Developing an effective FinTech solution for supply chain automation

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supply chain automation network cloudtrade

CloudTrade's e-invoice and e-document network

An interview with David Cocks, CEO and founder of CloudTrade

November 2017

The Idea Behind CloudTrade

We established CloudTrade to address one of the main challenges in the e-invoicing and e-trading market: how to move the maximum number of trading partners onto electronic document delivery in the shortest possible time frame, without disrupting the supply chain.

Back in 2010, I was working as CTO delivering a new electronic invoicing service to the UK public sector. The projects were not going well with the majority of the suppliers finding the service either too difficult to use or massively inconvenient.  At the time the state-of-the art was XML-based EDI and portals (with PO-flip): the former only suitable for the larger organisation; the latter resulting in duplication of effort and creating ambiguity about legal record status. Suppliers would say, “Can’t we email you a PDF?”. So, we set out to solve the problem of automating the receipt of documents submitted by email and PDF.

We achieve this using our patented e-document service, and our solution is built firmly on the premise that e-invoicing should be easy to use and non-disruptive - only then will suppliers move away from paper.

Download our Free E-invoicing Guide to High Supplier Adoption

Suppliers can produce their invoices in an easy and non-disruptive way that removes the need for changes to their applications, infrastructure or internal processes and promotes supply chain automation. Due to the nature of machine generated PDFs (that almost all supplier systems can produce and send by email), these invoices are the equivalent to an XML or EDI file and so ensure accuracy of data. With this approach and our technology, a supplier no longer has any barriers to adoption and can be quickly brought on board to deliver electronic invoices straight into a buyer’s finance application within seconds of the supplier sending it.

Today, CloudTrade is one of the fastest growing e-invoice and e-document networks, connecting over 150 organisations to thousands of their trading partners electronically across numerous sectors and regions across the globe.

CloudTrade enables companies to evolve past their reliance on paper and trade electronically with their suppliers, irrespective of size or technical maturity. CloudTrade’s unique technology, delivers services not widely seen in the market, in a cost-effective way. Our software is also protected by lasting patents in Europe, the U.S. and Australia.

The Uniqueness of the Solution

CloudTrade AI solution fully automates the conversion of human readable documents (typically PDFs) into machine processable files (typically XML) with 100% accuracy.  Whereas legacy solutions based on OCR technology use best-endeavour to capture a limited amount of data from documents and rely on humans to correct and augment incorrect or missing items, CloudTrade’s solution was developed from day-one to automate comprehensive data capture with integrated business rules validation. The output from CloudTrade is ready, without human intervention, to drive accounts payable, robotic process automation or any other downstream IT workflow.

“An organisation can save 1-2% of its turnover by replacing paper invoices with electronic invoices and optimising the related processes”

Billentis, 2010

Benefits are realised by both the buyer and the supplier, when trading electronically. Electronic invoices are received straight into the buyer’s processing application, within seconds of it being sent by the supplier - eliminating the need for any costly, slow and labour-intensive activities.

The nirvana of straight through processing – where an invoice is received and processed without any human intervention – becomes an achievable goal, when e-invoicing is partnered with a robust P2P process. It’s not just about removing manual activities and the cost savings this deliver, either. E-invoicing enables greater control and visibility within the finance function and increases the ability for the buyer to pay on time and take advantage of supplier discounts.  

Prompt payment keeps suppliers in business and maintains a buyer’s choice and competitive prices.

These benefits have been discussed – and more importantly realised - many times before. But for an organisation to realise those benefits, it is clear they must convert as many of their suppliers from paper to electronic as possible.

  • We’ll help identify and onboard those suppliers that will give you the greatest benefit (many will be on our network already).
  • We can mop up the long tail - for infrequent suppliers we have several options to ensure 100% of invoices are e-invoices.
  • We also have our own in-house operations team dedicated to supporting you in the best way for your business.

A Real-life Use Case

Arco, the UK’s leading supplier of safety equipment, has been a user of CloudTrade for four years.  Every day CloudTrade processes thousands purchase order sent to Arco from hundreds of their B2B customers across both the public and private sectors.  The orders arrive as PDFs on emails.  CloudTrade outputs XML directly into Arco’s ordering system: item codes and deliver addresses are validated to ensure high straight through processing.  Orders are fulfilled in minutes, meeting next day delivery times, with massive improvement in customer experience resulting in strong customer retention and consequential repeat business.

Download our e-orders spotlight interview with Arco


The Emerging Trends and Enhancements in the Industry

All business and public-sector institutions are being driven to automate back office processes. Whether this is to make cost saving, provide better customer service, offer new fintech solutions (eg supply chain finance) or meet new regulatory obligations, the challenges are very similar. There are several, centralise, standardisation initiatives in progress (eg EU PEPPOL, ZUGFeRD in Germany) but these can put new obstacles in the communication path between the sender and receiver of documents. CloudTrade supports these standards, but is also strident in the pursuit of making electronic business simple and practical for all parties.  No one approach is going to be suitable for all applications, and it is CloudTrade’s focus on “making it easy” that sets us apart from a lot other service options.

Future Plans

At the core of CloudTrade’s service is an Artificial Intelligence application purpose built to extract and semantically interpret the contents of human readable documents.  We continue to add new AI techniques and machine learning to our solution, so that the service adapts seamlessly to new demands and grows more intelligent with every document processed.  In addition, we are moving the CloudTrade service to Microsoft Azure PaaS, so it can dynamically scale, be deployed in any global location as demanded by customers’ security and data protection concerns and be offered as a number of micro services ideal for close integration into customers’ end systems.  

This interview was published by Financial IT

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