Want To Increase Savings? Digitize Accounts Payable

Visibility is hard to achieve in manual processes. We sat down with Nathan Ford, Wieland’s Director of Accounts Services and Systems to discuss his experience on Digitization.

A scanner based technology, tracking invoices in Sharepoint, relying on manual processes. This was Wieland’s reality pre-digitization of their accounts payable department.

Wieland decided to embark on a journey to automate. Basware, the solution, and Fluxym, the implementor, took the challenge. The benefits? Many! Decrease in headcount; visibility on all invoices at all stages; better management of savings and cash flow…

Want to know the recipe? See the full chat we had with Nathan on Procurement Leaders.

Read the full transcript below

Niko: Hi everyone. Welcome to this breakout session here where we are focusing on Minimizing disruptions while achieving faster time to value. We’ve partnered with Source to Pay expert Fluxym, so thanks very much for them for this. My name is Nico Nurmi, I’m a senior research analyst within the Procurement Leaders research and advisory team and I will be the host of today’s session. I’m very excited to welcome our panel of experts here on the call. So we have Newsha Neishaboori from Fluxym, Ed Aviles from Basware and then Nathan Ford from Wieland North America. So we’re going to start with a brief round of introductions. Newsha, would you mind going first please?

Newsha: Sure not a problem thank you. So my name is Newsha Neishaboori, I am the head of the Basware practice lead at Fluxym North America. I’ve been with Fluxym for over two years and as far as my past experience, I’ve had a very very various roles as far as source to pay. I’ve done buying I’ve done rfps, I’ve been a business analyst, implementations with various solutions etc. So let’s put my background there. Very excited to be here today.

Niko: Perfect. Thank you very much Newsha. Why don’t we go to Ed next?

Ed: Sure. Thanks everyone for joining us. I’m Ed Aviles, I’m one of the global business advisors here at Basware. Very similar to Newsha, my background comes from p2p. I have worked as an analyst, as a buyer, a category manager,  a p2p operations manager. I’ve cut my teeth quite frankly on the procurement side of the house. And now a former member of the professional services team here at Basware, a current member of our advisory team. I talk with best practices and some of the things that we’ve seen out in the real world.

Niko: Perfect thank you Ed and then Nathan.

Nathan: Yes, good afternoon. Ny name is Nathan Ford, I’m the director of accounting services and systems for Wieland North America. I’ve been with Wieland for about six years. Part of that had various controllership and roles as well as spent a fair amount of time in public accounting doing financial statement audits. And excited to be here and share our experience with you.

Niko: Excellent thank you very much Nathan. So in just a moment we’re gonna get going with our conversation and this group of experts will be sharing their experiences in how to, like I said, minimize disruptions and how to use technology in doing that. So I just wanted to quickly remind you again of the Q&A format here. So we have the chat function on the right hand side, interactive panel there so please do post your questions throughout the session as they come to your mind and we’ll save some time at the end of the session to go through some of those. So let’s get going. I’d like to start with Nathan if you don’t mind. So I know that, talking with you earlier, that you’ve gone through quite a detailed transformation on technology side and adopted technology to really help your organization become much more better and resilient. So would you just quickly walk through your story in implementing these technologies.

Nathan: Sure, so we started the implementation process, I guess it was in the Spring of 2019 with Fluxym and Basware. We had selected from a variety of different vendors and ultimately went with Basware, with their solution and some of the offerings that they had. Fluxym was our integration partner so we worked with Newsha and her team on implementing the solution for our Business. We went live in January of 2020, and started to experience some of the benefits. Prior to going with Basware we were using a lot of scanned technology, so we had a lot of invoices emailed to a centralized inbox. We used a SharePoint system to kind of track status of  invoices but it required a lot of touch and retouch and a lot of follow-up. And you know as well as a lot of, still had to do a lot of processing on transactions. So we were looking for a way to identify opportunities to streamline those touch points. Get away from using a kind of a clunky as I would say, SharePoint system. Looking for ways to create automation which is what the Basware solution and the Basware network enabled for us to do. So we worked with Fluxym, got the implementation and went live in January. Obviously all of that was pre-COVID and our intentions of going that direction and implementing Basware, it didn’t take into account a global pandemic. We didn’t have that level of foresight at the time. But now that we’re in this, we’re seeing ancillary benefits from it. Having implemented it, and being live with it now, we see additional benefits that we could have never envisioned when we first embarked on this journey.

Niko: Thank you Nathan. I’m surprised the technologies currently can’t anticipate pandemics popping up. In the near future that’s probably the next iteration of tech development then. Newsha I’d like to hear your side of the story if you will. On how you at Fluxym help companies in the S2P  implementation.

Newsha: Sure. So we normally accompany the clients, we have a very structured methodology that allows us to be very successful in the delivery of our projects. With Fluxym I think I’ve had over at least a dozen Basware projects. I think our strength is being able to guide the clients and be able to provide them with guidance as far as best practice, standardize their processes to be able to implement a solution that’s as close as standard as possible and to best practice. So yeah most of our clients were very good with the multi-phase, with the design, we accompany them through every stage. They’re very implicated. Always helps when we have a great team like the Wieland team who was very participant and they were all very knowledgeable. So yeah generally our methodology really helps. Obviously with the current living conditions that we have, we had to make a few adjustments. We used to be very hands-on, and see our clients face to face, and travel. Obviously we’ve had to adjust a little bit how we’ve been working but it’s been working well. I mean we’ve been able to uh pull through a few go lives through the pandemic. So we’ve been able to adjust the very well.

Niko: Thank you very much Newsha. Actually just before joining this session, I was on a breakout where we specifically spoke of travel management. So that’s perhaps something that we can get back to, on how you’re actually making sure that the implementation projects run in a virtual environment. But before that, just want to hear from Ed. What are some of the, I guess best practices from your experience that you think procurement organizations should be considering in implementations such as here, that such as the one we’ve been discussing here?

Ed: You know, I think it’s the tried and true trifecta of people, process and platforms. I’m really happy to hear Newsha speak about kind of understanding where customers like Nathan want to be and of course it always helps when you have a customer who knows where they want to go, right. In this day and age where bcp or these business continuity plans have become the new normal, really rethinking your business model and your function and aligning it to the appropriate platforms has become critical. So certainly I would agree with everything that has been said and add in that regardless of where you are in your p2p journey, getting a good handle on people processing the platforms, that will enable your business outcome, I think it’s pivotal.

Niko: Absolutely yeah. Nathan, you mentioned there’s been, obviously, benefits from having implemented technologies already before the pandemic kicked in, but would you mind sharing a bit more about how you then, what are the actual concrete benefits that you were able to reap from having technology in place during the pandemic.

Nathan: Yeah sure. So you know, as I mentioned we went down this path pre-pandemic without having any thoughts on. It was really about creating the automation and reducing the touch points. As we’ve gotten through this pandemic, a couple of key items I would say. One is we have greater visibility to where invoices are in process. When they were in SharePoint, if we didn’t have a goods receipt entered into the system or if there wasn’t a po attached to it, or it hadn’t had an approval, it would kind of sit in a SharePoint site. We didn’t know when things were going to occur when it might get approved. Now with Basware, we know where it is, we know who it’s assigned to, we can follow up on it, we can see its age, it’s aging for us so we know how long it’s been there, we know when it’s due. There’s various analytics and reports that we can run that give us visibility to kind of the cash needs. And so as you think about this pandemic, I think one thing that a lot of companies have experienced is business slugged, right. And so the need to manage cash, the need to manage spend became extraordinarily important. And so, one, the automation enabled us to reduce our head count. We had four ap processors, we cut that down to two. So that was, you know, there’s cost savings involved there which helps as we try to tighten up and protect our earnings. The second part is the cash flow management. Now we have better visibility better line of sight. It reduced what I call the invoice dump where you get two, three, four, five hundred invoices approved because everybody knows that you run checks on Thursday. So on Wednesday afternoon at two o’clock, which is, you know you have a three o’clock cut off at two o’clock, you get 300 invoices dropped into your apq and you’re trying to get all those in and everybody wants them paid on the next pay run which is tomorrow. So it’s given us the visibility to understand that, hey you know what we’ve got, there’s 150 invoices in queue that are due this week. And so we can be more proactive, go after those purchasers and kind of push on them to say hey we need you guys to get these things processed, get the invoices approved, get them coded and get them back to us so that we can  process those on your next payroll. So it’s given us those benefits and just like I said, the ability to have the line of sight to it and be able to manage it. And have better control over the cash flow.

Niko: That already, the avoidance of the invoice dump as you described, that already in itself seems to be like a massive win and something that people should really be thinking about. Newsha, I mentioned that virtual element and collaboration with your clients during this somewhat challenging time so. Would you just mind walking us through a bit of how you might have had to adapt into this new normal and how you’re actually running through the implementation projects currently?

Newsha: Sure so pre-pandemic we would be, for specific moments throughout the project, when we would design, so sit down and try to pick up all of the processes and how things work we would normally be there face to face. We try to condense it whether it be two, three, four, five days depending on the complexity and we would be face to face in a room and going at it all day. Now with today’s context it makes it a little difficult to do that virtually full days. I think anyone can confirm eight hours of non-stop information online, it doesn’t have the same type of effectiveness as if when you’re in person. So right now what we’re trying to do is that we break them out into smaller sessions per theme. So we’re doing a lot of that and trying to keep it interesting and creative to make sure that everybody’s still actively participating and that the information is being properly understood and said. So there’s a lot of that going on. So we basically change the way and the frequency and the duration. So rather it being done throughout a week, we’ll spread it out to three weeks still managing to get the job done but just yet working it at a different angle.

Niko: Yeah certainly some kind of agility needed in the current setup. Shifting our focus a bit to the future I guess, so Ed just a quick question on you, what kind of trends are you seeing in coming up and what kind of um potential new improvements are you anticipating within Basware for instance in the coming years perhaps because of the pandemic?

Ed: You know I think while at first we were helping some of our customers go from this survival period to a recovery period, now our focus is really on helping our customers thrive. A lot of our attention is really in virtualizing the workplace. Certain tools like tell like the teleconferencing tools that we’re using today, they allow us to do a lot of the things that we can’t do in person as usual as you describe it. Basware is taking that same approach from a p2p perspective and whether that is helping our customers attain savings, protect their supply chain with the information that we’re able to gather from different erp systems, or ensuring that suppliers get paid and get paid the right amount versus the duplicate amount. Because oftentimes when you’re dealing in an environment that’s very manual or perhaps feels almost, works almost exclusively in the physical world, a lot of this stuff falls through the gaps. So Basware is being extremely sensitive to ensuring data accuracy, ensuring all information is centralized. Regardless of where you are in your p2p journey. You’ll notice from us there’s going to be a significant amount of enhancing of data, a lot of uh use of new technologies like smart coding where we try to predict what the coding on an invoice could be which will actually extend to actual classification of that spend, even if it’s not on a purchase order. Enabling our tools to work across any platform regardless if you’re on a cell phone, a tablet a laptop like I am right now and to be able to work from anywhere. Because ultimately at the end of the day, we need to be able to perform our duties from anywhere. Our business deliverables have not disappeared even if our offices may have. We still need to achieve and we’re enabling our customers to be able to attain those achievements.

Niko: Certainly. Perhaps not, so as not to focus just on the kind of virtual elements, for kind of reminiscing on the time when we were able to collaborate with our colleagues in a face-to-face setup. I’d like to ask Nathan, that during the implementation phase perhaps thinking of procurement people here in the audience for instance what does that internal collaboration with, for example procurement and finance look like when it comes to p2p implementation? Specifically from your own kind of viewpoint.

Nathan: Sure. So obviously I was involved from the payables accounts, payable aspect inside of the house. But we certainly had multiple of our buyers and purchasing agents involved in the implementation process. We had them attend the scoping sessions with Newsha and her team to make sure we understood what their needs were and what, you know in terms of how the system was going to function and what their process was. We had them involved really throughout, not just  in the scoping and design session but also in the uat. And as soon as we went through testing we had them go through the training, we had them participate. Because ultimately it’s a collaborative effort between payables and purchasing. So we can’t process invoices unless purchasing is doing things correctly in terms of setting up a PO and entering receipts on a timely basis, and making sure vendor supplier master files and records are updated et cetera. So just going through all of those, we made sure to partner with it. After we went live, we opened up kind of a weekly, or I’m sorry a bi-weekly touchpoint session with our purchasing group just talk about how’s it working, where are the pain points and  are you getting too many notifications from the system or do you know where to go or are you seeing where’s the pain, what are some of the things that you all are experiencing with it.  We gathered that feedback and if necessary we went to Fluxym and said hey look, I think we need to tweak something in how the system is working or how the process is working. Can we make some minor modifications to lessen the impact and make it run a little bit smoother for our purchasing group. So it was a mutual benefit. I mean obviously the primary benefit when we went into it was for the payables group and to lessen the processing impact on it. But there were benefits that we could sell to the purchasing team, to be able to say hey look, you know you can access this application on your phone right? So instead of having to go and be at your desk and log into the computer and get into the SharePoint site, or pull up your email and go to go to this invoice, now you can be out on the plant floor and you can pull up your phone and approve an invoice or code an invoice right there while you’re standing around or sitting at a doctor’s office, or whatever the case may be. So it granted them some flexibility as well. That helped us to kind of sell them and get them on board and get them engaged in the process as well. So it’s been a good benefit for both sides of the house.

Niko: Perfect thank you Nathan. I can certainly see that the immediate benefits of having that information at your fingertips, especially in this current time. There’s been a couple of questions on the chat here, so I’m gonna start with a question from Nicole where the question is: have there been any challenges with suppliers adapting to some of the innovative changes that may have affected them and how they’ve been managed. So I’ll ask this from Newsha, just your thoughts on this question and how suppliers might have been, what kind of considerations have you potentially had to make to kind of keep suppliers on the loop

Newsha: It actually hasn’t been that big of a challenge in a sense where I think suppliers ultimately want to get paid. Especially in the past few months right, everybody’s been struggling to try to get their cash flow. So the adoption has actually been pretty well. We’ve done a lot of campaigns with various clients to get their suppliers on board, to send electronical invoices and they’ve seen the benefits from that. Because as soon as they onboard for that, it literally takes them five minutes to sign up. And then once they do that, the system hits, the invoice hits the system within 10 minutes, goes through the process and they see their payments being issued a lot quicker. So as far as challenges, I haven’t seen for my part that many of them. People have actually been very collaborative.

Niko: Really good to hear just from, I guess broader reaching considerations within technology adoption, within procurement for instance. There traditionally might have sometimes been challenges with, for instance getting some tenders out to suppliers if there’s not been enough communication for instance. So that’s obviously a consideration for organizations implementing technology but obviously the partners really help with overcoming any of those challenges. Another question from Adriana, which I’m going to ask from Ed. So what has been the best out of the pandemic that your company could be proud of and share about? Ed your views on this?

Ed: You know it’s funny. As a bit of a technologist myself and as a person who is fully entrenched in all things digital and converting things to digital, one of the things that we commonly hear is how we can reduce head count and actually save organizations money that way. But one of the surprising, pleasantly surprising things about this situation, the silver lining if you will, is that we’ve actually been able to protect jobs. People have been able to do their duties from anywhere. When we were talking to Nathan prior, he was mentioning how they had electronic invoices but they didn’t have them at one place. And having them in one place gives them that ability to do their duties from anywhere. And I find that to be refreshingly pleasant, the fact that although we do need to reduce head count and that will always be the case and technology is there to do that. In these uncertain times, we’re able to at least protect the companies to that next level right, so that getting them from that survival to that thriving part of this recovery.

Niko: Thank you Ed. Perhaps want to hear Fluxym’s view on this same question. So what are you seeing as one of the kind of, proud moments in the current time?

Newsha: Well personally as I said, throughout the past few months I’ve been actively working on specific implementations and I could see the benefits right now for the clients. I’ve had some clients that had to pause due to everything that’s been going on and literally when we picked right back up, they just said man we wish we had this a few months ago. So to be able to help them in that process and get them to where they need to be is probably one of the best parts of my job.

Niko: Excellent thank you very much. Just within the last couple of minutes, just for the audience please do keep the questions coming up. Perhaps just a thought from Nathan, from where you are currently what might be the next steps within your technology journey if you will?

Nathan: I mean for us, we are, it’s part of North America. So I was previously with one of the subsidiaries world products, Wieland world products, which is part of North America. I’m now with North America, so when we did the implementation, we did it for the royal products business unit. We’ve got about nine other business units that we need to, that we’re looking at rolling Basware out and across all of the business units. We’re focused right now on creating a centralized accounting services or shared services accounts payable group. So that’s going to be the next phase for us, implementing Basware across all of the business units in North America? That way we can create that centralized process and have a central processing center. And then the other piece is, we as an organization are acquisition focused and so we’ve been looking at how do we add on companies? And especially right now there’s a lot of companies that are looking to get out of their business or sell and are stressed and looking for someone to acquire them. So as we go through these acquisitions, one of the things we’re looking for is how do we create quick synergies and quick wins? From a technology standpoint we can integrate Basware onto an organization within three to six months, whereas bringing them into our erp system can take 12 to 18 months. So we can deliver faster results and streamline processes by adding those organizations on to us quickly. And be able to absorb some of that workflow and create the standardization and again get all the same benefits that we were getting at world products which is visibility to invoices, we can automate the processing, and posting of invoices. And we can do it regardless, because we’ve got nine different erp systems, so we’re talking about getting all of our North America business units that exist today into one erp package is probably a five to ten year project. Whereas we can do Basware in a couple of years and have it over all of them and create that centralized processing and centralized function. So that’s the next phase for our journey.

Niko: Perfect that’s really exciting stuff that you’re sharing there Nathan. I’m just gonna start wrapping things up here within this session. So I’m just gonna have a really quick kind of summary of recommendations from Ed. What would you want the audience to leave with after this session if they are thinking about p2p implementation?

Ed: I would certainly recommend that they align the platforms that they’re going to be using in the future with the new business model. The way of doing things before, just digitizing, just automating is that first step. Taking that raw data and turning it into something meaningful. Being able to give end users access at all times, that’s going to become the new normal. And that new normal not coincidentally will also feed the information that your leaders will in essence need to make informed strategic decisions. So certainly that rethinking and realignment of both business process and platforms.

Niko: Perfect thank you Ed. Same question for Newsha? Key summaries?

Newsha: I totally agree with that. On that aspect, yeah definitely. I have nothing else to say he took the words right out of my mouth .

Niko: Good kind of synergy of thought there. Well I’m afraid that’s all the time we have for this session thank you everyone for attending and thanks for our great group of panelists here  for sharing your  insights and your experiences on this interesting topic. The next session at the Americas Procurement Congress virtual will be on the main stage, so please make your way back there after this session. And again thank you everyone, thank you ever so much to Nathan Ed and Newsha for sharing today.

Newsha: Thank you very much.

Ed: Thank you everyone, appreciate the time.

Nathan: Thank you.

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