[INFOGRAPHIC] SIT BACK AND RELAX WITH THE PERFECT AP PROCESS

If you’re looking for a way to improve productivity, financial management, and overall AP performance, kick back and sip on this perfect AP cocktail.  Afterwards, have a look at our AP Buyer’s Guide and discover the 15 key questions to ask when scoping out an automation solution for vendor invoice processing.

IS YOUR SALES ORDER ENTRY PROCESS AFFECTING YOUR DAYS SALES OUTSTANDING?

Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) is one of those key indicators that ultimately indicates how streamlined your order management process is — how quickly your product or service gets to your customer and how efficiently they pay you. There are many areas within an organization’s process that can affect this.

I’ve seen companies shave 3-5 days of DSO just by switching from paper/mailed invoices to electronic invoice delivery. However, recently, I’ve been learning just how much DSO can improve even more. One notable area of focus is the sales order entry process — a process that, if not working efficiently, can negatively affect customer service and DSO.

I had the privilege of sitting in on a presentation by Adrian Posteraro titled:  “Overcoming the Negative Business Impacts of a Manual CS Work Environment”. Adrian’s background is quite impressive with 27 years at MEDRAD and heading up Global Customer Support and Global Customer Satisfaction, as well as being responsible for maintaining Business Excellence and Regional Field Service. It’s safe to say that Adrian is more than qualified to speak on behalf of his experiences.

MEDRAD Sales Order Environment Before Esker

MEDRAD previously had a 100% manual sales order entry process, with orders taking anywhere from 7-10 minutes to be fully entered into the ERP system. Aside from the burnout of customer service agents, there were some particular manual sales order entry processes that affected customer service, and, most notably, DSO.

MEDRAD was dealing with backlogged order processing, and missing same-day shipping requests. Order entry errors were creating issues with getting invoices paid, resulting in rebills/re-invoicing. Additionally, the collection department was spending excess time chasing down payments. MEDRAD needed to improve the sales order entry process to mitigate these issues to improve customer satisfaction and DSO.

Sales Order Processing Automation with Esker

What happens when you automate your sales order entry process with Esker? You achieve world-class results! Esker customers consistently see their order entry error rates decline, (i.e., less rebilling/re-invoicing) and backlogged order entry disappear since orders are getting out the door faster and more accurately (i.e., invoices get paid faster).

Which brings us back to square one — improved DSO — which I started out by describing it as one of the key indicators that helps determine how healthy and efficient your order management process is. Now that your gears are turning, what benefits would automating your sales order entry process help your company realize? Leave your comments below!

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.

Trek Bicycle Reduces DSO Thanks to Esker’s Global Collections Management Solution

Sydney, Australia — April 10, 2018 — Esker, a worldwide leader in document process automation solutions and pioneer in cloud computing, today announced that Trek Bicycle, the largest bicycle company in the United States, has automated its global collections management process using Esker’s cloud-based solution powered by TermSync technology. The initiative went live in March 2017 and is currently being released to Trek customers in Europe and the United Kingdom. 

Trek has 16 international distribution centers and 5,000 independent bicycle dealers around the world, with 60 percent of its business coming from abroad. With Esker, the company finally has a global collections management solution, utilised by 32 collectors in 18 offices worldwide, to streamline critical accounts receivable (AR) activities such as payment reminders, account lookups, call logging, customer portal payments, collections forecasting, root-cause analysis and task management collaboration.

“We didn’t have a standardised collections tool before Esker,” said Andrew St Clair, global director of financial services at Trek Bicycle. “Everyday tasks, like sending reminder letters, were all done manually. We made it work, but there was no real consistency in our process. It was crucial that we had a true global solution and the other credit and collections vendors just didn’t have Esker’s international expertise.”

In an effort to meet its customer’s needs, Esker partnered closely with Trek to translate the interface into 14 different languages and even helpedin the design of a more user-friendly statement to send to customers. “Our worldwide rollout was a huge deal, and Esker kept up with us every step of the way,” added St Clair. “It was a true partnership.”

Benefits of automated collections management

Following the implementation of Esker, Trek has achieved numerous benefits, including:

  1. Reduced past-due percentage by 4 percent
  2. Reduced Days Sales Outstanding (DSO)
  3. Improved collaboration — users can now go into
    dashboards have helped in my day-to-day work, giving me access to indicators that greatly facilitate my daily monitoring.”
  4. Enhanced visibility — customisable monthly management reports can be accessed directly from the dashboard
  5. Increased productivity — several staff members were able to be reallocated to more business-critical positons
  6. Higher satisfaction — customers now have access to a self-service portal to make payments, manage preferences and more

“The discipline that Esker drives in the credit and collections process is phenomenal,” said St Clair. “In my 20-plus years, it’s the best product I’ve ever used based on its simplicity and ease of navigating. Esker has been extremely well-received within the walls of Trek and even with our customers. Everything we thought we were doing right before … Esker’s simply made it better.”

About Trek Bicycle

Trek Bicycle is a global leader in the design and manufacture of bicycles and bicycling-related products and accessories. From Tour de France-winning road bikes to tricycles designed to introduce the next generation of riders to the possibilities of pedal-power, Trek has a bike for nearly every rider. Trek believes the bicycle can be a simple solution to many of the world’s most complex problems, including obesity, traffic congestion, and climate change, and is committed to breaking down the barriers that prevent people from using bicycles more often for daily transportation, recreation, and inspiration.

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.

Debunking the Myths of Sales Order Processing Automation

“We are already automated” is a common phrase many manufacturers and suppliers say consistently when I first start talking with them. At first, I was blown away by how quickly so many companies were adapting to this new digital order processing technology, but as conversations continued this proved to be incorrect.

For many organizations, being automated refers to back-end processes once a sales order is entered into the ERP system. For example: sending out a confirmation email with ship date, determining if a customer is in good standing with credit, ensuring stock is available, etc.

While it’s fantastic to have as much automated as you can on the back end, what about the front end? Would it be useful to have your orders automatically routed to the right person and no longer have to print or file them away? What improvements could come from customer service if they no longer had to manually key in all those sales orders that come in each day? Would it help supply chain performance if they had full visibility to all orders before they got into your ERP?

Some companies think they are automated because they use EDI. At face value, this makes sense. The EDI order comes in, seamlessly feeds into your ERP (i.e., no one sees or touches it) and your front end is 100% automated — awesome! Unfortunately, this is essentially a myth all of its own.

Companies can’t get 100% of their customers to send in EDI orders. There will always be those customers who prefer email or even fax. Even for those customers who are willing to send in EDI orders, it’s practically an IT project to simply get each customer onboarded; even then, companies typically still need to “touch” some of the EDI orders because they fail out. Also, for many organizations, it’s left up to IT and their already-strained resources to determine why the EDI order failed.

So … just how automated are you with EDI? For each company the answer will be different but, regardless, you will still have some fax and email orders coming in, and you will still have to manually touch at least some of the EDI orders. Could it be helpful to have a solution that can take in EDI exceptions, flip them into a human-readable format, and allow customer service to fix and handle the EDI errors? What if IT no longer had to onboard new EDI customers — could this be beneficial?

A funny thing happened as all these questions were being asked. Organizations who thought they were very well automated started realizing there were still many manual touch points in their process in need of automation. As digital order processing technology continues to advance, it now offers organizations the opportunity to revolutionize their customer service teams while, at the same time, removing the burden of EDI away from IT.

So, the next time someone brings up sales order processing automation, don’t be afraid to dig below the surface, you may be surprised just how helpful a solution like this could be.

You’re Trying to Manage What With Your Email System?

automated business process

3,352

That’s how many messages currently reside in my inbox at the start of this blog. I am not ashamed nor proud of this stat, but it’s a fact. I’m envious of those that can manage their mailbox like it’s a task or to-do list but, as much as I’ve tried, this simply hasn’t worked for me for a variety of reasons. And I know I’m not alone in this.

Many strategies have evolved over the years for me to efficiently find and manage my inbox. Key word in that last sentence…evolved.

New technology is great, but as it becomes more established in our everyday lives, both personally and professionally, it can morph into a solution it was never intended to address.

Email is not a workflow tool, business automation or document repository.

Organizations have come to me to optimize a variety of business processes that currently reside in their email system…sales order management, help desk tickets, master data requests, invoice approval, customer issue resolution — the list goes on and on.

Regardless of the process, where’s the visibility? Who has it, when did they receive it, what is the status, where does it need to go to next, how long did it take and why isn’t it completed?

No matter what industry you are in or department you report to you probably have encountered something similar.

As more and more emails are received, the potential for information being lost, misplaced, accidentally deleted, or unintentionally ignored increases.

This post is not a magic pill that is going to solve your overwhelming inbox. It is simply a statement that there are many great tools developed to help streamline business processes such as:

  • Accounts Payable Automation
    Allows businesses to eliminate the manual pains of traditional AP invoice processing thanks to intelligent capture, touchless processing and electronic workflow capabilities. The end result? A simpler, more efficient way to manage cash flow and generate new revenue.
  • Order Processing Automation
    Automation with workflow tools, customizable dashboards and self-service portals allowing customer service leaders to bring accuracy and security to every order processed and can eliminate backlogs from one day to the next.
  • Accounts Receivable Automation
    Completely automates the sending and archiving of invoices according to customer preferences and regardless of media type – postal mail, fax, email, EDI and publication on a web portal.

Now, it’s just a matter of doing your research to find the right automation tool for what you are trying to manage that best suits your organization’s requirements.

3,361…time to get back my email.

Property Brokers – Improving supplier invoice processing with cloud-based accounts payable automation

BACKGROUND

Property Brokers, New Zealand’s leading provincial real estate brand, runs its entire accounts payable (AP) process out of its head office in Palmerston North. The company was manually handling the processing and approvals of its 1,200-1,300 monthly supplier invoices (for the head office and all the North Island regional branches). Unfortunately, the process was very paper-heavy and laborious and not a good use of time or resources.

Each invoice was scanned and emailed to the right branch or department for approval, and depending on the approval hierarchy, would sometimes need to go through as many as five approvers in the company. Each recipient printed the invoice, checked and authorised it for payment, applied the correct finance code, then signed and emailed back the re-scanned invoice copy. The accounting team at the head office would then print it out again and match it against the original invoice, before entering the data into the company’s Accredo accounting software. After ticking the invoice off on the master list, the invoice was finally filed.

This time-consuming process was both inefficient and error-prone. Data entry errors and payment duplications were numerous and the accounting team lacked real-time visibility of where an invoice was in the approval/payment cycle. It also made invoice handling slower and costlier than necessary.

The company knew it had to improve its overall invoice management process through automated capture of invoices and electronic matching and routing for approval, as well as reduce time and costs associated with manual matching, distribution of invoices and keying-in of information.

SOLUTION

It was time to modernise. Lee Waller, Property Brokers’ financial controller, was keen to find a better way to manage incoming invoices and expense claims handling. “I wanted an automated, simpler, faster and less labour-intensive system,” he said. So, the search was on. Property Brokers drew up a list of requirements and asked four potential partners to submit proposals.

Fuji Xerox New Zealand recommended Esker’s Accounts Payable automation solution as the perfect fit with the business. And, delighted with both the affordability and functionality of the solution, Property Brokers agreed.

The Fuji Xerox implementation team worked closely with Property Brokers’ finance team to configure Esker’s solution to reflect the company’s internal processes. From day one, Property Brokers were impressed with Fuji Xerox’s approach, which involved taking time to understand the business and get things right. The effort paid off and the go-live was a success.

Automating the invoice and expense approval process delivered instant results. The new level of consistent invoice coding provides an accurate picture of what the company is spending and where. Esker also gives branch and department managers a clearer view of their running expenses, which helps them eliminate unnecessary overheads.

Esker captures invoices from emails and uses intelligent Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to extract data from header and line level detail. It provides users with a friendly interface for invoice review and coding, a workflow engine to handle multi-level approval, reporting with dashboards, as well as archiving of images with the audit trail for further retrieval.

In addition to supporting Property Brokers’ technology strategy, Esker’s cloud-based solution makes invoice and expense information available to managers across New Zealand. Because invoices are now entered into the approval workflow as soon as they arrive, reviewing them has become a more manageable task for managers.

Thanks to AP automation, invoices are no longer scanned, printed, filed and manually matched. The AP team has been able to focus on more value-added tasks and keep pace with the growing business without the need to recruit more staff and monthly invoice close-off date has been reduced.

The Property Brokers team are enthusiastic about their new automated AP solution. Even the staff members who were initially nervous about such a dramatic change are now delighted to use the system. The company knew the project was a
success when they started receiving positive feedback from business users.

“I love Esker. We will see some major improvements to the bottom line in the coming months!”
Greg Kellick | Waikato regional manager

Read more:

Pelican Products, Inc. Improves Sales Order and Invoice Processing with Esker’s SaaS Solutions

Sydney, Australia — March 21, 2018 — Esker, a worldwide leader in document process automation solutions and pioneer in cloud computing, today announced it is working with Pelican Products, Inc., a leader in the design and manufacturing of protective cases, temperature-controlled packaging solutions, portable lighting systems and rugged gear, to automate its order management and accounts payable (AP) processes. 

Pelican chose Esker’s Order Processing and Accounts Payable automation solutions to streamline its processes, fill gaps in productivity, provide higher levels of visibility and allow for scalability within its business. Thanks to SAP-certified integration, orders and invoices are now electronically processed with machine-learning technology and automatically entered into the system.

Optimised order processing

Prior to using Esker, it took Pelican’s Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) up to thirty minutes to enter large, complex sales orders into the company’s SAP® system. Today, Pelican is processing fax, email and electronic data interchange (EDI) orders significantly faster, with order entry cycle times below 5 minutes which is a reduction of more than 80 percent.

“Esker gave us the most bang for the buck,” said Paul Sohn, director of business Applications at Pelican. “It provides a greater level of visibility over both the number of orders in the queue, as well as those entered into SAP. Our goal is same-day order entry, which Esker helps us achieve on a consistent basis.”

EDI order integration

With Esker’s solution, CSRs are now able to process EDI orders in the same workflow as fax and email orders — even those containing exceptions — without needing the IT department to correct issues. Delays due to EDI exceptions previously resulted in financial penalties for late shipments and reduced productivity for IT staff being pulled away to help fix errors. Pelican now benefits from streamlined processing of EDI orders, reducing processing time from what used to be days to just minutes.

Since implementing Esker, Pelican has been able to:

  • Reduce order entry time by more than 80 percent; from 30 minutes for complex orders to about five minutes
  • Maintain headcount; managing growing order volumes without adding staff
  • Accelerate delivery time; getting orders entered up to one day sooner to avoid late delivery fees
  • Improve visibility; custom dashboards and reports allow for 100 percent visibility on every order
  • Streamline order processing; all orders, even EDI, are routed through one shared workflow

Streamlined accounts payable

Like order management, Pelican’s previous AP invoicing process was also hampered by manual touch points. Slow processing times and lack of accountability over authorisations were two of the primary issues the company aimed to resolve. With Esker’s Accounts Payable solution, Pelican now has a more structured and transparent process for the accounting staff and management. This centralisation has allowed Pelican to respond to vendors more quickly and reduce the occurrence of late payments. Instead of searching through email or paper copies for invoices, they are now easily found in Esker’s solution.

“We can accrue invoices entered into Esker and see what’s been approved and what’s still pending,” explained Sohn. “The visibility it has brought to AP has made approvals easier and payments faster. It’s expedited the entire process — a major time-savings tool.”

About Pelican Products, Inc.

Pelican Products, Inc. is the global leader in the design and manufacture of high-performance protective cases, temperature controlled packaging solutions, advanced portable lighting systems and rugged gear for professionals and outdoor enthusiasts. Its products are used by professionals in the most demanding markets including fire/safety, law enforcement, defense/military, aerospace, entertainment, industrial and consumer. The company operates in 21 countries, with 22 international sales offices and six manufacturing facilities around the globe. In Europe, the company does business under the name Peli Products, S.L.U.

 

Center of Gravity

Recently, I came across an excellent blog from one of our partners, Intelestream. The post was about  Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and some things to consider when implementing a CRM solution. Something that really jumped out to me was what Intelestream referred to as the “Center of Gravity.” By this, they mean that in every business environment the workflow will revolve around two or three key pieces of software that have a huge impact on the business.

Where this can become a problem for a company is if the software being used is the wrong tool for the job. What can make it worse is that the longer employees have been using any software, the more resistant they are trying something new. This is true even if the new software solution is specifically designed for their business process and has obvious advantages. Changing the Center of Gravity within a department is not easy but it is an important consideration when looking to implement any new software application and ultimately improve how a department does business.

Here is an example. Many companies use Outlook for their email. This is a very effective tool for communicating, however, it is not always the right tool for the job. I have seen a number of companies that use a shared inbox to receive and manage orders that their customers send to them via email. Outlook is great but it was never designed to be a queue for processing incoming orders. There are limitations when you have the wrong tool as your department’s center of gravity. In this example, the critical information is on an attachment. It is not easy to search of a specific attachment or priorities orders. You may see hundreds of emails but how many are orders? How many customers asking for express shipping? Besides the limitations with any tool that is not designed for this specific business process, you also have limitations and the communication with other applications or interoperability. To learn more, check out the blog: 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Manage Your Business Process via Email.

If you are looking to improve operations within your company ask a department what is their Center of Gravity. Then ask yourself is that the right tool for the job? Consider what this department could accomplish if they had the proper tools for the job.