Magazine Article | March 17, 2009

Achieve Success With AP Automation

This VAR’s focus on BPI (business process improvement) initiatives in high-volume AP environments is leading to an expected 15% sales increase this year.

OpEd, April 2009
Image Integration Systems (IIS) is a VAR focused on providing document management and workflow solutions that support BPI initiatives in high-volume transactional environments. The reseller has found a sales sweet spot at the intersection of the horizontal AP process, the property development vertical, and the enterprise-level ERP (enterprise resource planning) environment. One recent success found at this intersection was a project completed with Opus Group.

Opus is a $2.2 billion national real estate development company with headquarters in Minneapolis and 2,000 employees scattered in 28 offices across North America. The developer receives hundreds of millions of dollars in invoices each month and handling this transactional volume had become a challenge. “Without a centralized ERP system, invoices were being managed differently in each location,” says Robert Kearney, VP of sales and marketing at IIS. “Not having a standard process across the enterprise made invoice processing very slow and costly.” For example, if an office needed to get approval from corporate to pay an invoice, local staff would be forced into faxing and mailing documentation between offices. Not only did this increase the chance of documents being lost, it also slowed the process to a point where the company could not take advantage of prompt payment incentives offered by vendors.

When Opus began proactively investigating ERP solutions it crossed paths with IIS. But it wasn’t a completely chance meeting. Opus found IIS because the VAR is an active member in Quest, the JD Edwards user community. In addition, IIS already has several large construction and property development customers so well established references within the vertical market were readily available.

A visit by Opus to the VAR’s office provided the opportunity for IIS to develop a B&P (budget and planning) estimate for an AP automation solution. Upon acceptance of the B&P, IIS sent a team of senior associates to spend several more days at Opus’ offices to interview employees, study current work processes, and get an in depth familiarity of the end result Opus was looking for. IIS than provided a high-level design outlining the proposed solution and produced a statement of work that detailed responsibilities, project timelines, and costs.

Optimize ERP With Intelligent Capture And Workflow
Opus chose the JD Edwards EnterpriseOne ERP platform from Oracle and implemented it first at Opus’ corporate office. It was the biggest piece of the puzzle, but it was only the first. “The addition of JD Edwards gave Opus a standard transactional process — meaning invoices and invoice data were always handled in the same way,” says Kearney. “But the question remained of how to get the data into JD Edwards efficiently and maintain that standardized process across the entire enterprise.” To accomplish this, the VAR acted as a ‘one-stop-shop’, providing an integrated solution that included Fujitsu scanners, OCR for AnyDoc (optical character recognition), AnyDoc CaptureIt (data capture software), the VAR’s own DocuSphere Content Manager (imaging) and Workflow software, and the DocuSphere JD Edwards integration product, validated by Oracle. IIS even included a Plasmon optical jukebox for archival data storage.

“By installing AnyDoc at the front end we enabled Opus to automatically capture data and images as invoices are received,” says Kearney. “This eliminated the manual data entry and also increased data accuracy.” AnyDoc employs intelligent capture technologies to extract data from vendor invoices. Intelligent capture means that capture is not dependent on the form or structure of a document. Instead, capture is rules-based rather than template-based. For example, within the software a dictionary can be established that lists all the different manifestations of the words purchase order. The software can automatically look for it to be written as PO, PO #, P.O., and so on. “It is a matter of teaching the software what to look for, not where to find it,” says Kearney.

IIS also uses AnyDoc as the on ramp to the workflow process. “If the capture software is reading a vendor invoice that includes a purchase order number, for example, that purchase order number was originally created by JD Edwards,” says Kearney. “The capture software can automatically validate this data against the ERP database.” If the information doesn’t match, the invoice is directed to an accounting specialist for human intervention. If it does match, the invoice is automatically routed into the DocuSphere Workflow system and to the electronic inbox of the appropriate individual. Additionally, the process also triggers e-mail notification to that individual, informing them that items are in their inbox and prompting them to perform the next action — such as approving the invoice for payment. The IIS designed workflow uses simple point and click technology for users to place an approval note or other notification and route the invoice along to the next activity. Each step or action is automatically logged to provide visibility into the AP invoice process and maintain a complete transactional history. Once final approvals have been made the workflow software builds a voucher (a summary of the invoice information) and automatically submits it to JD Edwards for processing and generation of the payment.

Although OPUS does not share specific project costs or payback information, the company has realized significant efficiency improvements. Since the solution was put into place, Opus has nearly doubled its transactional volume with virtually no increase in terms of accounting staff headcount. For IIS the project is another example of why AP automation is the major contributor to the VARs continued growth. The VAR does more work in AP than in any other functional area, and projects like this one have the VAR on target for another 15% growth in sales this year.