The first half of 2020 required flexibility, quick learning, and adaptability, and the virtual workplace is here to stay. We partnered with IOFM for a webinar where we look forward and focus on what temporary improvements need to be made permanent and, more importantly, plan for what we must do now to build stronger, more resilient financial processes and teams.
This webinar covers:
Virtual work forecasts in 2020 and beyond
Being best prepared for financial closings including accruals
How easier can also be better – more control with less work
Cash management & gaining control of spend
Automated workflow with a paperless, touchless process
Analysis and use of the data on the invoice
Tools to use moving forward
View the webinar to learn tips to develop more efficient processes, and tangible, bottom-line savings with more staff flexibility and less tribal knowledge!
Click the link below to view the webinar, or scroll down to read the transcript.
Laura: Well welcome everyone, and thank you for joining us for today’s webinar. This New Decade Requires a New Approach to AP and P2P brought to you by IOFM and sponsored by DataServ. I do have a few housekeeping notes to go over before we officially get started. If you have any technical issues questions or issues using the webinar platform, please use the chat box and I will respond right away. If you have issues with audio, please click the phone icon located above the chat window to receive the teleconference information. For those that do need to call in, to ensure call quality, everyone’s lines have been muted. To activate that chat box if you don’t see it, look at your lower level toolbar and there’s a blue icon, click that and it will open up that chat box. Please use that chat box to ask any questions for our speakers today. We will have a Q&A at the end of today’s webinar, so please enter those questions into the chat box and hit submit. We will also have 3 polling questions during the webinar. A pop-up box will appear when we run each poll. Please choose from the multiple choice answers and hit submit. This webinar will be recorded and you will receive an email with the on-demand materials. This will include a link to the presentation as a PDF as well as the recording of today’s live webinar so you can replay that as needed. So please look for that email within the next 2 business days.
So with that, I’d like to introduce our speakers. Judy Bicking is a senior trainer for IOFM and a 27 year veteran of Johnson & Johnson. Judy is a recognized pioneer and leader in procure to pay and credit management. After a successful career in AR and AP management, Judy led the development and implementation of J&J’s 2 shared service centers located in the US and Europe. These shared service centers are recognized as world class, handling over 200 decentralized companies and 2.5 million invoices. Judy also championed training for her staff, investing in the team, earning the IOFM first AP departmental certification designation. Judy is a globally sought after subject matter expert, trainer and speaker. She has authored and help developed IOFM’s AP online learning center and is cofounder and SME for the IOFM certification program.
3:00 We also have Jeff Haller who is the cofounder CEO/CRO of DataServ. Jeff has been building companies and fueling his entrepreneurial spirit for more than 2 decades. His expertise spans several industries, including consulting, IT, and telecom. All of which led to the founding of DataServ in 1994. Although the term had not been developed yet, DataServ was the first SaaS provider for document and process automation. Jeff has led the company through many growth phases and at least 2 recessions, all while successfully building and maintaining strong customer relationships. He is frequently a speaker at AP and AR events. Jeff is the former board president of the Foster and Adoptive Aare coalition, which is focused on eliminating the time kids spend in foster care by quickly finding them homes.
4:00 I am thrilled to welcome both of our speakers today and will hand the presentation off to Judy.
Judy: Thank you, Laura. Today, I’d like to start the presentation with just a little bit of history about where we were and where we are and then where we’re going to be going. Starting around the 1990’s, the focus of AP was truly transactional. Doing more with less staff. One approach was called centralization. This is where folks lifted and shifted existing work into a central location. And then there was the shared service focus, heavy on metrics and redesigning. Most started with AP and payroll, AR and then added on other financial services. GE, HP, FedEx, Walmart, and I at J&J met every month for a week designing our centers. There was no blueprint in front of us. Most of us opened our centers in 1992. Then in the year 2000, outsourcing began with GE’s process. They were very production focused and they were now asking non-GE companies to hire them. Even my company. So she started this process in Mexico, which is known as near-shore, then moved the operations to India (this is called offshoring), and now we’re seeing some backsourcing or on-shore processing centers. Around 2010, shared service and outsources started to move towards a paperless process. Then around 2015 we realized we’re not making any headway of any significance unless we start looking at end to end thinking. This is breaking down silos, working together with partners, and this was the way forward.
6:00 So it’s a new decade now. 2020. And as we launch this new decade we need to take on new thinking again. What temporary decisions have been made since COVID and are these decisions going to be permanent? Like working virtually. Will it be optional, used occasionally, or permanently? I have a client who just made a decision. He has 14 employees. He has decided that making virtual working at home a permanent decision. He realized not only was his productivity better, but he’s saving $45,000 a month in rent. And so he is going to be investing in automation and some new benefits. So how do you manage a virtual workforce? You need to focus on metrics and realigning your internal controls, especially looking at segregation of duty. Make sure you rewrite your disaster recovery plan to include this virtual workforce as a very good alternative. Then update your policies and procedures, and don’t forget the job descriptions?
7:15 Well, how do we go about making these decisions and changes? Well, pre-COVID we had to understand that it starts with understanding and accepting first and foremost, we are not going to go back to the way things were. We need to move forward, we need to prepare. Like where I live, preparing for a difficult hurricane season, this time of year every year we have to do that. Let’s be prepared for the next time. And there will be that next time. COVID is not the first time we faced a challenging financial crisis. Do you remember 2006? That was the beginning of a downward cycle that peaked around 2008. We keep facing these challenges with a start from scratch attitude. So in this new decade, let’s start changing this thinking. We first need to start by removing paper to be prepared to work from anywhere. This requires a paperless process with an automated real time workflow. In my experiencing, giving up paper was extremely difficult. The major reason, simply, it’s change. But I believe we’re ready to change our process as COVID affected us globally and on a personal level, as well as our ability to perform our job.
8:50 Jeff: I agree, Judy, it’s been amazing from our standpoint. Having been in this industry for so long and then talking to people about AP automation for so long. Literally over the past 25 years we’ve had hundreds of thousands of conversations about this. I think the big difference as you say is now we have to change. And I think there is a bit of a bright silver lining in this crazy environment we are in, where everything seems negative or bad or people feel stuck doing things differently. But the silver lining to me is that it forced us all to leap ahead into a different approach. I totally agree with what you’re saying about being more prepared, more digital allows you to have more flexibility for whatever the next crisis is. I think that crisis has to include people planning as well as system planning. Beyond just the fact that you need to get rid of all these old manual processes and paper being still a part of that problem. In the past it was usually we’d talk to clients and they’d say we know we need this, we want this. And companies would tell us that every day. But they’d say we’re not going to buy right night because it’s number 6 on my top 5 to do list. And we’ll do it next year. And it never happened. And now what we’re seeing is really a big difference in terms of people coming to us saying we’ve got to do it now. We already know we needed to do it, we just haven’t done it. And now we have to. So I do think that’s changed.
10:20 Judy: Absolutely. So let’s take a look at our audience and where you are. So we have our first poll question if you would please select your answer A-E to this question. Which part of your AP process was most challenging initially during this pandemic? A. Paper based invoices. B. Approvers unable to review. C. Timely payments. D. Monthly/quarterly closings. E. Maintaining supplier relationships. I think, Jeff, they may want to pick a couple of those, but please pick your top one. While you’re doing that, I’m just going to forge forward a bit and talk about the first 3 months of the pandemic. Many companies sent office employees to work from home. Once equipment was set up and connections were made, the transition was fairly easy. Or was it? We just needed to get adjusted to a new work schedule. That was a little difficult, right? And how are we going to receive the information that we requested from new suppliers to set up their accounts, or get paper invoices to process? And then once the invoices are ready to pay, how are we going to pay the suppliers? When the check printers are back at the office? We each created workarounds, and that was a day by day activity. The results of this process had some negative impacts that reflected poorly on the AP staff. Now the stats just came in. So 50% paper based invoices, then the next being 17% timely payments, 12% affecting your monthly and quarterly closing, 10% approvers unable to review, and lastly maintaining your supplier relationships coming in at 9%. Jeff, do you have some comments on those first 3 months.
12:25 Yeah, it was interesting right? I mean, everybody was sort of in panic mode. Kudos, first of all, to everybody for reacting so quickly. I think that is pretty amazing for a country as large as ours and the rest of the world to have to respond so quickly. Everybody did do an amazing job of keeping things flowing. But I think it was emergency procedures. Sort of, grab what you can off your desk and go. This person was packing this box, and I mistakenly thought this person was quitting, getting a new job, but in reality in this case everybody had to pack a box and we did too. In fact some stories we’ve heard were “we did it, but it wasn’t pretty.” We heard “we lost invoices, we’re now missing out on discounts, we’re paying these things late and we’re getting penalties.” There’s definitely a mental effect on your team and I think everybody’s team. I would say it’s been a bit of a panic rather than a planned process. And we accounts and AP folks we don’t like to do things in a panic, we don’t like to do things reactionary. And so I think now it’s time to turn that around and be proactive and look at the situation you’re in and figure out how to handle it because it’s not going to change. We’re not going to work all of a sudden in the office. I think in the beginning, everybody thought we’ll be back in a few weeks. It’s fine. And it really turned out to be longer. And I think that now it’s going to be even longer. So I’m not surprised by these results at all.
14:00 We did have a client situation, Judy. Somebody left some invoices at the office. There were about 180 of these invoices. And they got left in the envelopes on the desk in the office. And for about 2 months they never realized these invoices were there because they were sitting at the office with no one in. And the CEO finally got involved a couple of weeks ago, and this is where it became a bit of an escalation point. It’s kind of scary now because the suppliers are yelling at the CEO, and why aren’t you paying these bills and everybody gets yelled at. It’s a big cycle of realization. It’s kind of what you DON’T want to happen.
14:30 Judy: Absolutely. I’m sure each and every one of us can relate to that story because it’s happened to all of us. What we need to do is start preventing that. So we have another poll question. If you could answer this one. What percent of the invoices you receive are paper? Less than 25% is A, 25-50% is B, 51-75% is C, and Over 75% is D. And again while you are answering this question, I’m going to talk to you about the frustration of those manual invoices like the example of Jeff just gave. The AP process relies heavily on paper documents as most of you said. 50% of you are heavily paper documents. And manually routing them for approval, assignment at the cost center, and receipt acknowledgement. Once processed and ready to pay, a paper check is created and signed to pay suppliers. Working from home created some very frustrating challenges. Someone had to be designated to go in and get the paper documents and then figure out how to get them to the staff members to process. The employees who were tasked with going in felt that they were at risk. Now the more difficult process was producing the paper check and getting them into the mail. This creates a higher potential of fraud as many negated internal controls to get this job done. I had one client who actually let an employee go in and take blank checks home, fill them out manually, enter the payment into the ERP system as a pre-paid transaction. Well, they also got to sign the checks and mail them! This breaks all segregation of duty controls and the potential for committing fraud extremely easy. Not to mention the potential for these blank checks to get into the wrong hands. I think our poll has come in. So we’re talking about what percent of the invoices you receive are paper. So 55% is less than 25%, 25-50% is 24%, then 51-75% is 11%, and then over 75% is 8% of you. What we need to aim for is truly getting completely paperless, because using paper is a very antiquated process. And it creates longer cycle times, making it difficult if not impossible to play the suppliers on time. This sets the stage for missing discounts, and this can amount to a very large financial loss.
17:20 Jeff, as you pointed out, invoices can be lost in the process affecting the company’s reputation with suppliers (like calling the owner of the company). But also the AP staff. We really have a hard enough time proving our worth, as we are the end of a very chaotic procure to pay process. And since we’re at the end of that process, typically AP is blamed for those late payments. Automating the AP process has been on the someday list. But there wasn’t an urgency. If automation had been implemented and all our invoices and supporting documentation and payments to customers had been sent electronically, working from home would have been seamless.
18:00 Jeff: Much easier, yeah. I wanted to make a point, Judy. The volume of paper is not the key here. For years we’ve been doing capture in our digital mailroom, a service we provide. It’s approaching 4 million documents a month and it’s primarily AP invoices and supporting documents. It’s very amazing to see the difference today from even 4 years ago or 3 years ago. And it’s really about 15% across the whole global client base that we support. About 15% are still paper. It’s funny because it’s not all of their documents, but as long as you have any paper, you still have to support a paper process. And that’s really the dilemma here. You’ve gotta think beyond trying to eliminate all the paper. You have to think about the fact that there’s still some transactions that are messy and in this case if you only have 20, 25, or 15% paper, you still have to have a process for that. I think our strong encouragement to everyone is to look at that process and determine how best to manage it the way it is. Adapt to that and let’s make a change here to make these different processes go away. A single digital process is the best approach.
19:15 Judy: Automated workflow, right?
Jeff: Yeah. We also talked about that without automated workflow, you’ve got approvers that used to just walk down the hall. They’re involved in your process, but they’re not in your department or in your control or even in your building in this case anymore. So I think that’s a part we learned the hard way. There are people who you need to get these paid, and they are now harder to get ahold of maybe over the phone or email or maybe they’re busy or maybe they’re just not nearby and you used to just be able to turn around and go to their office and say can you approve this real quick and come back and enter it and get over this process. But not anymore. Definitely needs to be more digital and I agree with you about workflow.
20:00 Judy: Totally not efficient.
Jeff: I think visibility into that process is good. One of the things that our clients quote that they like the most is our tools for audit trail. Which is basically a way to see who touched what and when. When it’s digital you have that visibility, and when it’s not you lose that. So anytime you don’t have it in that chain that’s digital, you have very little visibility, and very hard time knowing who did what when and how to make that better next time, etc.
Judy: So what’s next, Jeff?
Jeff: I think for us, what has become obvious is there are alternatives to not having digital. So even as we’ve seen this reduction in paper, we’ve seen an increase in the variety in source documents. One of the things we’ve talked about a lot is being able to handle whatever format a vendor wants to send to you. Rather than getting stuck in the old mindset—we remember the EDI days, we’ve all been through that curve, and subsequently the supplier network environment, same idea. Let’s force the vendors to change their process so that we can adapt our process to be all digital. And people have tried this over and over again, and we’ve had mixed results for years. EDI was going to be the answer all the way back in the 70’s. Now, you’re looking at it and you say EDI works for certain transactions but it’s not for everyone. And you can say the same for XML and you can say the same about PDF’s. You can’t really force a standard. We’ve been working hard to expand the range of documents that we can handle in the system automatically. I think that’s key to this adaptability and agility that people are looking for today. Don’t worry about what you’re getting, but just make sure it’s digital in some way and just manage it all digitally for as long of the process as you can.
22:05 Judy: Yes, absolutely. I promise this is our last poll question. We would really like to know how you are working. So if you could answer this question: Which of the following best describes your AP teams currently? A. Whole team is at home. B. Mostly at home, with a few in the office. C. Half at home; half in office. D. Mostly in office, with a few at home. E. Whole team is in office. If you could let us know how you are working. So where do we go from here? Now is the time to revisit the virtual work process. What worked? What didn’t work. Internal controls to prevent risk must be built back in. This might require creating a new internal control. Something that’s not in place today but you need to put one in. So once you’ve done that, it’s important to test this new process to ensure it is smooth, efficient, cost-effective and compliant. Make sure it’s also fraud resistant. There are so many new scams that can expose your company. I’ll use one that I’m sure everyone’s heard about, the Zoom meeting scam. It was to gain login credentials. That was the purpose. To understand how easy this was, first of all, it was not zoom that was tampered with, but a fraudster who sent out an email that said you missed a Zoom meeting, click on the link and login with your work information. Once they get your work email credentials, they start posing as one of your employees. And this now becomes a high profile scam. I have to tell you there are so many companies that have fallen for this scam. Those emails are form the scammer, not the employee. Invoices that need to be processed. There were several government agencies that also fell to these scams. They literally lost between $200,000, and one of the government offices, to the Atlanta office losing close to half a million. So even the government can fall victim to one of these scams. The point of most of the scams is to never never never click on a link, and get up to speed on how fraud happens and educate your staff and test your process to ensure you have fraud prevention as a top priority. Before we move on, we’ll go over the results of that particular poll. So 45% of you, your whole team I working from home. 32% mostly from home. And half at home is 7%. Mostly in the office with a few at home is 8%. The whole team in the office is 7%. I’m not sure the location of where you’re living, but I’m in Florida and our numbers are off the charts. So many companies that had started sending people home are taking them back to working from home.
Jeff: I think that’s going to stay that way for a while. I really thought this would be more of a mix. But that does seem like you’re right, Judy, and that’s changed over time. There has been an increase in cases and people have gone back to work from home. And I think that’s going to continue for a little while here, at least a couple of months. And we gotta think about school starting in the fall. That’s gonna have an impact as well. If you don’t have childcare but you have work, maybe you need to work from home. It does seem like it’s going to be a mixed bag in the long term in the future, so I think we’ve got to build the process with the controls that are set up to allow people to work remotely. So you’re not sending check stock home with people, individuals. In the process you’ve got to get rid of those steps that are risky just in case you have to work from home 100% or maybe it’s 50-50, but they key question is who’s doing the homework and what parts are they doing. It’s very important that we think this through. And I love Judy’s idea earlier of a new mission statement for the group. Sort of redefining how do we deliver our services as an AP organization or a P2P organization. How do we deliver those services because we have a different environment.
26:55 Judy: Absolutely. And we also focus in the procure to pay/AP arena, that once we pay the supplier our job is done. But the truth is our final product is really the financial statement.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s right. There’s more to it. I think more valuable and it’s higher profile than we might think about. It’s really beyond paying the bill. It’s about the closing process. We heard a lot of stories about Q1 being very very rough, very hard. People working overtime on the phone the whole time trying to figure out who is doing what. I think everyone was used to being in a group together, heads down we can sort of get used to it. Everybody would bring lunch in or bring a snack in or dinner or whatever, and we’d work a little bit of extra time and everybody would get it done and sort of rally around that process. And then all of a sudden we had to do it completely separate and remotely. I did hear a lot of people say it got better the second quarter. Maybe every month they practiced and got better at it. I think that was because we were testing new processes we were sort of changing on the fly, really rewiring these processes from within. The resources were pretty strained. People had a lot of constraints at home. Children to take care of, parents to take care of. All kinds of things that were going on there in addition to work. And probably the level of clarity was way lower. Because at the office when we have this window of time we all know it, the CFO says something when he walks by or she walks by. The controller walks by and says, we’re doing this this week. And it’s just an awareness level that’s so much higher than when you’re trying to do this with remote facilities. I think there’s automation for reporting and visibility that’s required now. And if you don’t have it, it’s going to be very hard to maintain this closing process and much less make it better. We have some questions we’ve suggested here around assessing deficiencies of the process. Some questions you can take down and ask yourselves, here are a few of them on the screen. What worked and what did not work? Common questions you should be asking now. And also which tasks remain to be automated? Which workflows are not in place? What’s missing from the quarter end checklist that we discovered over these past remote months that needs to be added there? Have all the standard procedures been documented? We’ve gotta update that documentation because they are probably not up to date right now. And also does this virtual process still accommodate people because we still have people in this process and I think that should be the case, because we’re sort of the final check, right? The computer can do everything we want, but somebody’s gotta look at this with logical, mental, emotional feelings to figure out how did this work and what’s the impact on our people, because we’ve gotta have those people in the process moving forward.
30:05 Judy: Absolutely. So what were the permanent effects of COVID? This new decade that we’re talking about, it means automation will be needed to empower the remote workforce to many of the points you just made. And many companies are continuing the work at home until the end of year. Some are rotating office days. And some have chosen to make the remote workforce permanent (like the gentleman I told you I’m working with). I want to walk and talk you through one reason we had automation on our list and it was on 4 or 5 of that to do list, and that was the fear of losing our jobs. And I will tell you, when I began my career, these types of projects were built around headcount reduction. And that is where the fear became based. But what should we do today? AP is very transactional focused, so the thought is we’re overhead. I really want to turn that completely upside down, because a major turning point in my career was when I got to build that second shared service center in Europe in the year 2000. The ROI was not built on headcount reduction, but how to improve the bottom line. To accomplish that we had to reskill the staff into jobs that would bring about real savings. It required automation that eliminated the mundane rekeying of data into the system, freeing up valuable time to work on things like discount management. Based on a 2% discount, and bringing that money in 20 days earlier is equal to a yearly compounded interest of 36%. How would you like to earn 36% on your money? This is a big win. So let me tell you where the gold is, though. Discount management can really help you improve the bottom line, but the gold is in working with procurement on spend management which yields tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings. What are you buying? Where are you buying it? How much are you paying for it? What are the terms? And what is the delivery?
32:35 Jeff: To me, Judy, it really depends on thinking long term instead of thinking short term. I think the head count reduction was always a short term win and it was not really helpful over the long haul. I think we gotta think the same way about this crisis. I mean, COVID 19 is not a temporary situation, it’s not a couple of weeks, it’s not a couple of months, we have proof of that now. I think it’s global. I think it’s going to affect every one of your clients, every one of your customers, every one of your vendors in some way. Not to mention your personal situation. To me, as long as we admit that and say that out loud, we can think long term. I think Judy’s point about re-skilling the staff is gigantic. I think to think about the people that you have and how they can contribute more… we always talk about using your brain instead of your fingers. This job really should be a very mentally challenging job. It’s really not supposed to be about the keying. For years, that was the key thing, we wanted you to key faster, key more. I think we’re getting rid of that and we’re going to move to, this job is about thinking and about process improvement and about improving our relationships with vendors and about driving a bigger discount. I think using a cloud based system of some kind that’s automated gets you out of a lot of that manual part so your brain can open you up and free up to think bigger about why does this happen every month? I don’t want to do it this way anymore. We should really fix that. And now I have time to fix that.
Judy: Now is the time.
Jeff: Having the digital visibility into the system and into the process gives you the challenge of analytics that you can have to figure out what to do differently and better. That is a big benefit of the digitalization of the process. Having this long term thinking, this long term vision is key to that to get on that bandwagon is important for everybody.
Judy: Couldn’t agree more. Honestly, when we are so bogged down with paper, where is it, answering phone calls (especially from higher ups at the company) about why an invoice didn’t get paid…we don’t have time to look at the gold mine of data that’s built into our documents so that we can analyze it. So in that rethinking process, I’m asking you to break out of your comfort zone, look at your process as if it was a stand alone business. Every standalone business, why are you in business? To make a profit. So move from transactional thinking to strategic. Instead of working the invoice and producing the payments, let automation take care of that. Use your time to review and analyze the data.
35:30 Jeff mentioned a mission statement, and I had written this one a couple of years ago. I’d just like to read it real quick to you. It’s about your new mission, your new job. Accounts payable and procurement work together to build a cohesive relationship to develop and align a compliant purchasing and payment strategy for all the goods and services to meet the needs of the organization by building long lasting relationships with suppliers. The procure to pay process will align with the goals of the C suite to ensure the process is compliant, efficient, effective and makes a positive impact to the bottom line while protecting the cash, supporting the cash management strategy with timely, complaint, accurate data to the financial statements in a paperless environment. I gave you a raise in your job title as well, but I really think this is the time to think our whole process and why are we really coming to work. If you look at it as a stand alone business it gives you a whole new business perspective to build a new business plan. So do move forward with automation and don’t use headcount as a justification. Think bottom line savings and accurate, timely, financial statements. Honestly that’s your financial product, and that’s near and dear to every CFO that we comply because laws are very stringent in that area.
37:05 Jeff: Yeah, leverage the controls you have in place, too. Judy touched on it with purchasing. We had a lesson learned at DataServ a long time ago, it’s that if you don’t involve purchasing in these automation discussions you’ll find them very angry later. It sort of comes back to you as sort of the enemy. When in reality, the more they can do in purchasing to control what is bought, the better it is for AP. But I also want to say out loud that they are not separate things and they are not the same thing. We have many clients who have beefed up their purchase order process or bought new software to do more PO’s and they still need to automate the AP process on the backend just as much because it doesn’t make it go away. Just to have more PO’s doesn’t change the need for digital processing for invoices. I think working together and pushing ourselves as AP professionals back up into that space of purchasing is key, because there are things we know that the purchasing folks don’t know about the mess after the PO and about the reality of what flows around the organization there that we need to contribute to that conversation. And even drive it, because I think at the end of the day because we end up as the resting place of all of these transactions. And while you don’t want to spend your time on transactions all day you do need to control what’s coming your way as much as possible.
Judy: And what about all the non-PO spend? I call it maverick. It’s out of controls. They’re not even negotiating price, quality, delivery, let alone terms. So you really gotta gain control over that as well. So what I’m saying is you need to work with your partners and you should start with procurement. Look at this new mission statement because it embodies both of you. Them and you bringing your goals together to meet the needs of the organization. So gain control of the spend and you’re gonna be surprised that if you take how much spend there is in accounts payable to procurement, you’re gonna find that they’re not aware of how many dollars are being spent in that non-PO category and what commodities are being purchased in that non-PO spend. Now you’re gonna have them look at it from a new perspective of total spend and that comes from the AP data. Purchasing is only looking at what was purchased on a purchase order. So we are going to look at it from end to end, from need to payment, to an accurate and effortless closing to create financial statements and to gain those incredible savings to the bottom line.
40:00 Jeff: That alignment is critical. I think it’s becoming easier to do. They want to partner, they want to talk to us now. I think for years, those purchasing folks said you just handle those payments down there in the back room.
Judy: We’re that overhead and we need to change that perspective. We can bring true value. But honestly it takes tools to get you there. You can’t do it without that. In order to succeed you have to remove the paper. And not only the paper, but the paper process. Getting the approvals, getting the receipt acknowledgement, all the things you need to do to accomplish paying that supplier online. And this can only be accomplished by transitioning to an automated process. What is awesome about automation today is that everybody can afford. If you are even small to a medium sized company and may not have the volume to warrant buying the automation and you may not have the technical support either, you can have the same benefits from attaining access through SaaS. And in the opening if you heard Laura mention, your company Jeff really invented the word SaaS and I think it is critical because it gives us all the opportunity to have the same advantages of these larger companies like J&J and our shared service center with this cloud based system. So before I wrap up my thoughts on our current situation, and as I said earlier this down economy won’t be the last time it’s gonna happen to us. So don’t be caught by surprise again and again. Capture the best way forward, whether it be a second wave of COVID, the hurricanes we’re expected to have in Florida, make sure you rewrite your disaster recovery plan now. Make sure it includes an automated, paperless, touchless automated workflow. Then transition and reskill your teams to become strategic thinkers by analyzing the data with the aim of creating bottom line savings.
42:10 Jeff: Yeah, that scalability is key. I think that is true today because there are so many options. There’s probably 80 companies that do what we do, and that was not always the case. We’ve been doing this a long time. I think there’s lots of options out there now, there’s something to fit everyone. I do think the key to it is having SaaS options because a) you can scale down to a smaller size but you can also get the same benefits in that software that you used to only be able to get if you were large and had a giant IT staff. There’s a lot of solutions out there that require very little IT. AP can control this a fix it themselves and get some help from a partner and hopefully get to your goals even quicker all the way around. Less change management, because we are already dealing with lots of change right now, so this is a good time to solve some of those problems with an upgrade, a solution that’s better and more automated to something that we have to deal with anyway, which is remote work or distributed work or both.
Judy: I think this slide kind of sums that all up very nicely.
Jeff: It’s a nice word cloud there. And the idea here is that there’s opportunities out there to make your process better while you are making it more compliant, while you’re making more audit friendly, while you’re making more visibility. Judy talked about saving money with discounts. There’s a lot of ways to leverage this technology into improvements into things that for years have been on our to do list or want it list, but not done and not doable. Today all of these things are integrated together into a single solution. When we started that was the challenge. There were 6 or 7 pieces of software that you needed to buy and then integrate them all just to do what is today a very turnkey thing put together for you by somebody that’s done it hundreds of times or maybe thousands of time. And they can help you with that transition. It’s interesting we think about scaling down, we also have a lot of interest scaling up. There’s been a lot of big companies that are struggling with this, too. The problem exists everywhere you are, really any size, any industry. And it just varies a little. You might have more PO’s or less PO’s. You might have more problems with non-PO spend. You might have more problems with payments on the backend. But everybody’s got a similar set of challenges. There are plenty of solutions out there to help and we’d love to see everybody look into this and try to find a way to build a path forward that’s better than what we have right now. We do have another event..
45:05 Judy: You want to talk about that real quick and then we will bring Laura on to cover some questions from our audience.
Jeff: So we do have another event coming up with IOFM. I’m very excited to do this Demo Day. It’s a first I think for IOFM. They are lining up a number of different providers like DataServ to do a demo. You sign up for it anonymously pretty much, and you come in and take a look at some stuff and compare side by side which is a unique way to go. We’ve been participating in IOFM events (in person events) for many many years, and we miss you all. This is our chance to connect with you again, maybe in the remote way. It’s easier to do in person, but not right now. I think this is a good alternative that IOFM is offering. So check that out on their calendar and sign up if you can. And forward it on to other folks in your organization. There’s a lot of bandwidth to do this now, so take a look at some things that are out there and understand what it can do for you in detail.
Laura: Thank you Judy and Jeff for a great presentation today. We are going to move into the Q&A portion. Just a reminder, you can submit your questions via the chat box. So we have a couple of questions that have come in already. We have someone asking, what are your thoughts on using AI and RPA to fix recurring errors, knowing this is a bandaid of a somewhat broke process.
Jeff: I think everybody just thought a robot would come in and just do this job over and over again. It’s true with RPA you can do that, you can automate a process that’s not so great. I do think it’s a little expensive and a little harder than we thought to do that. So it’s not quite as easy as pull a bandaid out and stick it on there as people thought it would be. So we’ve been hearing a lot of folks coming to us post-RPA experiments saying, we were not really able to achieve the goal here or it’s not permanent or we got it in place but it’s high maintenance or maybe it was more costly than they thought or whatever, coming back to us and saying how do we fix this permanently? In my opinion, no substitute for permanent change really in analyzing the problem and putting a permanent fix to the process is good. I think AI is a better solution most of the time because it is able to adapt. I think that’s the difference between a robot or a bot, with RPA you have to be very specific, this is what it’s going to do over and over again. Changes can put a monkey wrench into that.
Judy: I think for me as somebody who lived it every day, is not to jump into that kind of solution until you’ve actually mapped your current process. Because whatever’s broken, you’re just gonna lift and shift it right into that very expensive tool, versus really understanding what is happening and fixing those issues and creating that touchless seamless workflow.
48:20 Jeff: There’s an abundance of best practices. Our belief has always been you bundle in best practices to the solution so our job is when we come to say, I know you do it this way now, but why? Maybe you should think about doing it this way, because we’ve had hundreds of clients who were successful this way. So we challenge our clients. We try to make sure there’s clarity around best practices before you change them into the automated processes.
Judy: You reminded me, when I was doing the second shared service center, my one son was 4 at the time and I spent my entire days and weekends answering why, why, why. And then I realized, wait a minute! That’s brilliant. I need to start asking why do we do it that way!
Jeff: I have 2 young boys as well and that’s all you do, all you do all day is answer questions. It’s a great question, though, and I think we learn a lot from it. What else you got, Laura?
Laura: We have another question here. Someone’s asking what is the most successful method of getting vendors to participate in ACH payments?
Judy: Put them on hold and don’t ship them until they give you it.
Jeff: I think there’s a lot of that with ACH. It’s so much acceptable now than it used to be. I think there’s some changes on the horizon, too. In another year or so, they were supposed to come out with some much easier to sign on and much easier to automate ACH. It’s kind of still in the old batch software that they wrote probably 30 years now. So I’m with Judy. I don’t like the idea of arm twisting (Judy: I was just kidding) but I think people try to do that, and it doesn’t always work especially in the long wrong. But in the short run, I think people need it now. This is the perfect time to jump on it. We’ve had a couple of clients tell us they went after that hard. They were already automated before the pandemic, before work from home. So they basically took the opportunity to say what else can we automate. And they were looking at payments heavily. And they said we don’t want to cut checks anymore, we don’t want to have paper, like Judy mentioned we don’t have printers. So let’s go to these clients that have been holdouts and offer them again to do ACH. They found a remarkable uptake because people were on the other end saying I need this automation for me too, I need to get out of this as well. I can’t go to the bank every day and deposit these checks. That’s a story we heard a couple of times that people are more receptive to it right now. So it may be a matter of asking again.
Judy: Absolutely. Especially right now, Jeff. Because like accounts payable a lot of the things we’ve talked about, somebody in accounts receivable is chosen to be that person to go in and pick up those checks. And they don’t want to do that either. And it delays their cycle time from getting those checks, because some are going once a week or bimonthly. So they don’t even have the checks to post. Meanwhile you’re getting a call from a collector saying you owe me money when it’s sitting in this cue of cash application. So they want it as much as you do right now, so what was a no is probably a yes today. And also you might want to just offer them alternatives, because the 2nd reason AR was very hesitant is because I’m not going to give you my bank account information because money can be fraudulently taken out. The advice I give them is to say open up a deposit only account. All I can do is give you money, nobody can take it out because the bank safeguards it for you. That’s another great response depending upon if it’s one or the other.
52:10 Jeff: Did you have others, Laura? That’s great stuff.
Laura: I can only pick one thing to focus on in AP right now. What should I do first?
Jeff: Oh my goodness. I think from the beginning of this presentation we talked about paper going away. So even if it’s only about 25% of your volume, it’s still the messy, sloppy, hard part that will throw monkey wrenches into your processes all the way down stream. DataServ would always say start up front if you can, you may not always be able to do that. But if you can start up front, start up front. Judy I don’t know if you have a similar opinion, but that would be my suggestion right now.
Judy: You took the words right out of my mouth. It made me then think of another one, which would be to, because we love to hate metrics, but I would do your metrics and find out where are your volumes, where are your bottlenecks. So you personally, the person who asked this question, knows where you need to focus. And that might be different. Like some of the percentages we got about where people are. Those of you that have 100% workforce at home, paper should be a top priority. Some of you only had 7%, so where are your bottlenecks? What’s your situation and pick the feature and functionality that these systems can help you to eliminate them.
Jeff: I’ll just add back that there were a number of conversations that we’ve had in the last couple of months that people felt they were more prepared to work from home than they really were because they are getting most of their invoices on email today, not on paper. The problem became after that, what did they do with them? We have a number of companies that are still printing these out and trying to route them or trying to route them in a non-automated workflow process just inside email. And then they’re creating a spreadsheet to track who they sent it to. So you end up with multiple tools, and it’s just a very old fashioned way to go and it’s not necessary. So if you feel like you’ve got an email coming in and maybe you don’t have much paper, maybe an alternate answer might be automated workflow because that’s the way you can have those emails come in, get routed automatically. Have somebody else who needs to code it code it, and do that electronically, and then they come back to you automatically. It’s a very very big step forward. If you already feel like you’re getting a lot of email, try not to print it out, try not to reroute that again manually. So even if you don’t have a lot of paper, you might have a lot of manual processes around emails that can be fixed.
Judy: Yeah, you really want to go with a touchless process. Because that means it comes in electronically, it workflowed electronically, it matched, it’s set up for payment. This is what is gonna free up your time to carve staff out to work on these other profit-making decisions. Trust me, if you go with a presentation to your management, your C-suite about how you can convert headcount from being overhead to profitmaker, you are gonna have their attention.
Jeff: We have time for one more, Laura?
55:25 Laura: We have time for one final question here. You had mentioned re-skilling employees. What are your top recommendations to start with?
Judy: For me, it’s taking your folks and putting some training together. When Laura kicked this off, part of what I found was my job as a financial global director was to make sure that my staff was educated and had skills and training given to them. Because there was a time in the day that the skills I was giving them was software to help them type faster and more accurately. As I said a major turning point was not doing that and focusing on how to analyze data. So I’ve talked about metrics. Metrics is like I grab my coffee and I look at metrics. I am very focused on metrics. So one of the things you could do is, I now want to look at the data that is on the invoices. So I want to look at, let’s take the non-PO for a minute, because I really want to get purchasing’s attention to work with us. What is being purchased on these non-PO’s? What are these, in purchasing talk, commodities, where we talk product? So align your language, as well. What is being purchased? And is the item being purchased something that could be negotiated? Price? Terms? How it’s being shipped? Quality? Etc. And if it can, this is something that you want to gain control over your spend. So that’s what I’m saying. How much of your invoices are PO vs non-PO? And of the non-PO’s, there are some commodities that a buyer can’t help the organization with. The price is what it is. And let me give you an example: utilities. And I know companies that want 100% PO’s including utilities, and I say why? We are wasting buyers’ time. They can’t affect the price. So those are the kinds of questions. Start questioning, be that 4 year old. Why do we do it that way? Why aren’t we looking at that? Educate yourself on all of the payment processes that are out there. It’s not just ACH that can automate and make your payments electronic. There are different payment exchanges that can do the same thing. And they give you a code that’s not a bank account to get that money deposited. Within 5 minutes they get an email saying the money’s there. There’s some awesome things out there and I would put this around education.
Jeff: That’s great Judy. Great answer. Similarly, I had a thought that was a broader knowledge of the role that AP plays in the company. I think especially in light of what’s going on today, there’s lots of supply chain disruptions. I call them pandemic terms. I don’t know if you’ve guys have run into this, but all of a sudden you have to prepay for this certain commodity or this certain raw material because your product needs it or you can’t survive without it. So you might have really weird terms all of a sudden. But why? It would be nice to know why that is and how it affects the business. Being a voice at that table and when people say we are gonna have to do this, prepay 50% of the invoice before it even gets in the system. AP should be a part of that. I think being aware of broader issues, supply chain disruptions, and what does the pandemic mean to our company really is that to me. It’s broader thinking. It’s not I’m gonna do my pile of work and I have to go do this and I’ll go home. Good thing for everybody to think broader.
Judy: Think of yourself as a partner to your C-suite, rather than just transaction, processing invoices. That’s not where your value is, it’s not where your importance is, and how you can literally improve your company’s cash flow.
59:30 Laura: Well thank you so much Jeff and Judy for a great webinar today. A lot of great information. I do have a few housekeeping notes for the audience before we close out. Many of you have asked about the on-demand version of today’s webinar. Everyone will receive an email within 2 business days with a link to today’s webinar as a recording so you can play that back as well as a PDF of today’s presentation for reference. Please look for that email in the next 2 business days.