This week on NVTC’s blog, Marty Herbert of NeoSystems Corp. shares the second in a series of tips for workflow and process automation.


In Part 1 of our Workflow and Process Automation Series, Re-evaluating Your Processes, we looked at a few steps your organization can take towards drastically simplifying your billing process. Keep in mind that throughout this series, I will highlight solutions which produce time saving, compliance-driven processes that integrate with business systems, like Deltek Costpoint, NetSuite, SAP or others and create an enhanced workflow automation framework. In today’s post, Part 2 of our series, we’ll address vendor invoice processing.

A few years back, while working on a series of consulting projects, I looked at a client’s AP department while performing an audit and noted several variations they employed to process their vendor invoices. Some invoices came in via email, others via snail mail. Some came in to the attention of the company’s AP department; others came in via the project manager. Some were based on a PO and others were one-off ‘bills that needed to be paid.’ Knowing who the appropriate approver is could be multi-faceted and involve the receipt of goods (or services). Similar to many larger government contractors, our client used Deltek Costpoint for vendor invoice processing so I will use that system as an example of a well-known business system that is largely identifiable for our audience.

This business system has a great mechanism for capturing data and information related to accounts payable, but it can’t necessarily control how invoices are delivered, who approves them, and how that approval is captured for compliance purposes.

Our client’s overarching goal (outside of employing processes that increased efficiency and effectiveness) was to find a way to electronically interface an APPROVED invoice for vouchering in Costpoint. That sounds like a simple objective, but there are nuances that might not be immediately obvious. The “approved” aspect implies that there needs to be a process followed to obtain a valid, recognized approval. The “electronic” aspect implies that the entry into the ERP system should be automated without the need for manual data entry. Automated work flow tools make the design and controlled execution of a process possible, while Costpoint Web Services enables an electronic interface.

But, let’s slow down. Before we send data along, we have to gather the data. In this case the data comes from a vendor’s invoice, but we want to make sure the vendor’s invoice has been reviewed and approved before we send it into the system of record. The first step in automating this process is to gather the data input (the invoices). There are multiple ways we could approach this:

  • We can give vendors access to a “portal” whereby they upload the invoice directly into a workflow, or vendors can email the invoice to a specific address that will automate process kick-off and move it into a queue for AP servicing, or
  • We can receive a vendor invoice and initiate the process by loading it to the AP queue (potentially after scanning it in if it is received hard copy).

Then it is time to route the invoice to the proper ‘approver.” If companies are already connected to an ERP application that supports project management data, they are able to use the data inherent to any given project to pull the relevant approvers for PO-based invoices. AP clerks will then have matched the invoice to a PO (unless the vendor did that already) and chosen the lines from the PO to which the invoice applies then… well, that is all they have had to do so far.

Off to the approver(s) the invoice goes. The approver gets the invoice that has been submitted as well as details added by the AP department. The approver can decide to reject it or send it to another approver, or sit on it a while. Any (or all) of these tasks can be built into the process. The end result is (hopefully) an approved invoice.

At this point, the system should validate the invoice information and manage the voucher process through creation, voucher number generation, accept or reject status and check generation. It is critical and most efficient to have a complete trail of activity from submission to payment.

This process, when automated, is extremely easy to follow, saves time and money and is easier to implement than one might think. Unfortunately, most government contractors don’t know the ease with which automation software can achieve this and many other processes quickly and effectively.

There are numerous effective workflow management software systems in the market today. Integrify, a workflow management software used to automate a myriad of processes within a variety of platforms, is one tool we use at NeoSystems to automate vendor invoice processing within the business systems we use.

Our next blog will focus on the delightful automation of purchase requisition. If you have any burning questions about this or other processes (even those we haven’t gotten to yet!) using web services and workflow management software for your business system, please feel free to contact me.

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This week on NVTC’s blog, Marty Herbert of NeoSystems Corp. shares the first in a series of tips for workflow and process automation.


Marty HIf you are an ERP user, you likely know that most applications are rich with many features that address the nuances of running projects, especially if you are a government contractor.  However, no application can address the many steps that an organization must go through to accomplish what might be seen on the surface as a simple task.

Take ‘billing’ for example. I was asked a while back to determine how to route a bill for approval, and I thought it would be a “piece of cake”. Create bill. Send to approver. Get approval. Bill is right – Send to customer. Bill is wrong – rinse and repeat.  For this article, we’ll use commonly known GovCon ERP, Deltek Costpoint, as an example.  This system is very good at the first part. If you need to create a bill, you can create bill replete with support for hours worked and costs incurred. The problem, however, is there is no nice and simple way of implementing a workflow process that will accommodate most organization’s review and approval routines within the ERP framework.  That’s not a knock against Costpoint, no ERP systems on the market adequately address this issue, especially when you magnify it by the many, many other processes, that an organization has in place to accomplish their back office routines.

Over the next six weeks we will be taking a look at several areas where workflow plays a big role and how to leverage the automation of workflows via integration with your ERP. Companies unaware of how to automate in these areas are wasting precious time in determining the process, missing steps and ultimately don’t know how to streamline efficiencies that will save them money down the road.

In our first post for “Evaluating Your Process for Users of Deltek Costpoint or a Similar System,” I’ll examine the role of an AR clerk with my ‘piece of cake’ attempt at automating bill routing.

I had bills created from our ERP and I had Outlook, so I sent two bills to their respective approvers to verify hours were correct so we could bill the services to the client. Then I waited and waited and waited and waited… you get the picture. I followed up via email at least three times over the next week and finally, a week later, I knocked on their doors to see if they had time to review the email I sent.

‘Approver 1′ called me to his desk and had me look at the count of emails in his inbox. Until then, I was unaware that this number could go over 9,999, but there it was. I apologized and helped him find my email. Five minutes later he reviewed it and sent me an email saying we could bill it. Finally, the bill was out the door. I don’t remember whether I had to mail it or email it, but that is of no consequence. Oh, and of course, I forgot to tell my supervisor that I got the bill out the door so she was unnecessarily on my case the next morning.  I’ll try not to make that mistake again.

‘Approver 2′ (let’s call her Amy), asked if I had received her email. She said she responded immediately to each of the messages I sent, so I crept back to my cube and found her responses.  Suddenly I was the culprit in slowing down my own process! “Sorry, this Acme project isn’t mine,” she said. “These should go to Janet, she runs the Acme project.” Ugh! Wouldn’t you know she didn’t even have the courtesy to copy Janet on her response to me. So I just trudged down the hall to Janet’s office and had her review the paper copy. She looked at it briefly and said “yep, looks fine.” Great, I was out her door and happy to get the bill out of the door. Never mind that I forgot to get Janet to initial the invoice to indicate she had approved it and, of course, I forgot to tell my supervisor I sent the bill.  But, hey…bill is out the door, case closed.

Actually, the case was just getting started. The following week, in walks my supervisor. “I got a call from Acme Company’s CFO.  She asked me who Francis Miller was and why we were billing Acme for her travel to Las Vegas.  When I look in our system, this bill isn’t even posted, when did you send it out? Did you get Amy to review and approve this before you sent it out?” Sorry, I said, I forgot to post the bill in the system, and Amy said the project really belongs to Janet, so I got her to review and approve it…..see (as I pulled my copy from the file drawer). But, of course, Janet’s initials weren’t there.  Now my boss is mad at me for sending out an invoice that she thinks I didn’t get reviewed AND I forgot to post it. Swell.

I realized there was A LOT of room for improvement in this process. Problem #1, people are swarmed with email. Problem #2, people change roles and responsibilities a lot. Problem #3, no coordination with the ERP and the approval activities.  Problem #4, I can be my own worst enemy. Why couldn’t all this stuff be linked together somehow, and why isn’t there a way to get things posted in the system without me having to remember every little thing. I’m only human, after all. And this was a simple bill.  I could only imagine – or rather didn’t want to in this case – what would have happened if there had been revisions.

From experience I’ve gathered intelligence on how to sidestep these common pitfalls. Apart from working together as a team, companies always think in terms of making changes to their IT infrastructure. What I believe needs to happen is approaching these pitfalls in terms of changing the process infrastructure. There are no short term ‘quick fix’ changes, but rather logical steps toward automating manual processes that run at the heart of their businesses.Workflow

Step 1

Get people out of email and into a single system for approvals. This will help solve problem #1 and 3. By logging in to a single system for approvals, the approver should be able to get to a “To Do” list that helps them focus on the task(s) at hand. A system that alerts ONLY when an approval is required, and only when this task is “past due,” can assist in decreasing problem #1.

Step 2

Link your system to Deltek Costpoint or a similar platform! Not only does it save time from transferring information into Outlook, but it also ensures that the information will not be incorrectly entered or failed to be entered. Additionally, users can maintain project leads in Costpoint, and can link to a user in the system to automatically assign the approver to the person(s) involved in any given approval process. Problems #2 and 3 solved.

Step 3

Create a workflow that allows for rework, rejection, and handles the issues and items that may need to be addressed when something is “wrong.” That way, the stakeholders that need to be involved can be included automatically based on roles, or by selecting a user from a list of possible issues/departments involved. This decreases the amount of emails sent out for approvals. Assigning a task and automating reminders in the system accomplishes all these things.

Step 4

Solve Problem #4.  Remove yourself from your enemy list.  Relax. Stay out of email. Work on other things. Seriously. At a recent conference I attended, it was estimated that we spend around 28 percent of our work time sending or reading emails. What happens when you remove a single work stream worth of emails from your list of things to do? You can get back a piece of that time to work on other more pressing issues.

If it sounds like I’ve been through this process at least a few times, it’s because I have. Using the power of a business process management tool called Integrify, NeoSystems has automated this and other processes and tied those processes to Costpoint and similar platforms. Throughout this series, I will highlight the ways we have implemented, envisioned, and produced time-saving, compliance-driven processes that integrate with your ERP to create an Enhanced Workflow Automation Framework.

Have burning questions about Process Automation? Feel free to contact me ahead of next week’s blog post.

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Does Big Data Matter?

August 12th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s blog, Caryn Alagno of Synthos Technologies explains that every company is a data company, and every company’s data has hidden insights.


Suspend reality for a moment, and imagine a modern workplace in which the Internet was familiar to and available to just a few highly specialized individuals.

These trained, sought-after professionals were tasked with informing everything from product development to strategic positioning. No one else in the organization understood the possibilities that this mysterious “internet” could provide. Some companies developed entire strategies around it. Others ignored it. It intimidated some. Some thought it “just wasn’t for them.” Debates about its importance persisted.

Sounds crazy, right?

But this is exactly the current state of affairs with regard to large-scale, enterprise data management. Most of us know it as “big data.”

Organizations in nearly every industry are sitting on massive repositories of data that they either don’t know what to do with or haven’t considered activating. Some know precisely what they want to do, but are confused about where to start. In other cases, concerns around everything from security to privacy are paralyzing companies that instead should be mobilizing for a massive shift in the way they do business.

For many, “big data” is either scary or exclusionary. At worst, it’s both; and at best, it’s ignored. But the reality is, big data is neither. It’s more than a buzzword, or a trend or an initiative. It genuinely matters.

Companies in industries like finance and health care were early entrants into the big data space. Billions of securities transactions; where are the patterns that indicate fraud? Thousands of complex compounds; which one is a break-through therapy?

But every company is a data company. And every company’s data has hidden insights.

The same is true of government organizations and nonprofits. Setting aside security for a moment, consider the massive amount of information that organizations like the IRS handle. Each year, the agency processes more than 140 million tax returns. It estimates that it sent out nearly three million fraudulent refunds to con artists last year. The Government Accountability Office says that this form of identity theft has cost tax payers as much as $5.2 billion dollars. In a single year. Others think the number’s much higher. Everyone agrees it’s going to grow – and that it needs to stop.  Criminal activity is the symptom, but poor data management is the disease.

In 2013, the 25 largest non-profits in America raised more than $30 billion. Their missions range from promoting quality education and financial stability to caring for the sick and feeding the hungry. The same year, a study by the Non-Profit Technology network found that one out of ten of these organizations have no way of tracking how certain “engagement” behaviors (like opening or forwarding an email, or posting messages to social media) correlate with a person’s likelihood to donate time, donate money, or donate more of either. Understanding this connection, and making strategic programming decisions based on what the data shows, is critical to these organizations’ efficacy and longevity.

Making meaningful sense of massive amounts of information matters. Sure, the data is important, but the correlations within it are even more so. The tools that allow people to find connections in the data – and to then make more informed, more impactful decisions – will enable radical shifts in everything from productivity and profitability to innovation and to our very quality of life.

It sounds flowery and poetic, but it is an absolute fact.

Big data matters because of what it has the potential to change. But it also matters because it’s forcing an entirely new conversation about the ways in which we interact with information. Is database technology enough? Where does it fall short? Are search engines enough? Where do they fall short? Are there things about either of these technologies that could form the basis of something entirely different?

Related, who needs to interact with data? What could they do with it, and what would that mean?

Data is an equalizer – when we all have access to it, we all have the potential to use it for good in our respective arenas. Data is also a differentiator – and in the big data game, the winners are those who put data to its most effective use.  If that gets you excited, then there’s never been a better time to be a fan.


 

Caryn Alagno is the EVP of Communications and Marketing at Synthos Technologies, a division of Qbase, LLC. Synthos Technologies is a big data and analytics solution provider whose mission is to build entirely new ways of interacting with information. 

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