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AI Making an Impact in Enterprise Supply Chains

Businesses in multiple industries that adopted a proactive AI strategy for transportation and logistics saw profit margins of more than 5 percent, while those without such a strategy lost money.

Artificial intelligence has found solid footing in consumer devices and the retail space. Techniques like machine learning and natural language processing can be seen in personal digital assistants like Amazon’s Echo and recommendation engines used by Amazon and Netflix.

Now AI is rapidly gaining traction in the commercial space, from customer-facing call centers to back-office applications. It’s also reaching into the complex world of supply chain and logistics helping to: automate and streamline various functions, improve shipping times and order fulfillment, reduce costs and bolster profits. When machine learning is applied to inventory and supply and demand, forecasting becomes more accurate, warehouse management is improved by reducing under and overstocking and supplier management is made easier.

All of this means a better return for companies that use AI in the supply chain. According to a survey by BI Intelligence, supply chain and operations is the third most active area for the use of AI, with 42 percent of respondents seeing revenue gains from investments in the technology. Pointing to a McKinsey study, BI Intelligence noted that businesses in multiple industries that adopted a proactive AI strategy for transportation and logistics saw profit margins of more than 5 percent, while those without such a strategy lost money.

There’s still room to grow. In the same McKinsey survey, only 21 percent of transportation and logistics companies had deployed AI solutions at scale or in a core part of their businesses. The field is wide open.

What’s driving AI in the supply chain?

There is a convergence of forces driving the use of AI, not only in the supply chain but throughout the business world. Computing power continues to grow and become more cost effective, and machine learning algorithms are getting more sophisticated. The amount of data generated, particularly in logistics and supply chain, is skyrocketing. This is important, since it’s data fuels the AI machine.

With AI and machine learning, computers can quickly process and analyze these massive amounts of data to find patterns, define context and provide useful information to yield faster and better business decisions. As a result, risks are reduced, forecasting is improved, products are shipped more quickly and SLAs are met. Better shipping routes are found, and order tracking and fulfillment is improved. The end result is more satisfied customers.

While AI in supply chain management is still in the early stages, examples of how it’s being used is growing:

  • An article in the Harvard Business Review found that between 2004 and 2013, Amazon saw operational efficiencies improve and revenue jump 10-fold as the company grew the use of machine learning to help reduce fraud and bad debt and improve product delivery and supplier payments.
  • Splice Machine, which uses machine learning in its big data platform, is partnering with supply chain management technology vendor Intrigo Systems to create applications that will improve customers’ abilities to make better predictions in the supply chain.
  • Logistics firm DHL, in a report written with IBM, outlined multiple AI projects designed to make the company’s processes more predictive, automated and proactive. The company developed Resilience360, a cloud-based risk management platform for the supply chain to give organizations greater visibility into such operations as tracking shipments and monitoring events that could threaten supply chain disruptions. Other programs use AI algorithms and machine learning technologies to more accurately predict delays in airfreight and to look at millions of variables from different countries to better manage containerized ocean and airfreight shipment volumes.

“We believe the future of AI in logistics is filled with potential,” the DHL states. “As supply chain leaders continue their digital transformation journey, AI will become a bigger and inherent part of day-to-day business, accelerating the path towards a proactive, predictive, automated, and personalized future for logistics.”

There are still challenges that need to be met. Data needs to be better managed and easier to access, IT systems need to be updated and investments need to be made. In addition, employees need to be trained in AI and data science, and strategies need to be put in place to handle what happens when automation takes over jobs. Still, the benefits from applying AI and machine learning to SCM will be significant.

Adopting AI and machine learning

As executives begin to bring AI and machine learning into their supply chains, what should they keep in mind? Here are a few things:

  • Start small. Rather than trying to immediately apply the technologies to the entire supply chain operations, find specific pain points that need to be taken care of by AI capabilities. This can include using supply chain management software to automate processes that are now done manually – like invoicing and procurement – or addressing problems that drive up costs and inefficiencies, such as equipment failures or inventory management. Once those challenges are solved, expand the use of AI into other areas of the supply chain.
  • Clean up the data. Without good data, AI and machine learning won’t help operations. AI-based systems can’t think on their own – they need data to crunch. Companies want to ensure the data from their myriad tables and databases is accurate, complete and uniform. It will be coming from a range of systems, including ERP and CRM, so it needs to be tagged correctly. Clean data will mean greater confidence in the results created by the AI systems.
  • Pick the right vendor. AI is still an emerging technology, even though many vendors now are throwing around the terms “AI” and “machine learning” as easily as they once did “virtualization” and “cloud.” Finding the right technology partner is important. Can vendors explain how their products will improve your supply chain operations? Do they have services and support to back up their promises? Can they help identify what needs to be done and what skills are needed? Can they tell you the ROI on using their products? Companies need to do due diligence when picking vendors.
  • Tailor expectations. AI and machine learning hold a lot of promise to make SCM more efficient and cost-effective, but they aren’t cure-alls. Such systems can run through and analyze mountains of data to find patterns, offer greater visibility, provide insights and develop recommendations, but the decisions based on all the information ultimately rests with human beings. Companies need to work closely with vendors to ensure that the technology is being used in ways that will lead to the best outcomes.

We’re in the early stages of bringing AI into the supply chain, but already companies are embracing the technology and achieving results. Businesses need to begin their journey down this road, because those who use machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing and similar tools will see improved efficiencies and cost structures, gain greater business insights and be able to make better decisions more quickly. They will get a competitive advantage over those who don’t use AI. Executives just want to make sure that they’re patient and diligent in planning out the road forward. It’s a journey, so take each step as it comes.

As Worldwide Corporate Marketing and Product Management Director at Esker, Eric Bussy is responsible for the development of strategic products, services and solutions. Eric joined Esker in 2002 as Director of Marketing Communications, and in 2005, extended his responsibilities to include product management.


Capture Supply Chain Transparency Through Automation

It’s difficult to secure what you can’t see, which is why many argue that greater visibility is key to improving the security of corporate networks. Much the same can be said for improving transparency in modern supply chains, particularly ones as complex as those in the electronics industry. In an age of rapid digital transformation in almost every part of the business world and the blurring of the lines between the supply chain, sales, and customer experience, it’s imperative that managers see what is going on at every point in their supply chains.

They need to ensure that orders are being fulfilled correctly and as quickly as possible, that efficiencies are built into every step of the process – from the time the order is made through the interaction with the customer to the fulfillment of the order. A more efficient process can even mean more revenue. Forrester analysts in recent years have said that bumping the customer experience from below- to above-average can mean as much as $80 million in additional revenue.

In addition, the supply chain environment is seeing an influx of new technologies that promise to bring even more changes. Gartner analysts took a look at some of the key trends in the supply chain for 2018 and pointed to the growing use of new technologies to confront industry challenges. Supply chain mangers are adopting artificial intelligence to drive better decision making, predictive and prescriptive analytics for identifying new opportunities, and the Internet of Things to drive better asset utilisation and customer service, not to mention robotic process automation, immersive technologies and blockchain. These technologies all aim to make a complex situation even more fluid.

Just as employees quickly adopted the simple and responsive nature of their Apple or Android smartphones in their work environment, the customer experience is now being defined by the Amazon model – transparency in everything from price to products, a fast and easy ordering processing and speedy delivery of their orders. They can track their orders through delivery and get updates where their orders are.

Transparency is becoming increasingly critical to a business’ operations and applying automation to the supply chain holds the key to driving that transparency. Technologies like AI, robotics and blockchain all will contribute to automating parts of the process, but a fully automated supply chain solution is needed to enable the transparency that is demanded by customers, and that will help customer service representatives (CSRs) better serve their needs.

For customers, automated supply chain management software gives greater visibility into inventory and pricing, which is particularly important for an electronics industry that has had more than its share of price fluctuations and subsequent evolutions of its cost structures. They can better plan their costs and streamline their ordering process, including submitting orders in whatever form they choose, whether it’s through an electronic data interchange (EDI) system, via a fax machine, in an email or over the telephone. By enhancing supply chain visibility, customers can get real-time information about their orders and when they can expect delivery of the products.

Customer service representatives also have better visibility into the order, which enables them to fulfill the order more quickly and with fewer corrections or errors. Artificial intelligence takes data from an EDI order and translates it so people can read it, making verification of the information faster and easier for customer service representatives (CSRs), who can also correct errors and send the order to the fulfillment centers more quickly.

In addition, customisable dashboards help them gain more insight into the customers and their orders and set and track key performance indicators (KPIs). In the end, what’s achieved with supply chain automation solutions is a more visible and transparent supply chain that enables customers to more easily submit and track orders, for organisations to accurately gauge the performance and ROI of their supply chain automation tools and for CSRs to better serve their customers, all of which translates to a stronger relationship between the vendor and its customers.



The Truth About Artificial Intelligence & Its Role in Business

In recent years, there have been amazing advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. From the use of ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft to more complicated (and a little creepy) examples like the robot Sophia.

Most people don’t realize how common AI is and that they use it every day. In fact, when discussing its applications, many people get scared and automatically think of scenes from movies like “I, Robot” or “Terminator” — others get excited thinking of scenarios closer to The Jetsons. Neither are wrong, per se, but both are pretty far-fetched.

The Truth About AI

It’s not scary, I promise. It’s actually a pretty incredible technological revolution that we are witnessing. We’ve got a front-row seat to technology that becomes smarter by itself rather than relying on humans to continually program it. And no, I don’t mean smarter like take-over-the-world smarter. By smarter, I mean learning what it should be doing or could be doing better and then achieving that.

A few examples of commonly used AI tools are:

  • Spam filters: They continuously learn what messages to mark as spam based on machine-learning algorithms that take into account words in the message, where it’s sent from, who sent it, etc.
  • Mobile check deposits: Offered by most large banks, this technology relies on AI and machine learning to decipher and convert handwriting on a check into text.
  • Facebook: That nifty feature that identifies people in your pictures uses AI to power facial recognition software.
  • Voice to text: A standard feature on smartphones, speech-recognition systems that transcribe your words into text require … say it with me now … AI.

See? Not so scary.

How It Benefits Business

With how much AI benefits our daily lives, it should come as no surprise that it is also beneficial in the workplace. Heck, we already use some of the tools mentioned above to help us in the workplace. But how exactly does AI promote better business?

  • It allows staff to focus on what’s important. Rather than focusing on menial tasks that don’t add value to the organization, employees can skip to the activities that do. For example, instead of manually organizing and entering documents, an automated solution allows staff to focus on serving customers.
  • It creates greater efficiency. Thanks to its ability to learn over time and take over tedious tasks, greater efficiency is achieved.
  • It empowers customers. Self-service options are often powered by AI technology, emboldening customers to do things themselves — something that most customers prefer.

In the next five years, investment in AI and human-machine collaboration is estimated to boost revenues by 38% (Accenture). Will you be one of the companies profiting from it?

Top Tips for a Successful Implementation: Advice from Esker Customers

So you’ve done it. You’ve made your case, convinced the higher-ups, and have finally decided to implement a document process automation system that will help propel your company’s digital transformation journey. Congrats!

Now what?


Preparing to go-live with any new software solution can often be a stressful period that seems to take far longer than it actually should. We try to make the implementation process for our customers as easy and painless as possible, but it always help to have aligned expectations and goals. So we asked some of our current customers, both new and old, about what they wish they would have known back when they started their implementation. Ready to take notes? Here’s what they said.

Phase One

“Make sure the needs of the company are mapped out.  Know what you want as a final product.” – Dan

“Build your solution for the future – if there are possibly different order types, scenarios or acquisitions that may happen in the future, plan for them.” – John

“Make sure everything is flexible that can be flexible. That way if you change your mind/policy/procedure you don’t have to try to change functionality at a later point.” – Kelli

“Find a company that uses the same software you use and see if there are tips and information that can be shared to help with the implementation.” – Susan (our Esker All Access customer hub is a great place for this!)

Phase Two

“Use a smaller group of SMEs to get Esker implemented. Then have those SMEs translate the process into your business practices and teach everyone else. Too many people trying to get involved from the start can slow the implementation process.” – Eric

“Allow Auto Learn to do its part.  Give it time and try not to rely on Teach.” – Candie

“Test everything! Every possible situation!” – Heather

Phase Three and Beyond

“Customizations aren’t as big of a deal as you would think they are.  A lot of major and minor adjustments were easily implemented by Esker in our early increments!!”- Krystle

“Always keep your options open and go with the Agile approach to implementing a solution. You never know, you may be satisfied with less…” – Chris, Sales Guy

“With Esker Order Entry, we were well prepared by the Esker team to focus on change management and by “seeding” some experts (power users/trainers) in the rollout group.  It was very good advice.  We put a rollout schedule together that, as it turned out, was unnecessarily conservative.  We accelerated the rollout when we realized that the prep work we did was well executed.  We are bringing up our second business now and – being more confident – we will plan for a more rapid deployment with this one.” – Tom

“We would do less teaching up front and inspect early on for consistency in processing with reps. We have since explained to reps that working in Esker is like having a four year old from that Rodney Atkins song; ‘I’ve been watching you dad, ain’t that cool?…I wanna be like you…I wanna do everything you do, so I’ve been watching you.’ Esker wants to do everything we do and be like us. If we do something wrong, Esker will learn wrong. If we are inconsistent, Esker will be inconsistent. In the Rodney Atkins song, the four year old learns a four-letter word from his dad and it shocks him. When Esker does something wrong, we need to examine our actions in Esker and look for improvement in accuracy and consistency.”  – Titia

With the right amount of training, collaboration, and organizational buy-in, a software implementation and the corresponding results can be the best thing that has happened to your business. And of course, having a reason to throw a Go Live party never hurts either.

Thinking about implementing a new software system? Click here to learn more about Esker!

Today’s a Good Day for Automation

Most companies face a wait time receiving customer payments that could range anywhere from 30 to 90 days to even longer. Payment delays not only cause anxiety for the collections management team, but they impact your cash flow. The bottom line is simple — the more quickly you collect your accounts receivable (AR), the better your cash flow situation will be.

You have undoubtedly heard about or have automated certain business processes already. By automating wherever possible, you’re looking where you can leverage technology to compliment your existing ERP or finance solution, and reduce labor-intensive administrative tasks, thus operating much more efficiently in the process. AR automation transfers invoicing to a digital process, sets you up to receive multiple forms of payment, handles what is usually labor-intensive deductions, accurately applies cash, and captures and prioritises collections efforts. In addition, AR automation allows you to:

  • Create customer invoices based on your company’s data or simply upload an ERP created file of invoice PDFs to send and track electronically or via postal mail
  • Send automated reminders for payment

Finally, AR automation also supports numerous types of collections strategies and is set up for internal collectors based on the collections rules and approach unique to your company.

The benefits of AR automation are numerous and impossible to ignore after you have experienced them firsthand. Here are the main reasons to consider implementing this year:

  1. Faster Payments
    If you’re accustomed to dealing with clients who tend to pay your invoices at their leisure, then you’re not alone. This is just one of many reasons to consider automating your AR processes as soon as possible. The enormous benefit of automation is that e-invoices are made available for customers to pay immediately. This eliminates delays in payment that might have previously been common. AR automation can help you speed up your invoicing so you get faster payment.
  1. Improved Customer Experience
    A benefit of AR automation is an enhanced customer experience. Your team is better able to focus on more strategic and detail-oriented tasks. When it comes to AR-related customer data, you know the more you can do to merge things for greater visibility, the better customer service you can provide. When it comes to inaccurate invoices or collections issues, AR automation technology allows you to quickly address any issues that may arise. By implementing technology in your AR processes, you are giving yourself a valuable tool that allows you to provide stronger customer service. Because of this enhanced customer experience, you can expect improved customer retention and a decrease in customer service-related problems.
  1. Cost Savings
    Studies have shown that e-invoicing saves approximately $8 per invoice sent. This cost reduction might come as a surprise. However, the decrease reflects cost savings in several areas, such as postage costs, manual handling of paper invoices, cost of paper, envelopes, and equipment used in the printing and posting process. By implementing invoice delivery automation, your company can cut costs where you never could before. In time, the sizeable cost savings will be worthwhile to leverage technology to your benefit.
  1. More Control & Visibility
    Another benefit of AR automation is the added control and visibility you and your team will gain. Invoicing and international e-invoice compliance, automated payment reminders, online customer payment, automatic cash application, collectors outreach and workflow, and capturing dispute reasons are just a few of the AR automation functions that allow real-time visibility and reporting. Improved visibility provides insight you and your team can act on.

You may still have reservations about making the switch. The manual processes you’ve always known feel comfortable and familiar. Change can sometimes be scary. Look at automation technology as something that can easily be adapted to your business needs. Opt for software that’s simple, intuitive and closely matches how you already do business. Consider automating your AR and collections process — it’s a more predictable and repetitive sequence of activities that provides benefits from end to end.

Automation Software Improves EDI in Electronics

It wasn’t that long ago that moving business documents between a company and its partners or customers was a complex, time-consuming, and cumbersome process. It was a highly manual effort, with documents from purchase orders and invoices to receipts and payments exchanged through such means as emails, faxes, and traditional mail. On each end were humans inputting the data into their computing systems and handling the transmission of the documents. And as with most manual processes, it was slow, inefficient, costly, and error-prone. Mistakes in data entry were common and the pace of processing the documents could not keep up with a modern business environment that was moving at increasingly fast speeds.

Enter electronic data interchange (EDI). EDI began coming onto the scene about three decades ago, promising to move the business of processing documents from a manual to a digital one. It shifted the equation by making the exchanging of business documents a computer-to-computer process rather than a manual one. Accuracy and efficiency improved, processes accelerated, costs were reduced and security increased. In a fast-moving and volatile market like electronics, EDI was a breath of fresh air.

That said, for all the improvements EDI made in the document exchange process, it hasn’t been a cure-all for everything that ails the semiconductor industry and how business is done there. Even with EDI, there are still complexities and challenges that can slow down the system and create inefficiencies. There are multiple EDI formats and standards – EDIFACT, ANSI, XML and UBL, to name a few – and the process involves running data entered in a system by one organisation and running it through a series of translation, mapping and processing steps, where multiple points of error and exceptions lurk that can introduce costs, create inefficiencies and be a drag on the system.

When exceptions occur, customer service representatives (CSRs) often have to call in the IT team to fix the issue, which means the company is paying two people to manage a single problem. Exceptions also can have a domino effect up and down the supply chain and the myriad stakeholders involved and can damage relationships between an organisation and its partners. For a rapidly changing electronics industry that sensitive to pricing and revenue fluctuations, EDI exceptions can make life that much more difficult.

This is where automated order processing software can help alleviate many of the problems stemming from EDI exceptions. Solutions that integrate with an already existing EDI can help reduce the costs that come with EDI exceptions, simplify how formats and systems are managed and complement an existing EDI infrastructure. An order processing automation solution acts as an overlay of the EDI system, translates orders into a human-readable form and ensures that there is full visibility and control over every order.

With such EDI integration solutions, the handling of exceptions also is automated and can be resolved by the CSR, eliminating the need for an expensive IT professional to fix a problem.

Using automated order processing solutions can help with EDI orders and exceptions in multiple ways:

  • EDI orders can be treated and processed like any other order, like fax, email or paper. In addition, invoices can be sent through whatever channel and transport protocol – like AS2 or SFTP – the customer prefers.
  • CSRs have greater control and visibility over not only the orders but also the customer and partner relationships. They can verify and make corrections to orders, start the workflow, better manage SLAs and orders, and spend less time on paperwork and more time working directly with customers and partners.
  • Efficiencies are improved, and costs are reduced. With an order processing automation solution, the time spent processing EDI orders is reduced by an average of four days over when there are manual steps in the process. According to one company, the introduction of order processing software reduced its order processing time by 50% and kept an accuracy rate of 99.5%.
  • By reducing the amount of human intervention in the process and the errors that come with manual intervention, order processing automation improves the security of the data that is passing between an organisation and its customers and partners.

EDI was a significant step forward in streamlining the processing of exchanging business documents and was an improvement in electronics business software. It moved the dial on the digitisation of order processing and management, reducing many of the challenges that come with manual processing. But there were still inefficiencies, complexities and exceptions involved with EDI, many of which can be addressed through the use of order processing automation solutions to improve and complement EDI infrastructure.



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.


Smart Thermostats, Machine Learning, and … Your Orders?!

Machine learning … It’s the buzzword everyone is selling but what the heck does it actually mean?

Allow me to illustrate. My fiancé and I just built a house, exciting times! Being the techie I am, we had to retrofit it to be the complete smart home. One of my first purchases was a smart thermostat that touts machine learning and how it will save you money. Sound familiar?

After being zapped hooking the thing up (note to self: turn off the power before messing with the wires) I had a brand-new thermostat. The first day I found myself tweaking it every now and then. Of course, it had no idea that I liked to sleep cold. I adjusted it and turned it down before bed the first few nights. Sure enough, the thermostat started adjusting itself and kicking in exactly when I wanted it to. When I checked the app during the day it knew I was not home and turned itself off. Not bad!

What’s actually happening?

When I hooked this thing up, I started with a clean slate. Every adjustment I made or didn’t make started compiling data in the background. Every minute it’s recording that temperature and building out a repository of my preferences and making recommendations for me. Once I taught the machine that I liked to sleep cold every night, it saved that data and every night at 9 p.m. it turned the heat off. The machine was getting smarter as I used it. It was using my preferences and changes to build predictable habits over time.

Enough about the thermostats … what does this have to do with orders?

Great point, let’s tie it all together. Imagine that same story but instead of your temperature preferences imagine your orders. Similar to how my thermostat turns off when I’m not there, an AI (Artificial Intelligence) engine knows keywords and general areas to pull data on orders. There are immediate efficiency gains.

Imagine that troublesome customer. They send in different item numbers every time and their order format always changes. Similar to how I like to sleep cold (that’s saying something in a Wisconsin winter) that’s not something my thermostat could predict off the bat. But after adjusting it the first few nights, the thermostat remembered that tweak and made it moving forward.

Real world example

Back to that troublesome customer that sends in manufacturers SKU’s or their own item numbers on every order. When that order comes in and you change the item number to your own internal item, AI starts to build out that correlation and every time you receive that SKU, it will automatically make the change moving forward!

Previous technology required data to be in a certain spot on the document or, even worse, a specific template. Machine learning remembers where the data is in every single order and allows customers to send in orders without changing a thing.

Moral of the story

A few months in, I’m so happy with my smart thermostat that I’m promoting it on a company blog. It’s running on autopilot and making changes for me automatically. It’s saving me money by turning off when I’m not home and saving me time by never having to touch it.

Other folks can gain the same advantages in order management by leveraging a (you know what I’m about to say) AI-driven solution. Instead of “tweaking the thermostat all day” it empowers customer service teams to focus on what matters — your customers — while saving your company big bucks.

How Girl Scouts Can Help You Grow Your Business (No Excuses)

I was at the grocery store a couple weeks back shopping for the necessities. After checkout, I headed for the exit and there was a table of Girl Scouts selling their cookies. Since I was a kid, there hasn’t been a year that has gone by that I haven’t bought some Thin Mints, Caramel Delights or another one of their fantastic cookies. Of course, they still come around and sell door to door, but grocery store stands have become a popular set up for their business. When you come to their table you can’t resist purchasing a box or two or three …

Unfortunately, with just $5 in cash in my wallet, I only purchased one box. This is not an uncommon occurrence, since I hardly ever have cash on me and usually pay for everything with a credit card. These days, it seems that just about every restaurant or business accepts credit cards as payment, with the exception of the rare business out there that still does not want to make the switch.

After purchasing my box of Caramel Delights, I thought to myself that if they accepted credit cards, I would have probably purchased multiple boxes. According to a 2014 report by Bankrate and Princeton Survey Research Associates International, 50% of Americans carry $20 or less every day, and 9% don’t carry cash at all.

A couple days later I ran across an online article about Girl Scouts who were accepting credit cards via the payment company Square. In the article, Square was excited about the opportunity, saying: “We love when sellers use Square in creative ways. As you can imagine, their customers are equally as excited that they don’t have to carry cash anymore.” A mother of a Girl Scout added: “I think 90% of people who weren’t carrying cash turned around and bought something when they heard we took credit cards.” Also in this article, there were a few Twitter users sharing their excitement:

  • “Girl Scouts take payment by Square now. The future is here and my account is devastated”
  • “Girl Scouts are hip now with the Square so they can force me to pay no matter what”
  • “Girl Scouts operating with Square is one of the better things that’s ever happened in the cookie game”

With this in mind, think about how you are currently accepting payments from your customers. Are you offering them a way to pay online? Giving your customers the option to pay securely on their own terms, just like the Girl Scouts did, makes you easier to do business with.

Novatech Group Selects Esker to Automate Its Order Management and Accounts Payable Process

Sydney, Australia — January 31, 2018Esker, a worldwide leader in document process automation solutions and pioneer in cloud computing, today announced it has signed an agreement with Novatech Group, a leading Quebec manufacturer of doorglass, patio doors, steel doors, retractable screens and insulated glass, to automate its order management and accounts payable (AP) processes.


Esker’s Order Processing and Accounts Payable automation solutions will integrate with Novatech’s Oracle® E-Business Suite ERP system. Once implementation is complete, Novatech estimates it will be automating 11,500 total documents (sales orders and supplier invoices) each month through Esker.

Order management project

Novatech receives approximately 7,000 sales orders each month from customers, mostly via fax and email. Previously, the company’s process for managing these orders was heavily reliant on its team of Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) performing manual tasks. Received orders would have to be printed or collected (depending on arrival method), then hand-entered into Oracle and scanned for archiving purposes. This led to a lot of wasted time and energy, along with an increase in order backlogs and entry errors — issues that were only amplified during seasonal peaks.

According to Hélène Marcoux, customer service manager at Novatech Group, the old process was getting in the way of the department’s primary objectives. “Our goal has always been to be proactive and productive in customer interactions and keying in orders wasn’t helping,” she said. “With Esker, we’ll be able to improve the overall service we’re providing our customers. From a cost-saving standpoint, it will also help us reduce overtime hours and our reliance on temporary seasonal hires to manage spikes in order volume.”

Another benefit of order processing automation is the added visibility the solution brings. Esker’s solution is equipped with intelligent dashboards displaying live metrics and KPIs customisable by user. Eric Castonguay, operations manager at Novatech Group, considers this feature to be highly advantageous, saying: “As a manager, I need to have KPIs to see what orders are coming and going and, ultimately, prevent any issues from slowing down the operation. I’m so glad we found Esker!”

Accounts payable project

On the AP side of its business, Novatech had been experiencing similar inefficiencies as a result of manual processing. Each month, the company’s team of AP specialists are tasked with managing about 4,500 supplier invoices. The amount of paper invoices being passed around, combined with the overall lack of visibility, made for a chaotic, decentralised environment.

“Automating invoices in Esker is going to make a significant impact on our success as an AP department,” said Sonia Dumont, corporate controller at Novatech Group. “Before, there was really no way to tell where an invoice was, how long it had been there or what specialists were busier than others. Esker gives us that visibility. What’s more, we’ll no longer be missing out on early payment discounts. That’s a huge value.”

About Novatech Group

Novatech Group is a Québec company with 35 years of experience that manufactures entrance doors, doorglass, patio doors, retractable screens and custom sealed glass. Offering high quality products designed to improve the customer’s residential experience, with a range of architectural products for the residential market, Novatech Group’s development encompasses the pursuit of excellence, automation and innovation at all levels of the company. Novatech operates 13 ultra-modern plants across Canada, the United States and Europe, and its products are distributed internationally.