Automating processes was identified by the EBS Accounts Payable (AP) department as a way of saving time and money. Handling over 12,000 invoices and credit notes a year, the paper-based approval process led to bottlenecks in the system, lost invoices and a lack of visibility that made it difficult to deal with supplier queries.
When an invoice came in, an AP clerk would enter the details into the company’s accounts system and circulate the paper invoices to the managers responsible for requisition. Around 70 managers have the authority to sign-off invoices. They were reached through an internal mail system that distributed hard copy documents twice a day throughout the head office. When the signed-off invoice was returned to the clerk, the account entry was modified to show that it had been approved and the invoice was queued for the payment run.
This manual process had many pain points. “There was a lot of potential for things to go back and forward and get lost in the system,” said Paul Foote, Finance Project Lead, EBS. “And because the incumbent process was paper based this could lead to adverse delays in getting invoices signed off.”
As well as looking to speed up the process, the AP department wanted greater visibility all the way through, from sign-off to archiving. Paper invoices had been stored internally for a year before being dispatched to a records management facility.
EBS already used the SoftCo R7 Business Automation Platform, so it was a natural next step to approach SoftCo to help improve the AP process.
For more than a decade SoftCo has helped clients across a range of industries reap the benefits of better AP information management. Its Accounts Payable solution, SoftCo Rondo, addresses key organisational challenges around improving efficiency, reducing risk and improving the purchase order lifecycle.
Easy to use, the web-based software brings rich functionality and new levels of visibility to an age-old process, replacing manual interventions with a dynamic, automated workflow. By streamlining the coding and approval cycle, and through the elimination of errors caused by manual data entry, SoftCo Rondo reduces the cost of invoice processing.
Rather than going live across the entire enterprise, the decision was taken to pilot SoftCo Rondo in two departments to ensure a smooth deployment. Following a successful three week trial, work began on rolling it out across the organisation.
“We did the technical proof of concept, a project management plan and the integration piece to make sure it worked seamlessly with the JD Edwards/Oracle backend that EBS uses for its financials,” explained Robert Hickey, Customer Services Manager, SoftCo. “It all went smoothly and we had a working framework up and running within six weeks.”
To take care of the change management piece that accompanies any new technology deployment, users were brought in early to give their feedback. “One or two departments took time to get used to the changeover, but overall it went very well,” said Paul Foote.
SoftCo Rondo is now accessed by 70 managers for the approval process and the team of three in the AP department. The purchase-to-pay cycle has been radically streamlined. Paper documents are first captured and then distributed electronically. If there is a delay to sign-off that exceeds predefined timelines, an escalation process generates automatic email reminders to the personnel involved.
“We have found that the new system has assisted us achieve greater efficiencies across the system. The ease with which it operates has ensured that all of our teams are enjoying the benefits of the new system,” said Gerry Forrest, Strategic Planning Project Manager, EBS.
At the capture end of the cycle, turning paper invoices into electronic documents was made easy because EBS already had a scanning department. At the other end of the process, electronic archiving and retrieval have significantly improved working practices.
“Accounting practices meant we had to retain all the old invoices for up to seven years and this had an ongoing impact on office storage space,” explained Forrest. “With Rondo, we now just retain the electronic invoice copies on the EBS server infrastructure and archive the paper originals to an offsite facility on a monthly basis, thus freeing up a lot of storage.”
SoftCo Rondo has given EBS full control over every stage of the Accounts Payable process, ensuring coding accuracy, document conformity and a dramatic reduction in the purchase order lifecycle. Integration with EBS’s existing finance and ERP system has brought a routine but time consuming process in line with the wider business, increasing financial visibility and compliance.
The web-based software solution was quickly embraced by staff with minimal need for training. “The system has been easy to use and we have had very positive feedback from employees,” said Forrest.
Automating this process has delivered very tangible savings in terms of time and money. “Once the invoice has been scanned and input into the system it takes seconds to circulate,” said Paul Foote. “It’s a much faster process and we are as happy with it as we could be at this point.”