Potter Electric Signal Company has been manufacturing products in the life safety market for 121 years now. Being a highly innovative and experienced business, Potter Electric started working with Esker in 2016 to automate its accounts payable (AP) and, more recently, accounts receivable (AR) processes.
We had a conversation with the Vice President and Global Corporate Controller for Potter, Elizabeth Cassady, to talk about how that decision came about and the results she’s seen since. In Part 1, we talk about the AP process in particular. Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Esker: Thanks for speaking with us today, Elizabeth. To start us off, can you tell us a little bit about Potter Electric and your role at the company?
Elizabeth: Sure. Potter Electric was founded in 1898 and manufactures products in the life safety market. We have three divisions: sprinkler monitoring devices, fire alarm panels and security devices.
I am the Vice President and Global Corporate Controller. I’m responsible for all of the Potter’s accounting functions worldwide and have been with the company for just about three years.
From an accounting and finance perspective, we use Epicor as our ERP system and Tableau as a business intelligence tool. We use Esker for accounts receivable and accounts payable.
Esker: What caused you to start looking for an AP automation solution?
Elizabeth: I often say the impotence for looking was actually when my accounts payable manager approached me asking for a third monitor for our accounts payable clerk. Our ERP system does not have an automated three-way match, so the three-way match between the PO, the receiver and the invoice was done manually. It seemed ridiculous for one person to have three monitors and to have to do that all on our own. That really prompted us to look outside of our ERP solution for something that could automate that three-way match for us.
Esker: How did you start to search once you realized you wanted an outside solution?
Elizabeth: We started the search in late 2016 and settled on Esker within about a month or two. It was just a Google search. I came from a public accounting background so the private company world was new to me to begin with. I had never really dealt with AP automation, and my clients had never dealt with AP automation either. So between me and our IT department, we came up with three companies that we decided we liked. Esker was the only solution of those three that offered a broad range of solutions not just in the AP space, but also AR and other functionalities.
Our company is in a rapid period of growth, and we didn’t want to pigeon-hole ourselves with a solution that could only do one thing for us. We thought that Esker could expand and grow with us, and that’s why we ultimately chose to go with Esker over the other solutions that we looked at. We started the search in late 2016 and settled on Esker within about a month or two.
Esker: Could you talk more about the growth and when it started?
Elizabeth: It started in 2016. We released our own Potter brand of fire panel and have experienced 20% growth year over year since. We expect that percentage to increase even more this year, so the scalability that came with implementing Esker was great.
Esker: Other than the scalability that Esker offered, what else made Esker appealing as a solution for accounts payable?
Elizabeth: The ability to customize a solution that would work for our business. Most of the other solutions did not have that as an option. We’re now comfortable that if something changes in our company, we can go back to Esker and do something different. That was really appealing when we were in the decision process and it turned out even better than we thought or expected.
Esker: About how long did that whole process take?
Elizabeth: It took about six months to get all of our customizations done. I want to say we probably signed the contract in March or April and went live November 1st.
I can’t say enough about the customizations we did. The software development team worked very hard for us. They even traveled to St. Louis for a couple of days to sit with us and go through how we wanted the solution to work. We processed invoices with them so they could see what we needed the system to do. That was immensely helpful in us creating a solution that was right for us.
Esker: What has come out of working with Esker on the AP side?
Elizabeth: Right now, for PO-related invoices, we’re at about 50% touchless processing which is very good. That 50% is allowing us to focus our time on the remaining half of invoices that aren’t able to be touchless. We are undertaking a process this year to work with receiving and purchasing departments to help them understand how they can help us get that to 75%. Then after that, we’ll take a look at the remaining population and decide if they are capable of being touchless at all. That’s the difference though — our team has more time to spend on those kinds of conversations for improving efficiency.
We have much better visibility now through the dashboards to see exactly where invoices are in the approval process and how long it’s taking certain approvers to approve. The Esker solution is so easy to use, and I use it from my phone all the time. We had issues in the past with approvers taking a long time to approve requisitions. I’m not sure if it’s because of the ease of use, people just getting things approved quicker, or if it’s that email reminder that gets sent out, but we’re not having that issue anymore.
Check out Part 2 of our conversation with Elizabeth to hear about how Potter Electric has also leveraged automation in its collections management process as well.