Tag Archives: automation

Building the Business Case for Digital Transformation of AP [Part 2]: 5 Key Points That Can Impact Project Success

Part 1 of Paul Tucker’s blog series on how to build a business case for accounts payable (AP) automation prompted me to share some trends that I’ve noticed over the last 20 years. In that time, I’ve seen leaders in finance and procurement both succeed and fail in getting projects funded, resourced and scheduled. In some cases, projects went ahead but there was a 3-7 year wait.

In Part 2, I go on to explore five key points surrounding this topic that have only grown more important over the last few years.

1) “No Brainer” Projects Still Need Bottom-Line Appeal for the C-Suite

In the book Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, Mahan Khalsa illustrates the benefit of breaking down the value of initiatives into time savings, dollar savings, and getting a sense of scale of importance from the top execs on a level of 1-5.

Projects are often decided based on emotion — the Shared Services Director may be passionate about this digital transformation initiative, however they still to need to take the time to list the savings that will come. For example, how many loaded FTE savings will come from absorbing growth or new acquisitions? Or from not having to hire or replace staff as they move on? What percentage of early pay discounts can be protected or realized for the first time if invoices are accelerated and approved in 1-2 days versus 10-20? Or, as more invoices are processed in a PO-like fashion and maverick spend is reduced, what is the value of better cost control and using the AP folks to research spend and buying patterns?

I’ve worked with CIOs who have commented that the AP automation project is a “no-brainer” in their mind — that’s when I know we need to team up to quantify when the savings will come. Because while many c-level folks are keen to launch a digital transformation project and they do want to free up their staff to do less mundane work that is beneficial to the P2P operation and employee morale, they need financial numbers to help them justify the project over other projects.

2) IT Resources — as Rare as Gold

It seems like over a decade since the norm was for companies to seek to build solutions themselves as the default. Today, most IT teams are stretched thin working on ERP upgrades, migrations, transport and warehouse management projects, or e-commerce initiatives, etc. One of the top reasons projects do not move forward is a lack of IT resources to work on the project. As Ardent Partners note in its 2018 research, common barriers to automation in purchase-to-pay (P2P) include lack of internal resources, lack of IT support and lack of a compelling business case.

A compelling business case will certainly help the leadership team influence the projects the CIO sanctions; after all, there may be 50-100 other projects the CIO is being asked to launch or support. And, even if the business is moving ahead with a “shadow IT” project, IT resources are needed to help with activities such as setting up security access for the vendor, replicating data, etc., pulling them away from other projects.

There is also a risk that if IT is not invited to be part of the project until later on, they may overestimate the effort that is really needed and could become defensive about getting another project dumped on them without an upfront conversation and time to strategize. Many IT Directors I talk to are overloaded on projects already and the thought of another one can be overwhelming and lead to push back/revolt. In some cases, I have seen that the expected effort can be cut in half by simply engaging with the IT folks early on, getting them up to speed, and providing simple, yet detailed project plans and resource requirements. With IT resources being as rare as gold nowadays, make sure the PMO and CIO understand when you want to use the resources and for how long — otherwise, they might assume you are trying to raid the bank!

3) Hitching a Ride on the “C Train”

They say that organizations going through pain or significant change are the ones that are more likely to invest and launch projects. In my experience, it seems that there’s often a trend, initiative or a directive that is a little like a train running through the organization. The trick is how can you get a seat on that train?

One of the most effective approaches I have seen procurement and finance folks use is to look at the projects that are going on and identify if their AP automation project might be seen as aligning with existing key business objectives. For example, many CIOs will regard P2P automation, order-to-cash (O2C) automation or simply cleaning up EDI exceptions as necessary steps of digital transformation. Alternatively, treasurers and CFOs may be seeking to extend their liquidity in order to make acquisitions or simply improve working capital and/or lower the weighted average cost of cash. I will often ask stakeholders how this initiative aligns with other key initiatives or approaches that their peers are working on or that the c-suite is keen on. Sometimes, those dots have not been connected and, yet, when they are, it’s amazing how fast your project can travel from the “idea stop to the approved stop.”

4) Efficiency & Savings Are Critical … But Execs May See Another Angle

I’ve worked on a number of AP automation projects where AP managers, directors, and finance leaders were focusing on one thing (e.g., efficiency savings, lowering invoice processing costs, duplicate prevention, etc.), yet the execs signing the project were endorsing the project for different reasons altogether. For example, we worked with a manufacturing company of doors and windows in the U.S. Its COO viewed the project as a means to scale and compete with a major competitor. While the COO was keen on efficiency savings, his goal for the project was different than that of the project team.

Sometimes, it has simply been that the CFO, after an ERP deployment or moving to your organization, may have lost the visibility of spend and cost controls they were was used to having and are willing to invest to get that control back. I’ve also seen c-suite offices move quickly when the average lead time to pay suppliers extends because they realize excellent customer experience extends through the supply chain. Organizations cannot afford to be put on credit hold or have raw materials restricted due to delays in approving supplier invoices.

5) Staying on Top of Market Trends

Last but not least, it’s my view that authorities in the market (e.g., Hackett Group, Gartner, Mckinsey, etc.) have a powerful influence on the c-suite and the direction of enterprise organizations as a whole. Currently, there is huge interest and focus in projects that will harness technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and Robotic Process Automation (RPA), especially if those projects can be shown to help the CFO: lower costs, prevent fraud, take advantage of early payment discounts, harness supply chain finance, or eliminate the costs of check payments. Therefore, it’s worth looking at market trends and describing your proposed P2P initiative in the right language.

One of the false assumptions in the market is that the sales rep providing AP automation can rustle up a business case that will ensure your project gets a rapid green light. Instead, I think good reps should help you identify areas that may need more research and to calculate the value that will come in terms of time, money and overall strategic value of a project. The real selling takes place when the rep has left — it is the P2P teams that need to discuss the project and effectively understand internal drives and initiatives, and carefully maneuver and sell the project to a consensus group.

At Esker, I feel our team can certainly help you generate ideas for the business case and also identify the common roadblocks and issues that often need to be onboard to ensure your project doesn’t get derailed.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, where Paul Tucker will pick back up where he left off after Part 1, covering how to identify your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and calculate ROI.

Delicato Family Vineyards Chooses Esker’s Accounts Payable Solution to Facilitate Growing Invoice Volumes in an SAP® Environment

Sydney, Australia — October 15, 2018 — Esker, a worldwide leader in AI-driven process automation solutions and pioneer in cloud computing, today announced that Delicato Family Vineyards, one of the fastest growing wine companies in the United States over the past five years, has selected Esker to automate its accounts payable (AP) invoicing process. Esker’s Accounts Payable automation solution was chosen for its easy-to-use interface, robust capabilities and direct integration with SAP® systems.

Approximately 75 percent of the invoices Delicato manages are non-purchase order invoices, with a large majority of those arriving into a centralised email address. With Esker, those invoices will now be automatically entered into an electronic workflow — eliminating virtually all of the manual printing, scanning, coding and routing activities that had previously been a part of Delicato’s AP invoicing process.

Read the full press release here.

 

Esker Strengthens Its Purchase-to-Pay Solution with New PunchOut Catalog Feature

Sydney, Australia — October 9, 2018 — Esker, a worldwide leader in AI-driven process automation solutions and pioneer in cloud computing, today announced the launch of a new PunchOut catalog feature for its Purchase-to-Pay (P2P) automation solution. Esker’s new functionality enables users to “punch out” from their procurement application to select online catalogs so that they can order anything online without leaving Esker’s P2P solution. As a result, users save time while purchasing at contract-negotiated prices.

Esker’s cloud-based, AI-powered platform automates the entire P2P process, eliminating manual tasks from purchasing and accounts payable, such as: supplier information management, contract management, procurement, accounts payable (AP) automation, expense management, payment and supply chain financing.

Read more here: https://www.esker.com.au/company/press-releases/esker-strengthens-its-purchase-pay-solution-new-punchout-catalog-feature/

How Luxasia Went from Printing Spreadsheets and Scanning Receipts to One Automated Platform

A recent study by IOFM found that while 70% of AP departments are automating their invoice processing, only 30% say that those electronic invoices can be posted straight through with no operator intervention. Most AP departments are moving away from the days of piles of paper spilling over their desks and taking up office space, but there is still lots of manual data entry and time spent on low-value tasks that could be used elsewhere.

That’s the situation that Luxasia, a luxury specialist in retail and distribution, found itself in. A rapidly growing company, Luxasia employees were still doing much of their internal accounting processes by hand. To get an invoice approved, employees had to manually create purchase requisitions and print them out. Internal expense claims were also processed by hand, with Excel spreadsheets and scanned paper receipts printed and passed to an AP specialist, who would then process and manually enter data into the SAP® system.

Not only did this create high operational costs and heavy workloads, the overall invoice process was painfully slow, which lead to increased dissatisfaction among both customers and employees. Luxasia knew it could improve on this process, so it started looking for a solution that would help:

  • Reduce operational costs
  • Increase document visibility and accessibility
  • Integrate with SAP
  • Facilitate other job functions beyond the AP department

Luxasia decided to go with Esker’s purchase-to-pay (P2P) solution to automate its purchase requisitions and supplier invoices. Today, 561 Luxasia users process documents with Esker, and Luxasia automates its 36,000 annual supplier invoices at its new shared service center. Luxasia has also seen an 80% reduction in its paper use by automating expense claims and doing away with hard copy receipts.

“We are now able to track productivity and better manager our resources thanks to Esker’s dashboard and reporting capabilities,” said Jasmin Ong, Regional Finance Controller at Luxasia. “Esker has also helped us streamline our processes and ensure a consistent work standard.”

In addition to improving its AP workflow, Luxasia added additional processes to meet internal needs like GL account creation and payment advice. Through automating, the company gained enhanced visibility, cross-border support, a user-friendly interface, and improved communication leading to increased efficiency for its AP process.

For more information on Luxasia and the improvements it made, check out the full case study using the link below!

 

Customer Service is Key

I recently went out for a meal with my family. We arrived at the restaurant, and were greeted and seated immediately by our smiling host, at the table of our choice.

Whilst looking at the menu, our host came over and took our drinks order, and also took the time to give us recommendations of dishes, explaining about ingredients and suitable accompaniments.

The food arrived fairly swiftly and was delicious – the recommendations were correct and accurate, and our attentive host returned on occasion to check we were happy and that we had full glasses.

Our table was cleared, and then, the best part – dessert. Being a fairly indecisive bunch, our willing host again took the time to answer any questions about the dishes and made recommendations. A couple of members of my family enquired about one particular dessert. We asked for a few more minutes to decide. Our host then re-appeared at the table, not yet to take our order, but with a sample of the dessert that we were enquiring about, to aid our decision.

What fantastic service we received. This was the thing that really made our visit special. It certainly made me want to return.

These days, it is all about customer service, or the customer experience. It can make or break an experience or transaction. There is so much riding on it. In fact, today, excellent customer service is expected and demanded as standard. It’s what makes the best stand out from the rest.

A fantastic experience with any service or transaction is always preferable, but things don’t always go to plan, mistakes are made, and then need to be dealt with, and again it’s here that excellent customer service shines through and makes companies stand out from the rest, and makes customers loyal and return time and time again.

Did you know that Esker’s customer issue management solution can help with this? It gives CSRs have the ability to log, track and manage every claim, which improves efficiency by completely automating issue management workflows. On top of this, Esker’s dashboards provide clear and up-to-date information on the number of complaints awaiting resolution, and consolidated reports enable managers to accurately analyse, detect and quickly fix any problem areas. Getting customer issue management right is so important. After all, it directly impacts financial performance and customer retention.

Written by Amy Rees – Esker Marketing Administrator

Should we view Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the evil robotic mind that has prompted an inflated cause for concern when it comes to thinking about job security becoming under threat?

As we see increased thoughts towards the adoption of autonomous vehicles, delivery of goods via drones, chatbots taking fast food orders, immersive technology such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), then should we be concerned for the future of the job roles that we currently have and the security of the future workforce?

We increasingly hear that the next industrial revolution of robotic process automation, machine learning, and AI is upon us and with this in mind, a certain amount fear, uncertainty and doubt seems to have set in. Just as history has shown with the very first industrial revolution, many people initially opposed this change due to the fear of large-scale manufacturing leading to the deskilling and replacement of the workforce.

Of course, some work practices were replaced and lower quality items initially produced but for the large majority, it actually meant a surge in workforce employment and improved practices to supply the increased demand for goods. In fact, one study from Gartner Research states that while 1.8 million jobs will be lost by 2020, 2.3 million new ones will be created.

So, we should probably embrace the new industrial revolution and view it as a positive step towards improving our work and lifestyles yet further. Yes, there may well be some short-term implications concerning job replacement but in the end, the impact will be minimal just as it was with the first industrial revolution.

Therefore, following our own philosophy at Esker, whereby we embrace technological advancements such as AI to enhance the way our customers can go beyond business as usual, we have been pleasantly reassured to continue our investment in the development of such solutions.

For example, one area in which we help organisations to improve their business practices through these technological advancements is the processing of incoming customer orders. When an order arrives in the system, the data is automatically extracted with machine learning and any exceptions are flagged for review. Approvals are then made through an automated workflow with accurate order data integrated into the ERP system. A copy is then archived for a complete electronic audit trail. Custom dashboards display data like the number of open issues or processing time, while a customer portal allows for orders to be placed from an online catalogue and for staff to quickly communicate with customers.

This allows benefits to be quickly realised, such as increasing the accuracy and efficiency of the processed data as well as improving the visibility of the workload. The result of these benefits does not diminish the skills of the workforce as perhaps perceived but actually enables them to allocate more time to assisting customers and providing a better overall customer experience.

With this, plus the various seminars and events I’ve attended over the past few months, I have been further reassured that this new era is not the apocalyptic end to the way we do business and won’t see humans being the puppets on the strings of a far superior robotic mind intent on taking over the world!

The fact is that technological advancements should be embraced and be viewed as a positive move towards enhancing our current working practices, improving the business world and making our lives even more positively interconnected to reap the rewards it will bring.

Written by Sam Townsend – Esker Head of Marketing, Northern Europe

Bake your way to a rewarding AP process

I love baking – I find it relaxing, rewarding and of course, the best bit is the outcome! I mean, who doesn’t like cake?!

I’m no baking expert, it’s just something that I enjoy, and really, there’s not much to baking a basic cake once you get the ingredients and techniques right. For me, it’s the decorating that’s the tricky part.

Getting the balance of ingredients right is key through – the flour, butter, sugar, eggs, and flavoring need to be carefully balanced in order to achieve a good texture and flavor. This and the mixing and baking techniques are the keys to a successful and delicious cake.

It’s a bit like automating AP processing with Esker; once you get the ingredients and process right, it too can become successful, rewarding and indeed more relaxing for your AP team!

Think of the flour as being the basic process – the electronic invoices and archiving capabilities; the eggs – the controlled and electronic workflow that holds the whole thing together; the sugar – the sweet automatic reminders for effortless approval and automatic invoice matching; and the butter – the binding integration with ERP and other business systems.

And the extra sweet stuff on top?…payment approval from mobile devices and readily available audits, KPIs, and analytics.

Fancy a piece of the Esker cake?

Sweet.

Happy baking.

Written by Amy Rees – Esker Marketing Administrator

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.

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/

 

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.