their workflow tasks on their mobile device as well.

A less known but hugely compelling reason to choose cloud deployed solutions for AP processing is based around the skills required to maintain that type of solution. Corporate IT Departments have many IT skills but few of them are specialists in document capture, document management, workflow and data integration. When these technologies are deployed in the cloud your cloud hosting partner will have these skills. That way when there is an issue you can rest assured that the right resources with the right skills will get it resolved quickly.

3. Choose an Integration Capable Solution.

Even if your first project stage does not require integration with your ERP, it will likely be a future need. AP automation solutions that provide maximum ROI need to access vendor, PO, receipting and other critical information from the ERP so that they can make informed approval routing decisions. They will also need to be able to pass electronic invoice data back into the ERP so that human labour is not needed to do it. None of this can happen if your solution does not have a strong integration capability.   This capability will also be essential if you plan to use the implemented platform to automate other key business processes. e.g. HR Automation, Contract Management, Customer Service Processes. In the information Age companies that are able to effectively connect their technology have a significant advantage over those that cannot.

4. Partner with a Trusted Advisor.

Generally an organisation will only run one AP Automation project and it is impossible for it to be a core skill of the organisation. There are a number of companies, like ours, that do plenty of these projects. Probably the biggest influence on your potential success will be the quality of the partner you choose to do the project with. Engaging a company like ours will enable you to tap into decades of process re-engineer and technology deployment experience.  When deployed for your benefit this experience will underwrite the risk associated with running such a large change program.

Hopefully these tips help you deliver a successful AP Automation project. If you would like to meet with us to discuss your specific project please email us at sales@upflowsolutions.co.nz.

*Ref. Aderdeen Group 2015, Bring Invoice Processing Costs Back to Earth with AP Automation in the Cloud.

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SEK, Educational Assessment Firm

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) require that all students participate in state abilities assessments. SEK, the service that provides these assessments, is headquartered in Parsons, Kansas, from where it deploys psychologists who travel the region performing student evaluations, recording data and submitting their findings to headquarters where they are accessed by the federal government.

SEK streamlined its processing system and securely stored documents within FileBound. Assessments are now easily accessible to employees.

The Problem

The vast majority of SEK employees are deployed in the field where they conduct student assessments. Once an assessment is completed, it is important for the assessor to quickly return findings to headquarters for processing. However, over the years it has proved increasingly difficult for assessing psychologists to manage all the paperwork and get it back to headquarters in a timely manner. This, in turn, has slowed government payments to SEK.

Assessments administered by SEK are often tracked for up to 20 years. As the years passed, it became apparent that the company needed a better, more organized and efficient way of storing the assessments so that they would be easily accessible when needed for comparison by government agencies.

The Solution

FileBound Document Management System provided a highly efficient solution to all of SEK’s challenges. Now, once a psychologist completes an assessment in the field, he or she simply scans it into FileBound and it is immediately uploaded to FileBound On Demand for quick processing and billing to the federal government. Every assessment stored in the FileBound Document Management System is instantly available to governmental agencies through the FileBound Clipboard, so getting the copies they need is easier than ever before.

FileBound Results

Processing of assessments that once took days or even weeks can now be completed in minutes from the field. By streamlining processing, SEK has also been able to speed up receipt of payment from the government. Furthermore, any assessment stored within the FileBound system is quickly retrieved whenever needed, eliminating hours of searching through records that over the years could get lost or misplaced.

White Paper: Clear Cost Model Allows Easy ROI Calculations

By Rex Lamb

FileBound provides high value for a low price.

Return on Investment (ROI) is at the heart of every significant business decision. In the simplest of terms it is a measure of what you get for what you give. Research by Ohio State University found that 4 out of 5 buyers seek “value” before price. In other words, most people will give more to get more.

“Value” includes Quality, Flexibility of the offering and Availability all as a function of Price. “Quality” means the product delivers what is required (or wanted) and does what is promised. Economists call this the “Law of Marginal Utility.” For the rest of us, it means what blows your hair back won’t necessarily interest the next guy. When we talk about ROI, we have to keep it in the context of what is important to the buyer.

What are businesses requiring today? First, they want more customers and more sales. That is pretty well true no matter what the economic conditions are. Beyond that, however, is that business today is desperately seeking ways to engineer cost out of the business. Most of the improved earnings reports are the result of cost reductions. And while cost reduction began as a way to respond to the recession, evidence suggests that it is quickly becoming a permanent part of business culture.

With a paper-based invoice processing system the company incurs a significant “cost” in handling paper, but it is difficult to quantify the short-run cash savings. Creating a long-run “saving” by installing imaging, for example, doesn’t add value if I still have the floor space, the employees and all my other out-of-pocket expenses. The value may be intrinsic, but few businesses are investing today based upon intangible value. The CFO will say “Show me the money!”

FileBound offers a rare opportunity to eliminate work at a value-based price. A major task in the AP department is entering data from paper invoices into the Accounting System. Typical information entered is a vendor name, purchase order number, invoice number, payment due date and general ledger account code (s) and total due. Because this information is normally put into the accounting
system after all processing and approvals, other logging and data entry of the invoice typically takes place before the invoice is ready for entry to the accounting system.

With FileBound all of this changes. Invoices are scanned immediately upon arrival. The needed information is electronically picked up off the invoice and captured eliminating data entry and other manual tasks to a fraction of the time normally required. Routing and review of invoices is all handled electronically, eliminating hand routing and handling of the invoices. Finally, the scanned information is automatically imported into the general ledger accounting system and invoices can be paid without further data entry.

Best of all, not only is the work more efficient, much of the original work (key entering data) is gone forever. This provides the opportunity to either repurpose staff to cash-producing work (such as AR collections and sales proposal follow-ups) or eliminate head count. Either way, the business gets cash returns for the investment.

Added benefits include improved accuracy and reduced mailing expense. Errors in data entry create extra work and cost. With FileBound, that problem is gone forever because the information is picked up electronically from the invoice. Invoices received at field offices are now scanned, eliminating mailing or courier expense.

High value for a low price with FileBound – an easy ROI!

Ply Gem Drives Accounts Payable Efficiencies

Ply Gem provides residential builders, remodelers and architects with a comprehensive range of building products including windows, doors, siding, stone veneer, fencing and railing. Serving stores located throughout much of the United States as well as Western Canada, Ply Gem has for more than 50 years been a dependable resource for those involved in new construction, remodeling and repairs.

Ply Gem, a residential building products provider, saved on labor expenses and streamlined its accounts payable processes with FileBound Document Management.

The Problem

In 2008, Ply Gem moved its accounts payable process from its individual locations to its Cary, North Carolina, headquarters, resulting in Cary’s staff each month being overwhelmed by more than 13,000 invoices, all of which were handled manually. Understandably,
labor expenses soared as the staff struggled under the load. Before long, payments were being made late to vendors, some vendors received double payments and other suppliers had to receive wired funds or manual checks in order to smooth ruffled feathers.

Other departments, such as legal, marketing and human resources, were struggling with the paperbased systems as well. Finding documents was becoming a serious issue, and on top of that storing the vast reams of paper processed each month was becoming an issue as space badly needed for cubicles was devoted to boxes overflowing with records. It was clear something had to be done.

The Solution

Ply Gem implemented a complete FileBound system that included scanning, document management and workflow solutions. FileBound’s flexible licensing model allowed Ply Gem to not only automate the severely challenged AP process, but also provide document management and workflow solutions for the other departments as well. Best of all, the cost was well below that of competitive systems that would only have solved the AP problem.

By using an application integration module and making the complete FileBound Object Module available, integration with Ply Gem’s JD Edwards ERP application was achieved easily and at much less cost than would otherwise have been possible. Since Ply Gem makes the MS Office application available on every desktop, having the integration built into FileBound was a huge advantage.

Ply Gem’s Director of IT was especially enthusiastic about FileBound’s architecture. He felt his team could easily support the platform and create any required integration or customization that the business units would need to streamline their work.

FileBound Results

Ply Gem’s system has only recently been implemented, but already the solution has been able to save the company on labor expense. Accounts Payable employees are now equipped to handle exceptions at their desks while on the phone with a vendor or customer, greatly streamlining the process. Vendor relations are much improved because payments are made on time and with fewer manual checks
being issued.

Thermal-Vac: Sales Orders and Certifications

Steve Driscol, the owner/operator of Thermal-Vac runs one tight shop. When you stand in the company lobby and read the company’s vision statement, it is quickly realized that you are in a zero-tolerance facility. Almost every wall of the Orange County, California-based facility is decorated with the statement, “We build good parts here, at a profit if we can, a loss if we must, but always good parts.” At Thermal-Vac, parts can be treated to extreme temperatures as high as 4200° Fahrenheit, furnaces with vacuum capabilities to 10-7 Torr, and cryogenic depths to as low as -300° Fahrenheit. Thermal-Vac uses a lot of energy both electrical and “people-based” to treat their customers right and their parts with great respect. 

Thermal-Vac implemented a FileBound solution to securely store its documents and data off-site, which was more practical for the company and ensures disaster recovery.

The Problem

Each and every job (approximately 100 per day) has a process of approvals to be conducted, starting with a checklist and ending with an invoice to the customer. It is important that the journey the parts take through the shop is well-documented and historically preserved. Government regulations as well as customer confidence demands it.

Each job has relatively the same documents associated with it:

• Checklist
• Thermal Treatment Chart
• Customer Order Fax Confirmation
• Drawings
• Invoice
• Reports
• Production Trailer
• Purchase Order
• Signed Shipper

These documents need to be shared and readily available to administrative personnel for timely reviews and often necessary for re-orders. Determining what could be destroyed in the document set would be difficult, so it all must be maintained. “I was amazed as the integrator, at the detail and consistency of the document sets over a 20-year company history. I actually put my hands on Job 1 performed in 1985. It was dutifully kept all these years,” says Steve MacWilliams, Senior Vice President of DocuSource.

The owner/operator was skeptical of change, but realized there must be a better way, as many jobs were never to be looked at again, but some were constantly called upon. He involved his senior staff in an exploratory analysis of document imaging. After all, imaging and x-raying parts was not a foreign concept to Thermal-Vac. Maybe something could be done about the records too.

If the efficiency of document sharing and preservation could be part of a new shop culture, a big gain would be to save valuable time in the invoicing process. “If we can shave even a day off our ability to drive an invoice out of our shop after job comple- tion, this project of document management and imaging will all be worth it, but remember we are a small shop and we have budget limitations,” were the first words out of Mr. Driscol’s mouth in our initial interview. The second comment was, “This better not be too expensive, as we work on very tight tolerances and margins here.” As a matter of fact, a friendly wager was made with DocuSource – that the local integrator could not pull the project off in 30 days for the budgeted amount.

The Solution

“FileBound and DocuSource have exceeded my expectations in their ability to simplify a paper-based system into a website of job history information,” commented Aaron Anderson, acting General Manger for Thermal-Vac. Steve Driscol continued on by saying, “we plan to put other departments’ information into FileBound, such as HR, Policies and Procedures, Case Studies, and our own AP/AR documents as time permits. I was recently on a four-week extended business trip and it was comforting that I could get to vital information from anywhere at anytime.” Steve Driscol has grasped the power of electronic document management quickly and plans to take advantage of both workflow and e-forms modules in the near future.

Although these were the ending comments, DocuSource was presented with several unique challenges that only a combination of technologies could solve. The application had very unique challenges associated with various documents and infrastructure limitations.

Challenges

Although Thermal-Vac was technically capable of creating almost anything physically, it had no full-time network administrator. A harsh environment did not lend itself to implementing file servers, and there was no desire to add IT infrastructure.

Fortunately, File Bound’s ASP (Application Service Provider) offering solved all these problems, in that all the data hosting of the images and data could be kept off-site. This was particularly attractive from a disaster recovery standpoint and all of the security requirements were met or exceeded by the FileBound ASP service.

The entire concept of a web-based user-interface that was as simple to use as Google or Ebay was attractive to the machinists and administration staff of Thermal-Vac, and not having to maintain an on-site server was a welcomed advantage.

I wish we could have said the challenges were over. No sooner had we concluded using the ASP service that we were presented a Thermal-Vac heat treatment chart that was the key document in each job file. Heat treatments can last from one hour to as long as 48 hours, the furnace temperature and many other vital records are recorded on a graph that prints about one foot of paper per hour, IN COLOR, with vital signatures at various points. How big a computer file size in bytes was a 48 foot long, 11 inch wide color document going to be and what would be the response time over an ASP? Answer: too big and too long. Initial tests file size was exceeding 30 MB and taking 5 to 7 minutes to download from the ASP. The project was facing a “show-stopper.” The original answer we thought was to bring the application in-house. That was quickly dismissed since the main desire was to move the chart images by e-mail or web-services to clients, and the file sizes were a problem regardless of where the images were hosted.

DocuSource was aware of the DjVu viewer and its ability to compress color images with its impressive logarithm. It had been approached by Lizard Tech several times, but never quite believed how a TIF, PDF, or file type could radically affect file size and performance. When properly motivated a VAR will think out-of-the-box and DjVu was tested. Almost immediately we were seeing 1000% to 2000% file size reductions, moving from 20 MB to 10KB file sizes was impressive to say the least, everything from speed to performance to file size. The color images were easily read. The client was educated on the DjVu viewer and its popularity in the engineering and auto-cad space, and accepted it as a solution.

The advantage was quickly seen in the bar-graphs as common file compression saves every X and Y line, whereas the DjVu Viewer reconstructs the graphs as part of its compression technique greatly reducing the file size. Charts were now able to be retrieved from the FileBound ASP website in moments, the project was saved.

The last and final challenge was how to get the documents in. After all, we could have up to a 48′ long document. When working with color and/or long documents and/or thin documents, Kodak makes the scanner for the job. The i100 and i200 line supported the ability to scan both business documents and long charts. This was a welcomed advantage Kodak had over all other scanners, as the environment and workflow would not permit one scanner for one type of document and another for the charts.

Along with the Kodak scanner, the Kodak development labs have a product called Kodak Capture which allowed us to scan documents as batches, recognize bar codes for each job number and compress the Charts using the DjVu technology. Great consideration was given to put everything in DjVu format, but the Kodak capture flexibility made it easy enough for different document types to be saved in different file formats.

Michael Melair, DocuSource technical integrator worked with Kodak, FileBound and DjVu for a four-week period to seam- lessly get all three manufacturer’s working with one another. Kodak integrated DjVu into their capture software. DjVu altered data output, so that the FileBound importer pro could grab images and push them to the ASP in the background, and FileBound people changed their viewer so that DjVu images were immediately visible and an extra click to open the file could be avoided. The end result was what Mr. Driscol was looking for, a quick, simple, easy-to-use process that any administrative person with under three minutes of training could scan, index and push images to the web seamlessly.

FileBound Results

FileBound, Kodak and DjVu are in daily use now by the entire administrative staff of Thermal-Vac. Email integration and Word integration has made it easy to add or extract documents on an as-needed basis to get information to and from customers. Documents are no longer unsecured and all images are backed up and maintained at the ASP for years to come. Job File 1 is now as safe as it ever was. Mission accomplished, DocuSource wishes to thank the tireless efforts of the developers of FileBound, Marex Corporation, Kodak, and Lizard Tech developers of the DjVu Viewer.

Bottom Line

• Files are shared
• Valuable shop room floor is being re-purposed from records storage to revenue producing activity Customer retention is enhanced
• Customer service is improved
• Invoice cycles reduced
• Documents available 24/7
• Certification process greatly streamlined

Written and submitted by Steve MacWilliams, CDIA+, Senior Vice President of DocuSource 

White Paper: Finally, a Bridge to Pure e-Invoicing

Ensuring that the cure for slow manual systems wasn’t worse than the disease…

By Rex Lamb

Benefits of e-invoicing include elimination of data entry errors, automatic importing, and reduced courier services costs.

The introduction of mini and micro computers to the business community in the 1980s created an unprecedented explosion of productivity. With that growth in productivity came an economic inflection point like none other in history. The success of technology adoption lead to even greater demand and the possibilities seemed endless.

Among the early adapters to computer technology were finance and accounting. These areas were traditionally the largest departments in employee headcount. The use of information systems resulted in a dramatic reduction in cost and improvement in service.

Over time, finance and accounting departments began to use technology in increasingly sophisticated ways. The logic went that most business functions were using some form of computer technology, so why not reuse data that already exists? This information sharing included employee timekeeping, vehicle mileage, purchasing and sales forecasting, to name a few. And while data integration between
these separate systems wasn’t always easy, it got done for the most part. It seemed like a “no brainer” that since vendors produce their invoices using a computer, they should be able to send them electronically. In that way, the purchasing company could just import the electronic invoice without any further data entry required.

Then the shine began to fade off of the apple. The technology available to facilitate electronic invoicing was Electronic Data Interchange, or EDI. And while EDI worked with it came a significant amount of overhead and management. The sender of the electronic invoice had to account for every nuance of each individual accounting system intending to import the information. That meant multiple EDI formats. In some cases, this applied to the specific version of a software system. The slightest unaccounted for change in any of the sending or receiving systems would bomb out an entire set of transactions. The EDI formats were cryptic and had to be prepared by staff with significant training and experience with EDI. So while EDI fulfilled the promise of e-invoicing it was often the case that the cure was worse than the disease.

Using EDI on a mass scale became a nightmare and electronic invoice interchange was relegated to major trading partners (Goodyear Tire to Ford Motors, for example). For the rest of the business community, 85 percent of all invoices continue to be paper based sent in the mail. “High tech” is often viewed as a PDF image arriving via email, requiring that the receiving party print the document and manually enter the data (which actually increases the cost for the receiving party). Despite all the advances in information technology applied to accounting, invoice processing (which is 80% of the AP process) remains a paper-based manual process with significant data entry.

Today, in any survey of financial executives, a high need is to have the benefits of e-invoicing and eliminate the manual data entry work at an affordable price. That need has been unfulfilled – until now.

FileBound is the bridge between the paper invoice and the benefits offered by e-invoicing. With FileBound, the business can make every invoice an electronic invoice. Invoices are scanned upon arrival, regardless of the delivery format, with the information needed by accounting being electronically read and stored. The image of the invoice is also stored, with the needed detail. The paper document is destroyed and the process continues with no further data entry or document handling required.

The benefits of e-invoices in FileBound include significantly reduced staff, elimination of data entry errors, automatic importing of scanned data into the accounting system, and reduced expense for courier services. Each of these benefits translates to a cash savings for the business.

Finance AP (Part 1)

A sponsored educational guide to understanding the technology and benefits of accounts payable automation.

How Document Management Benefits Accounts Payable

Document management software saves time and money by automating labor intensive business processes for accounting and finance departments. In addition to the significant savings that can be realized, there are other significant advantages associated with accounts payable automation, among them improved vendor and supplier management, enhanced employee performance review capabilities, and more efficient transaction verification and audit control. When properly deployed, document management can result in a better, faster and cheaper accounts payable (AP) process.

Productivity Improvements

Shifting from the manual paper processes of accounts payable to an automated electronic document management alternative leads to several immediate productivity improvements. Invoices are processed more efficiently with fewer errors as each part of the process contains specific checks and balances and contains automatic exception handling for most errors. Error reduction leads to faster validation and quicker payment approval allowing the company to take advantage of early payment discounts. Plus, staff are processing payments and not rummaging through piles of paperwork.

Shifting from the manual paper processes of accounts payable to an automated electronic document management alternative leads to several immediate productivity improvements.

 

Time savings is a major benefit of using an electronic solution. When front-end document capture is used to convert paper documents into electronic files, the result is the nearly instantaneous ability to track every aspect of an invoice, regardless of where the documents arrive. Even the most distributed procurement process can be handled in near real-time. Physical space in the office is also conserved as paper is digitized and stored on a server and not in file cabinets.

The implementation of electronic process management, sometimes called workflow, yields a consistent predictable process for how typical AP documents are handled and how document exceptions are managed. AP staff can spot discrepancies immediately and can automatically route the issue to the appropriate person for correction. This yields an additional benefit to management as workflow applications provide an overall view of the process that can be used to identify bottlenecks, streamline processes and evaluate employee performance. The workflow application can also be extended to monitor the overall performance of vendors.

Fewer Errors

Error correction and improved exception handling are two significant advantages gained when running accounts payable through an automated process. Discrepancies are caught early because all documents can be compared as soon as they are in the system. The electronic document trail leads not only to the party responsible for the document in question, but also to who is the proper authority to validate the correction and approve any changes. The result is that the correct documentation goes to the correct personnel at the correct time automatically.

Utilizing electronic process workflow eliminates time wasted by variations of procedures. Workflows are configured through the document management system and are not subject to staff interpretation. This leads to a consistent process where every set of invoices is handled in the exact same way. The same holds true for exception handling. Standard exceptions, for example dollar amounts that need approval from management, receipt of deliveries with backorders or damaged goods, can be routed automatically to the manager or staff member responsible for resolving the issue. This eliminates the need to find ‘the right person’ to solve each conflict and results in a rapid and reliable resolution procedure. Payments can still be made within the vendor discount window even when a problem or exception arises.

The key to reducing errors and expediting workflow for accounts payable through EDM is by capitalizing on proper indexing. Indexing identifies each document by recording only the necessary data needed for matching and procedural purposes. In the case of accounts payable, that may mean invoice numbers, vendor names, dates, amounts, etc. Modern EDM systems can do most of this automatically, resulting in fewer user errors. Moreover, by leveraging proper indexing many manual steps in the AP process can be handled automatically allowing staff to focus on the critical aspects of the accounts payable function.