Handling EDI Exceptions Through O2C Automation Solutions

Manual processes were not meant for the increasingly complex and interconnected manufacturing supply chain that we have today. In an industry that over the past couple of decades has embraced just-in-time (JIT) and lean manufacturing best practices to increase speed and efficiency, having an order-to-cash (O2C) cycle that relies almost entirely on human input won’t cut it. As with most manual systems, the cycle from the time an order was made to when payment was received was slow, inefficient, error-prone and costly. Data entry mistakes were commonplace and document processing was unable to keep up with the pace of modern commerce.

Enter Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). The introduction of EDI, which has been around for about 30 years, transformed much of the O2C cycle from a manual process to a digital one, making the exchange of documents one done between computers rather than through human intervention and paper. EDI accelerated the entire process and improved accuracy, increased the security of the documents and reduced overall costs. The O2C cycle is a crucial one in business, as it’s the core of the relationship between a manufacturer and its many customers and partners. It’s where orders are made, products are built and shipped, invoices are sent and payments are made. If shipments are late, products are returned, or payments are missed because of human error or a slow process, relationships can fray, business can be lost and profits can suffer.

EDI greatly improved the order-to-cash cycle. With EDI, data that the buyer has entered to the system goes through a range of translation, mapping and processing steps before an order is processed, an invoice is sent from the manufacturer or a payment is made by the buyer. It’s a much better option to manual processes, but it also presents its own set of challenges. It can be complex — there are multiple EDI formats and standards — and there are various points throughout the cycle where errors and exceptions can occur, which can impact accuracy, drive inefficiencies and add costs. This complexity can make the O2C process a bumpy one.

For example, we’ve found that about a third of EDI orders contain exceptions due to such errors as incorrect pricing, wrong promotions codes, missing segments and invalid material numbers. Fixing these issues can cost time and money, and often means that customer service representatives (CSRs) — who should be working with customers — instead have to bring in IT to fix the problem. Now there are two people being paid to address a single problem. It’s inefficient and expensive, and precious time is wasted. Such exceptions can negatively impact multiple points along the supply chain, causing inaccuracies and inefficiencies throughout. EDI has been a vast improvement over manual processes, but complexity and challenges remain.

This is where automating the highly complex O2C cycle comes into play. Within any business, there are multiple departments, teams of employees and technologies that make up the order-to-cash process, and keeping them in sync is no easy task. A glitch here or there can lead to problems throughout the chain and result in everything from slower order fulfillment times and delayed payments to unhappy customers.

Automated solutions can eliminate many of those glitches that can cause so many problems, as well as remove many of the challenges presented by EDI exceptions to ensure the accuracy, efficiency and security of the entire O2C process. EDI integration solutions can work as a replacement or complement to the EDI system and touches all parts of the larger O2C cycle. An automated accounts receivable (AR) solution can automate the entire process of delivering and archiving customer invoices and ensure the delivery of invoices through any avenue, whether that’s paper, e-invoices or EDI. Invoicing is not only accelerated, but accuracy is ensured, and costs are reduced. Automated AR software can generate invoices in multiple EDI formats, such as XML, EDIFACT and ANSI, and send invoices in whatever manner the customer wants, whether its through the mail or via email, EDI or the customer portal.

For order processing, an automated solution becomes the place where every order is processed, whether it’s received via EDI or email, fax, paper or any other route. The orders are forwarded to the correct CSR and the data is collected and used to create a sales order in the ERP system. Every order is readable to humans, giving CSRs greater control and visibility into those orders, and any discrepancies or issues within the order can automatically be detected and feedback provided to the business partner to be corrected.

Automation also encompasses the handling of EDI exceptions. The data from an EDI file is put into a PDF and problems can be quickly found and flagged. At the same time, the automated solution can take what it’s learned from previous situations to automatically correct issues that continue to occur by remembering changes users had made previously, which speeds up the process, improves accuracy and efficiency, and reduces the number of exceptions that need to be addressed. It also means that the CSR has total control over the handling of EDI exceptions, eliminating the need to bring in an IT technician for help.

This all leads to stronger relationships with customers and partners. With an automated O2C process, CSRs can easily and quickly track orders and address customer issues through a single interface. With automation software in place, they have more time to spend working closely with trading partners and selling more products. They essentially have more time to spend doing the job their title suggests.

The O2C cycle in the manufacturing industry is a complex one, from the time an order is made to when invoices are sent and payments are received. The business world is changing rapidly, and manual processes simply can’t keep up. EDI has been a vast improvement, but even with these systems, exceptions can mean more human intervention, which can slow things and cause a lot of pain throughout the supply chain. Automation software eliminates those issues by quickly and easily addressing exceptions and ensuring a single system for all steps of the O2C process, speeding up the cycle from order to fulfillment, invoice and payment, reducing errors and increasing efficiency and, most importantly, creating a highly positive customer experience.

Source: https://www.mbtmag.com/article/2018/05/handling-edi-exceptions-through-o2c-automation-solutions

Life Science Industry Customer Service Representative | Esker Order Processing

Meet Susan – Life Science Industry Customer Service Representative | Esker Order Processing

 

Source: http://blog.esker.com.au/how-the-life-science-industry-is-changing/

 

 

Eliminating Paper in the Supply Chain with Esker

Paperless processes are freeing up resources and driving efficiency in procurement. Esker’s COO Steve Smith explains

Historically, companies have always spent a lot of time and money moving paper around. And if any aspect of that business involves supply chain management, then the inevitable large amounts of paperwork can result in a supply chain that’s sluggish and inefficient. In efforts to streamline, companies are increasingly looking into implementing digital technologies in their supply chains, which enables them to vastly increase the speed of processing while also going paperless.  

It is actually possible to quit paper completely, which has numerous positive knock-on effects, according to cloud-based document process automation solutions provider Esker. Along with doing away with the need for paper, automating every phase and type of business information exchange enables companies to reap a host of benefits in a short space of time; Esker says its solution can deliver a measurable ROI in as little as three to six months.

The company, which launched as a software vendor in 1985 in France before branching into document automation, operates across Europe, North America, Latin America and the Asia Pacific, and counts global heavyweights Ericsson, Hyundai, Heineken, John Deere, Kimberly-Clark and Microsoft among its 80,000 customers and millions of licensed users. Esker’s technology enables businesses in numerous sectors to automate manual inefficiencies and low-value tasks in their order-to-cash (O2C) and purchase-to-pay (P2P) processes.

Steve Smith, Esker’s Chief Operating Officer, says the company’s solutions are about “keeping the supply chain rolling and getting goods and services out as quickly as possible”. He adds that cloud-based process automation enables orders to get into the ERP quickly, invoices to be issued, purchase orders to be managed, and invoices to be approved and paid as quickly as possible – all without any data being inputted manually or paper being printed.

“We can get orders processed sometimes 80% to 90% faster than they could do manually, so they’re getting orders in and fulfilled quickly, keeping customers happier,” Smith shares.

Speed is something that has always been a priority in business but never more so than today, at a time when customers simply don’t want to wait. Younger generations have grown up alongside the digital boom, where everything is available instantly and services have grown exponentially.

“We’ve had many customers tell us that it’s been part of their strategy to fulfill orders the same day or within a 24-hour period. Aside from a competitive standpoint, they may offer certain goods and services that mean they have to get their products out faster, and were able to facilitate that,” Smith says.

“On the accounts receivables side, you’re gaining efficiencies by being able to send invoices in a format where your client can better work with them, so the customers of our customers can accept or request their invoices in electronic formats. If they still want them via paper, they can get them via paper, if that’s how it works better in their AP (accounts payable) process. It’s the same on the inbound or the P2P; our customers are seeing benefits by having their spend approved before they actually make it, not after the invoice is coming in. Having all the proper workflow to make sure the spend is acceptable means when the invoices do come in from suppliers, they’re paid much faster as it’s pre-approved.”

As well as reducing the time it takes to fulfill orders, going digital reduces the ecological impact a company has. It’s not often you can argue that the most efficient process in any given scenario can align with the best environmental decision, but Esker certainly makes a strong case for that, when you consider that it’s enabling a customer to send and received tens of thousands of digital documents each year, which reduces CO2 emissions and the need to cut down trees.

“We certainly know that we are reducing the amount of paper in companies and that there are environmental benefits to it; we know we’re saving trees,” Smith says, before adding that, unlike Esker, saving the planet has not been a key motivator for companies.

He admits: “Customers seem to care more about the cost-savings. We actually talked about doing more campaigns around green initiatives in the past but, surprisingly, it wasn’t as high of a priority within companies as we thought it would be. I was actually quite shocked.”

Something that will always be popular, however, is harnessing technologies that enable human resources to be freed up for more valuable tasks, as it delivers salary savings while significantly minimising the risk of human error.

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“The goal in many cases is to reduce human interaction and automate processes to the highest degree,” Smith says. “Then you can find other reasons to use those humans. With order processing, many customers are repurposing people that were interacting with those orders coming into more valued processes.”

Instead of workers being pushed out by automation, they can be redistributed to areas that make better use of human skills, though there still exists an opportunity to trim down the wage bill if required, Smith explains.

“Where we may see some reductions from the human perspective is where overtime is reduced greatly or they might not need to hire part-time individuals to handle peak period,” he says.

Turning his attention to Esker itself, Smith discusses exciting digital opportunities he wants to seize this year surrounding new legislation.

“We’re always looking at ways that we can enhance our solutions and certainly we are now with the B2G (business-to-government) initiatives in the Americas,” Smith shares, referring to e-invoicing becoming mandatory before the end of the 2018 fiscal year for companies in the US that provide goods and services to the government.

“We’ve hired a team to really focus on that in the Americas because it wasn’t as big of an initiative here as it has been in Europe and Latin America. We think, with the B2G initiative starting in the Americas, we could see a real spike in growth for electronic invoicing initiatives here. We’re going to hopefully see more activity around our accounts receivable solution.”

Moving to Europe, EU directive obligates all contracting authorities to be able to process e-invoices by the end of 2018 and a major e-invoicing initiative launched last year, requiring an interoperable, common standard for B2G trade in Europe, with a deadline for implementation of April 2019.

Smith adds: “We deal with all compliance issues in Europe and Latin America, and other parts of the world, including the B2G initiatives. We can format our documents to meet all the different compliance issues that are out there. On the B2G initiatives, we have to tailor the way the invoices are formatted, specifically to the different government initiatives. In Latin America, we’ve got to make sure the government sees invoices before they’re sent out to suppliers, and we’ve got to make sure we’re showing that VAT is being collected with the different compliance issues throughout Europe.”

In terms of what’s on the horizon, promising to disrupt the global supply chain management industry, Smith sees advancements in robotic processing and AI, revealing that this is a “big part” of Esker’s solution.

“Through AI and robotics, we are able to automate things faster and adapt to everybody’s environment. Even though what we do is similar in every company, in many cases there’s nuance involved with orders and invoices but no matter what kind of document we’re dealing with, having robotics and artificial intelligence built into our solutions enables faster adaption to environments. There’s a lot of talk around this right now and in the next few years we’re going to see huge advancements to speed up and enhance the whole supply chain management process.”

While discussing companies’ interest in embracing digital documents over paper documents, Smith tells Supply Chain Digital that he experienced a level of resistance to even going paperless until fairly recently. He cites younger generations entering the workforce as a key factor in driving a change in mentality.

“I’ve been talking about paperless for probably 30 years and it’s really been in the last five years that I’ve started to see many of the things that we talked about way back when really starting to take hold. The younger generations are used to using electronics – laptops, tablets, phones – and that’s the way that they are used to doing their daily activities. To receive something via paper seems odd to them and, quite frankly, they’re forcing people even in my generation to think differently,” he states. 

Asked if there is ever a need for paper, he concedes that he does find it useful to have paper documents occasionally – to look over when he’s traveling for instance – but believes “the need for paper has greatly diminished”.

“We’ve all learned to get used to paperless ways of communication and we’re finding that it’s just an easier way of doing things,” he concludes.

Esker: Growing the P2P Suite in 2018 and Beyond

Company Background

Esker was founded in 1985 with the vision of helping businesses deliver paper documents electronically. Today, more than 30 years later, they have stayed true to its roots and are now one of the larger document process automation vendors in the market. Over 85% of sales now come from its on-demand (SaaS) solutions for Purchase-to-Pay, Order-to-Cash, and document delivery. Headquartered in Lyon, France, Esker also has operations in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia Pacific.

Based on the strong growth of its cloud-based solutions (+21% YOY), Esker’s 2017 sales revenues increased by 15.3% over 2016. Another interesting stat from the earnings release is that the number of employees in R&D increased by 18% in 2017, and now represents an impressive 22% of the total workforce.

During our briefing, Esker spoke to us primarily about the newer solution for Purchasing but also covered the Accounts Payable solution as well. Below is a brief description of each solution.

Accounts Payable

Esker’s sweet spot has always been its AP automation solution for the mid- and large-market. The cloud-based AP solution is designed to eliminate paper, reduce manual processing of invoices, lower costs, and improve efficiency. As you would expect they can easily handle most invoice formats and delivery vehicles. The solution can automate the AP process from invoice receipt to 3-way matching, and through to, and including, approval and transfer for payment. They have also automated the exception handling process, which can automatically be routed around based on customisable workflows and business rules.

Esker offers adapters for a number of ERPs including SAP, Oracle eBusiness Suite, and Microsoft Dynamics NAV. Over 50% of Esker’s AP customers have SAP as their backend ERP, not surprising since Esker has long provided integration to SAP. Two years ago they introduced an adapter for Oracle and this has resulted in good growth in this market segment as well. It is important to point out that Esker’s workflow sits outside of an organisation’s ERP, something they say is one of the major reasons clients select Esker for their AP automation.

Purchasing

Based on requests from its existing customers, and sensing market demand, Esker launched its on-demand Purchasing solution four years ago, in order to be able to offer full P2P functionality. The majority of Esker’s customers utilising the purchasing solution already had Esker’s AP solution or were sold the full P2P suite in the last four years. Esker Purchasing allows enterprises to automate the full P2P cycle, from the purchase request all the way through the payment process. Esker automates purchasing workflow and integrates seamlessly to the Esker AP solution. They provide out-of-the-box, role-based dashboards tailored to the specific needs of the user, and allow for easy switching between the AP and Purchasing solutions. Esker provides functionality to easily manage internal catalogs and is in the process of launching ‘punch-out’ catalog capability that will be available later this spring. Eskers purchasing solution is currently best suited to handle an organisation’s indirect spend but, Dupuy-Holdich said their vision is to possibly handle direct spend as well sometime in the future.

Final Thoughts

After a successful 2017, it was great to get an update from Esker to hear how they achieved such positive results and learn what they are currently working on and plans for the future. They have recently provided integration to SAP S4/Hana, Dynamics NAV 2017, and early payment discounts. Future plans include support for SAP S4/HANA Cloud and NAV 2018, punch-out catalogs, and contract management. They are working to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in all of its solutions. The ‘Esker AI Engine’ is currently being used to improve global field recognition, for an intelligent splitting of invoice batches, general ledger auto allocation, and improved supplier recognition on invoices and purchase orders. Esker R&D is looking to utilise AI to improve the functionality of its solutions wherever possible. Esker understands the importance of being able to offer a full P2P suite and is motivated to bring its purchasing solution on par with that of the AP solution. Esker has produced solid revenue growth over the last couple of years and has a plan in place to keep that momentum going in 2018. Ardent Partners is very interested to see where Esker goes from here and the traction they are able to achieve in the full P2P market.

 

Source: http://payablesplace.ardentpartners.com/2018/03/esker-growing-p2p-suite-2018/

 

Automation Frees CSRs for Customer Care

There are multiple points throughout the supply chain where a company reaches a customer – for example, taking an order, sending out an invoice, confirming an order, receiving payment or settling a dispute – and each point represents an opportunity to create a positive, easy and impactful experience for the customer. In a constantly-changing, highly competitive market like semiconductors, which is undergoing consolidation and facing emerging trends like the Internet of Things (IoT) and digitization, such experiences are important to ensure the customer remains a customer and doesn’t go somewhere else.

Companies are focusing on customer service, and for good reason. Customers are the lifeline of any business. In a recent survey, 75% of companies said their top objective was improving the customer experience, and another study found that by 2020, customer experience will overtake pricing and products as a company’s key differentiator. In addition, there is a $3 return on every $1 invested in the customer experience, and a top cause of customer frustration is feeling undervalued.

Organizations have spent millions over the years on technology to improve their business operations, from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and CRM, to cloud-based applications like Salesforce.com. However, for many, the business document processes – such as accounts payable, invoicing and sales order processing – have remained a heavily manual operation. That has caused more than its share of challenges. It’s slow, the risk of missed or backlogged orders increases, it’s more error-prone, and orders and product returns are more difficult to track. In such a fast-moving market, these issues can mean lost business.

None of that helps an organization’s relationship with their customers, but the impact goes further. Customer service representatives (CSRs) are the frontline people, the company’s face when dealing with customers and supply chain partners, but in a manual document processing environment, too much of their time is spent with data entry and similar tasks, and when an issue with a customer arises, they don’t always have the information they need to properly address it. This can make a customer feel undervalued and underappreciated.

Automating the business document processes can change all of those inefficiencies, enabling CSRs to do their primary jobs: taking care of the customer. There are numerous direct benefits to using software to automate the document-heavy workloads that are pervasive in business, including lowering the overall cost of order processing, improving order data accuracy, accelerating the process and reducing the number of people needed to get the myriad tasks done.

There also are a slew of indirect benefits, many of which will be felt by the customer. Key among those is enabling CSRs to spend more time on impactful activities like proactively interacting with customers, tracking orders, spotting problems, and cross-selling and upselling, and less time doing data entry and fielding calls about incorrect orders or other problems. Automation software also gives customers more ways to communicate with a CSR, including through a chat tool on an online customer portal that also helps reduce the number of requests coming into the customer service department.

CSRs are more professionally fulfilled and incentivized. The tools available in the in the automation software, such as a dashboard interface that enables them to track orders and address issues before they become problems and gives them the control they need to take care of customers. In addition, managers can more easily push resources to where they are needed most, and key performance indicators (KPIs) allow managers see where credit is due.

CSRs are a crucial yet often underappreciated part of a company’s overall operations. They are often in direct contact with customers and can make or break the experience for those customers. The more time they have to spend on mundane manual tasks like data entry, the less they have to be proactively working with customers, tracking orders, solving problems and upselling. Automating the business document processes can let these people do the job of taking care of customers, which can only benefit the company.

Automated Delivery of Customer Invoices to AP Portals

Options for customer invoice delivery continue to modernize as companies experience the fruits of digital transformation. We have come a long way with invoice delivery methods — things are faster, easier and more cost-effective than ever before. In recent years, companies have been seeking efficiencies within accounts payable (AP) for the buyer, which led to the introduction of AP portals. Accounts payable portals continue to grow in popularity, so much that the U.S. Government, the largest buyer in North America, mandated that vendors must electronically submit invoices within one of their recognized portals by end of 2018. As more and more buyers transition to using AP networks to ease their own technology burdens, it shifts the problem squarely onto the supplier’s accounts receivable (AR) team.

Accommodating customers has been the key to many organization’s success, however, it can come at a cost and may not be an easy task. There are more than 250 complex AP networks used globally. New AP technology means that suppliers increasingly need to submit invoices directly into customers’ AP systems.  To manage this method, AR departments are often:

  • Manually entering each invoice using an online AP portal, one at a time — which is time consuming and resource draining
  • Hogging up already limited IT resources to build custom AP integrations with each system and provide ongoing support
  • Turning away business refusing to accommodate, impacting growth
  • Managing multiple invoice delivery channels, including delivery of statements and invoices via portal, postal mail, EDI, fax and email

Accounts payable networks and private corporate portals are not going away. There are real benefits to submitting invoices online, such as: visibility on payment status, cost savings by lowering or eliminating postal mailings and time savings of sending an email versus postal mail.

With the aid of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven technology, suppliers now have the option to automatically deliver invoices to portals — no longer requiring manual data entry or taxing the resources of AR staff. The repetitive processes of data entry and invoicing naturally lend themselves to automation. Artificial intelligence can help companies timely and efficiently post invoices to AP portals, without input from humans. Automation of invoice delivery into AP portals eliminates the burden, giving both parties the efficiencies they want and need.

Esker Enhances Order Processing Connectivity Through Mobile Solution

New functionality achieves greater level of sales order automation in the medical device industry and others

Sydney, Australia — May 14, 2018Esker, a worldwide leader in document process automation solutions and pioneer in cloud computing, today announced the addition of mobile ordering functionality to its Esker Anywhere mobile application. Esker Anywhere provides on-the-road accessibility for sales representatives placing orders directly on behalf of their customers, and customers themselves, and is available on both Apple® and Android™ devices.

Originally launched to enhance the purchase-to-pay (P2P) cycle, the app now supports the sales order process. The new features enable mobile users to retrieve items directly from the product catalog, or to scan a barcode and automatically populate the product and lot number—saving time and increasing the accuracy of orders. Subsequent scans of the same barcode increase the quantity of the order. From there, the order can be completed through the app. Different order types can be placed, including replenishment orders, sample no-charge orders and standard orders.

Sales representatives also have greater visibility into the order process through a mobile dashboard, which displays the number of orders in the queue and their status. All of this integrates seamlessly with Esker’s AI-driven document process automation solutions.

Read the full press release here

How Sales Order Automation Turns Soft Benefits into Tangible ROI

 

Prospects ask this a lot: Does automating sales order processing lead to eliminating staff?

It’s a common misconception. The purpose of automation is not to reduce headcount, but rather to provide staff with tools and smart technology — like Artificial Intelligence (AI) — to supplement their work. While automation does free up staff time to work on more value-added activities, possibly opening the door to re-allocating them within the company, there are numerous soft benefits that should also be considered.

Four Soft Benefits and Tangible Outcomes

  1. Overtime reduction; better work-life balance and lower costs 
    I recently spoke with a pipe manufacturer whose key driver for their automation project was eliminating mandatory overtime. Management was concerned that their Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) were burnt out, more error prone and likely to leave due to excessive overtime. Sales order automation with machine-learning technology would allow the company to eliminate mandatory overtime and avoid new hire costs while giving CSRs a better work-life balance and work enjoyment.
    How close are your CSR’s to being burnt out and moving on?
  2. No more mundane; retaining valuable staff 
    One life science customer explained how they routinely hire MBA level CSRs who tend to be expensive and tough to recruit. After spending all that time and money to recruit them, they were placed in a job full of mundane, manual activities that ultimately killed their drive and ambition. Instead of leveraging their knowledge to benefit the business, they were placed in a position that they will more than likely move on from after a short period of time.
    How many of your educated CSRs are performing mundane order entry tasks?
  3. Encourage high performers; recognising your staff
    Another customer implemented sales order automation, leading staff to reduce order entry time by six minutes per order. Due to this, the company was able to avoid hiring additional employees and focus on encouraging current staff, promoting the top performers to coach others. Some CSRs were even able to be moved to inside sales and IT roles. Automation provided the platform for improvement and visibility into daily activities, allowing the company to recognise and promote employees.
    How many CSRs have you been able to promote internally?
  4. Better customer experience; cutting out competition
    The real win is when the CSRs are able to spend more time serving customers than entering and checking orders. For a furniture manufacturer, it meant they were able to answer customer inquiries in one short call versus three calls. With staff spending more time working with customers, they create a better experience which cuts out competition by creating loyal customers.
    Is your staff able to provide a superior customer experience or are they stuck on manual order entry?

Soft Savings = Big Benefits

When companies invest in their people, process and technology, everybody benefits. Not only are CSRs more fulfilled, they end up sticking around for longer and contributing more. Adrian Posterraro, Director of Customer Success at Integer Holdings Corporation, invested in training, new processes and sales order automation. In return, he was able to avoid hiring more people, dramatically improve morale, increase customer satisfaction by 7.5%, absorb a 16% per year growth, and net a 4.4% profit gain (EBITA).

Soft savings add up. Be sure to vet the sales order automation solutions you consider and look for a solution that can offer more than just buzzwords. Instead, ensure the solution vendor has numerous case studies, video testimonials, and customers who can describe how they utilised the time and effort saved with automation as well as the results that followed.

 

The Benefits of Document Processing Automation in the Food Industry

The exchange of documents is essential to how daily business activities are conducted, especially in manufacturing and distribution. In fact, how well an organisation optimises document processes directly impacts profitability. This is especially true in the food and beverage industry, where FDA regulations and product shelf life make efficiency and accuracy particularly important. It is also true then that the promised gains from automation are often amplified in this space.

The Pitfalls of Manual Processes

Each and every day, warehouse distributors and manufacturers handle faxes, emails and other paper-based supply chain management documents that cause problems such as:

  • Data entry errors associated with the manual rekeying of data, resulting in delayed/incorrect shipments
  • Inefficiency in getting fax/email data into a back-office system, resulting in production delays and overstocks
  • Concerns about the cost for increasing staff and infrastructure to handle high volumes and peak periods

Management Concerns

The struggles associated with manual processing affect a business at multiple levels —, particularly at the managerial level. When document entry cycle times are long, managers cannot grow the business without adding staff. Additionally, there is no easy way to prioritise and monitor document entry, meaning high-priority and time-sensitive processing can be delayed. Document processing errors are also a common problem that causes a domino effect of issues for managers. Errors can lead to delays in fulfillment and cash collection, additional shipping costs, waste (especially with perishables) and repetition. Furthermore, processing errors can cause returns, which a business must pay off in credit notes, restocking or write-offs. Finally, archiving poses a major concern for management. The cost of printing and the space to store documents, combined with the time it takes to file and retrieve records, can hold a company back. Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) are often unable to find documents to answer customer questions, and information is not readily accessible for auditing purposes.

The Promise of Document Management Automation

The more efficient a company’s billing and cash collection methods are, the faster documents are handled, processed and tracked, which accelerates the flow of business cycles. There are then four main expected outcomes from replacing traditional, paper-based processes with document management automation:

  • Cost-effective integration of incoming documents into business processes so they get to the right places/people as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  • Removal of human intervention and manual paper handling from document processes, increasing efficiency and reducing errors from manual touch points.
  • Increase in the efficiency of back-office operations frees staff to focus on higher value, strategic activities.
  • Improvement of supplier and customer relationships by creating a superior, more efficient experience receiving payment or products.

Success Story: Sales Order Processing and Bel Group

If a manufacturer or distributor in any industry makes a mistake with an order, it incurs costs associated with bringing the product back to the warehouse, repackaging it and redistributing it. There are the shipping costs, the time wasted on duplicate processes and the incurred risk to reputation to think of. But when it comes to the food and beverage industry, order processing takes on an even greater importance because in many cases, product cannot simply be reshipped in case of error. Perishable product must be disposed of, which can lead to a total loss of revenue on inventory. That’s a cost no company wants to pay.

The Bel Group is a worldwide leader in branded cheeses with operations in 36 countries and more than 12,000 employees. Its Spanish operations were hamstrung by inefficient, manual processing of customer orders and invoices. Prior to implementation of an automated order processing system, two-thirds of the approximately 25,000 customer orders the division received annually came in via fax, email, and telephone. Processing those orders manually was slow, labor-intensive and much more susceptible to error.

Like many companies with traditional systems and long-standing customer relationships, Bel Spain worried that their customers would balk at submitting orders electronically. Since solution implementation, Bel has taken an active role in helping customers change the way they send documents, moving from telephone and paper to electronic format (fax or email). Within a year, two-thirds of Bel’s orders were being received electronically. Thirty percent of those were processed using optical character recognition (OCR) technology, drastically reducing the number of manual touch points—and opportunities for error—associated with their traditional system. Today, 100 percent of Bel Spain’s document exchange with customers using non-electronic formats is automated and seamlessly integrated with SAP. Orders are now more accurate, and the company has seen significant improvements in the quality of managing order-to-cash and procure-to-pay cycles.

Sales Order Processing Benefits:

  • Achieved significant financial savings by eliminating the costs involved with printing and mailing invoices and manual reception and processing of customer orders.
  • Decreased order and invoice processing time.
  • Eliminated processing errors associated with manual handling.
  • Streamlined relationships with vendors and customers by making communication with both more reliable, resulting in faster sales cycles and increased customer loyalty.
  • Eliminated physical archiving by using 115 fewer filing cabinets every year, resulting in an estimated savings of €4,500 per year based on the average price per square meter.

Bel Spain also automated the sending and archiving of electronic customer invoices. Invoices are now received quicker and easier, and never get lost. Duplicate copies can easily be printed if needed, there is greater invoice traceability and Bel Spain benefits from decreased days sales outstanding (DSO).

Accounts Receivable Benefits:

  • Invoices with electronic signatures are automatically generated from SAP.
  • Signed PDF invoices are automatically sent by email via Lotus Notes.
  • Electronic invoices are archived online, freeing-up physical space and decreasing associated costs.

Success Story: Accounts Payable and Farmland Foods

Increasing industry pressures have many food and beverage companies looking for ways to lower operational costs and gain leverage with suppliers. The expense and inefficiency of keying in, verifying and approving vendor invoices manually make accounts payable automation a popular way to modernise AP processing, reduce costs and improve vendor relations.

International pork processing company Farmland Foods processes about 30,000 invoices every month. That’s an awful lot of paper to push via outdated manual processes. AP operations were frustratingly slow, and the accuracy rate wasn’t where it should have been for a company of Farmland’s standing. Invoices were stored in paper files in an inconvenient storage room, and employees were wasting too many hours printing invoices and manually re-entering them into SAP.

In 2014, the company decided to implement an automated AP system that integrates with SAP. As a result, the Farmland experienced tangible cost-savings.

Benefits:

  • Improved visibility. Managers now have access to key metrics, such as number of invoices to process, how far out they are, payment terms for discounts, etc.
  • Easier access to invoices. Instead of tracking down invoices in a file room, Esker allows users to access them via document numbers to easily email/print a copy online.
  • Faster freight processing. Esker helped Farmland reduce its “out period” for freight invoices from a deadline-pushing 14 days to just two days.
  • Cost savings. Fewer manual processing tasks allowed Farmland to save on costs equal to three FTEs, and reallocate current staff to projects offering greater value.
  • Faster invoice entry time. Where the invoice entry goal for Farmland’s AP staff used to be 150-200 invoices per day, they are now achieving over 400 invoices per day.
  • Fewer outstanding accruals. Faster invoice entry times have enabled Farmland to reduce the number of outstanding AP accruals by $8 million.
  • Increased discounts. When comparing the last six months to the six months prior to automation, Farmland estimates it has gained an additional $29,815 in discounts.

 

EDI Made Easier Through Automation

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) came onto the scene as an antidote to the traditional cumbersome and error-prone ways of manually moving business documents between partners. Before EDI, documents in the order purchasing process, such as invoices, purchase orders and receipts, were exchanged through emails, faxes or traditional mail. This required human effort on each end inputting the data and handling document transmission. As with most manual systems, order processing was slow, inefficient and costly. Errors in data entry were commonplace and the processing could not keep up with the increasingly fast pace of modern business.

EDI digitized the process, removing most human intervention and paper from the equation. It made the document exchange a computer-to-computer event that accelerated processes, improved accuracy, increased document security and reduced costs. However, while EDI has been a great start in improving order purchasing process, it isn’t a panacea. It comes with its own set of complexities and challenges that can slow the system down and introduce inefficiencies. Businesses can turn to automated order processing management solutions to help address the myriad EDI exceptions that can impact data accuracy, bottom-line costs and business cycles.

This technology has been around for about three decades, and there are multiple EDI formats and standards, including XML, EDIFACT, ANSI and UBL. In order processing, EDI essentially involves taking the data that’s been entered into the system by the buyer and putting it through a series of translation, mapping and processing steps before an invoice is sent to the supplier. Within that process, there are multiple points at which errors and exceptions can occur, affecting accuracy, adding costs and throwing speed bumps into the system. We have found that up to a third of EDI orders can contain exceptions. Errors can range from incorrect pricing or promotion codes to invalid material numbers to missing segments, and addressing them can be time-consuming and expensive. For example, about 30 percent of shipments are received with an advanced shipping notice (ASN), which can cost a company as much as $178 per purchase order to process.

The complexity of EDI means that when an exception occurs, customer service representatives (CSRs) often have to bring in the IT team to figure out the order and fix the problem. Essentially the company is paying two people to handle a single problem.

Those exceptions also have a ripple effect throughout the entire supply chain, where there are so many stakeholders involved — not only the CSR, IT team and management, but everyone from the supplier to the customer. Any slowdown caused by inaccuracies and inefficiencies in any part of the supply chain can have a domino effect throughout. It can damage business partner relationships and result in lost profits or lost business. EDI has helped digitize the entire order purchasing process, but complexity, challenges and exceptions remain.

Automated order processing solutions can help alleviate many of the problems caused by EDI exceptions. It can ensure the accuracy, efficiency and security of the system and remove the need for manual intervention. An order processing automation solution essentially becomes an overlay of the EDI system and the central place where every order is processed. That includes the orders received not only through the EDI system, but also via email, fax, paper or any other route, with the orders sent to the right CSR and all the purchase order data collected and used to create a sales order in the ERP system.

These automated solutions make every order readable to humans and provides full visibility and control over every order. Purchase orders can come to the trading partner through the EDI system, but, at the same time, they can come separately via other avenues. It’s often up to the CSR — and at times the IT staff — to remedy any discrepancies. With a best-of-breed automation solution, the software brings all of that together in one place, can quickly determine if there is a problem with the order and provide feedback to the business partner if the order needs to be reworked and the problem addressed.

The handling of exceptions is also automated, which puts control back into the hands of the CSR and eliminates the need for an expensive IT professional to help resolve the issue. Now, the data from an EDI file is used to create a PDF, where discrepancies are not only quickly and easily flagged, but the automated solution can learn from previous situations to automatically correct recurring issues and remember changes that users have made in the past. This accelerates the process, increases efficiency and reduces the number of exceptions that need to be addressed. An automation solution can reduce EDI processing time by an average of four days over EDI systems where manual intervention is still needed.

Companies also gain greater visibility into the order process through customizable dashboards that enable users to track all orders in real time. For CSRs, this means being able to better manage SLAs, ensure the integrity of priority orders and see what orders are awaiting approvals, rather than having to sort through layers of data or use guesswork. Managers can use the tool to view long-term performance forecasts and anticipate staffing needs.

Relationships with trading partners are further strengthened, in part by enabling CSRs to not only process orders through the automated solution, but also to track and address customer issues through the same interface. Problems are dealt with quickly, strengthening the relationship between the companies and freeing customer service representatives to spend more time working with customers. Automated solutions also include a self-service online portal to ensure instant communication between business partners and give customers an always-available online place to access order information and address issues as they arise.

Onboarding new customers is simplified through an intelligent and easy-to-use mapping tool, and automation solutions can easily be configured to work with existing EDI or ERP infrastructures. Businesses don’t need to rip out and replace any systems in which they’ve already invested. Instead they can bring in an automated solution to improve the overall process.

EDI was a great start to improving the overall order purchase process, which for a long time has been a heavily manual — and thus slow and error-prone — operation. However, as with any process or rule, with EDI there are exceptions that have to be dealt with. Until now, managing EDI exceptions has meant more human intervention, by a CSR with few IT capabilities and by an IT professional without deep experience in business process models. Essentially, two people were needed to fix one problem. An automated order purchasing solution can address exceptions quickly and easily by ensuring that all orders go through a single system regardless of where they originated, granting CSRs full autonomy to EDI exception handling and offering customer-friendly features to build and cement trust in business relationships.