RPA Technology

Robots don’t make mistakes – but data does!

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RPA Technology
RPA bots, don’t make mistakes if the instructions are correct.

There has been a huge amount written about the benefits of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and probably as many column inches dedicated to the challenges and pitfalls. In this article and our upcoming webinar, we explore the role that data plays in all RPA projects and the impact that bad data has on the robots and the desired business outcome.

Whatever industry you work in, or in whichever interest you may have, you will almost certainly have come across a story about how “data” is changing the face of our world, particularly “big data”. You may have heard this term as part of a study helping to cure a disease, boost a company’s revenue, improve customer service, make a building more efficient or be responsible for those targeted ads we keep seeing.

But we don’t mean THAT “data”!

Despite what term is commonly used, data is simply another word for information. But in computing and business, data refers to information that is machine-readable as opposed to human-readable.

In business, we receive masses of data in human readable form such as contracts, invoices, orders  or HR records etc. These documents need to be converted to a machine-readable form so that technology, like RPA, can be used to automate the process end-to-end.

The challenge is to firstly have the creator of the document produce it in a digital format that is also human readable, so that further downstream this can be read, data extracted and passed to a robotic process for downstream automation. Data extraction can be achieved at 100% accuracy if produced in a digital format (if the format contains a text layer).

Images causing havoc

But, where the sender chooses to create an image file, you must rely on Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to convert the text to a machine-readable format. The problem with OCR is that as the receiver has no control over the image quality or how data is presented, the net result is you can never guarantee accuracy and it’s these data errors that cause havoc with the RPA process.

Ensuring the best data for your robots

To make sure your bots do not go awry, the first challenge is getting the sender to create a digital document. To do this, we need to remove any barriers, ensure there is no cost or resource requirement and ideally no process change for the sender. The second challenge is to remove paper or image files that require OCR.

Bad data, big problems

Let’s consider the consequences of bad data for a minute. The impact of misreading a measurement or value could mean an engine part is manufactured to the incorrect size or an order gets processed with the wrong amount, a -10 becomes 100 and so on. Data without context delivers a second layer of complexity, as ‘ea’ could be read as ‘each box’ and not ‘each unit’ etc. There is a clear and obvious need to not only read data accurately but also to understand the context of a data element.

Now consider these challenges at scale and the impact of such errors on ‘big data’ as more of the world’s business processes become digital and move online, the need to process data at scale accurately has never been more important.

RPA for business process automation

In the world of shared services, we have looked to deploy RPA in areas such as invoice and order processing to increase automation and drive efficiencies. Through the implementation of innovative technologies, such as RPA, the human task is rapidly moving from the mundane and repetitive to those of quality control and cognitive value creation. The theory is great, but the reality is that unless the right technology and business process is deployed to convert human readable documents to that of a machine readable format, the data for the RPA bots will always contain errors. You can read more about RPA integration and CloudTrade here.

Technology for data perfection

There is a solution to read digital documents and process that data into a format a machine can read to give bots the right tools for the job.

We’re running a webinar focusing on this integration for RPA, sign up is available here and will address how this proven approach works for RPA , provide a live demonstration of delivering 100% accurate data, and how to automate business processes that will eliminate human intervention.

Microservices

Our journey from Monolith to Microservices

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Richard Hooper, Head of Systems, explains how CloudTrade upgraded its software environment to cope with increased demand and some of the problems solved along the way.

Just over a year ago at CloudTrade, we made the jump and decided that containers (using Kubernetes) were the answers to all our application issues. In this article I will examine why we have chosen to jump on the container band wagon, which could be termed as the ‘latest tech craze’, as well as how we solved some of the issues along the way, but firstly, a little about me.

About me

I’m Richard Hooper, Head of Systems and a Microsoft MVP in Azure. I started with CloudTrade back in March 2018 as a Systems Architect. As CloudTrade grew so did my responsibilities, and now I manage a team that look after the internal servers as well as the desktop, Azure estate, and the whole production estate.

My passion lies in all thing’s technology based and specially Microsoft Azure. In my spare time I blog about Azure at Https://pixelrobots.co.uk and can be found hosting the North East Azure User Group.

Was a container system the right thing to do?

It’s a question I ask myself often. With the rate of change in the cloud world you kind of have to keep questioning and evaluating, as a new technology comes out almost monthly, well it seems to anyway. Every time I ask myself, I always come to the conclusion of, yes. However, as we became more familiar with microservices and what we need from our application, I know we made the right choice.

Why microservices?

The application that powers CloudTrade’s unique data acquisition technology, Gramatica, started life as a sort of Desktop application. It needed the user to be logged in and wrote a lot of files onto the server or desktop. One good thing is that when the application was first created, it was created with steps and each step had a sort of handover using files. When I found out about this, it was a relief as it should make the move to microservices easier.

Why change then, I hear you ask! Well for a start the management of the server and application became difficult, especially if you wanted to do any kind of automated patches and, I certainly did not want to keep patching servers out of hours. But the main driving force for the move was scalability – the dream for a software business.

With the way the application was created, and all the file access, at the time, scaling was a right pain! First you had to run more copies of the application per user if there were enough free resources on the server or spin up a new server and migrate the user and application to it. Sometimes we would also hit disk issues, capacity and IOPS.

With the move to Kubernetes, an open-source container-orchestration system, and more specifically Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS) this headache has gone away. Our AKS cluster utilises something called Virtual Machine Scale Sets (VMSS) which allows for the cluster to auto scale it’s nodes when resources are becoming constrained, all done automatically. Another great feature with Kubernetes is the way it can automatically scale your deployments (a deployment is a collection of pods, a pod is a wrapper for containers in Kubernetes). How awesome is that?! But all this awesomeness still came with issues, issues that we had to get over to make this journey a true success.

Oh no, not issues!

Yes, with any journey you are always going to have hurdles along the way and this one is no different. One of our main issues, is that part of our new microservices application needs to be run in Windows containers. This was the problem we tried to fix first – some may say that was a mistake as Kubernetes did not support Windows containers at the time, but Docker did!

To get round this issue, we are currently running the microservice on Windows server 2019 in a VMSS using a custom hardened image. We currently run 6 containers per node, 1 for configuration and 5 for actual processing.

Scaling became a bit of an issue as we moved more onto this new microservice. As we are now using RabbitMQ instead of the file system, we came up with a brilliant solution of using an Azure Logic App to query the RabbitMQ cluster, which is running inside our AKS cluster, every 15 minutes. It checks the queue size and how many containers are consuming the queue and will then either scale up or down the VMSS nodes. Unfortunately, we had to choose 15 minutes for the check as the nodes can take a while to come up.

We are currently rewriting this application to run in Linux, so my tip is if you can get away with not running Windows containers then do it!

As we are using RabbitMQ, to scale our microservices that run inside the AKS cluster, we were unable to utilise any of the basic container autoscaling that comes with Kubernetes. After some research we came across Keda, which is an open source project by Microsoft and Red Hat. Keda extends the basic container autoscaling and allows us to scale based on RabbitMQ queue size and quicker than the logic app approach we used above. We were quite lucky that Keda went GA just in time for us to release the second phase of containers.  

What’s next?

We are continuing our journey with the next phases being worked on. We hope to get the release into production by the second half of this year. Once each step has been finished, we will end up with what we are calling a skeleton of our old application which will still be running on the servers. There will need to be some time spent to remove these to complete our journey as we are envisioning that there will be no need for any servers apart from the AKS nodes.

We will also continue with another journey. This one is to utilise tools like GitHub Actions and Azure DevOps which will help to automatically build and release each microservice to our test and then production AKS cluster. This will enable us to fully embrace the ‘DevOps mentality’ by not only improving internal processes, but also improving the application.

Feel free to reach out if you would like to discuss any of the above – thanks for reading!

CloudTrade specialises in converting documents (with 100% accuracy)

so humans can read them.

Learn more about CloudTrade and our technology here.

It may not be rocket science, but it can be complex

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Reading documents may not be rocket science, but computers struggle to do what humans find simple. Is technology finally able to read documents in the same way as humans?

CloudTrade are in the business of extracting and interpreting information out of documents which have been written can be understood not by people, not computers.

This is probably one of the most frustrating problems in the history of IT.

Reading stuff out of documents feels easy to us, as people. Nowadays anything to do with people communicating to other people feels easy, and we ultimately think that since computers are cleverer than we are (in many ways), that if a person finds a task easy, then a computer should find this no trouble at all.

The problem is: we tend to forget just how clever people are. Even if you struggle with long division, that brain of yours which controls everything from getting out of bed in the morning, to washing, driving to work, eating lunch, watching TV and so on, leaves the most powerful computers in the world floundering at the starting pole like electronic tortoises.

Communicating with other people, in speech or in writing, falls into that category of stuff that your brain is very good at but computers struggle to do. People get a lot of practice at it. No computer in the world could have read what you’ve read so far and have any idea of what I’m talking about, but you’ve understood me completely (well I hope so!).

CloudTrade aren’t in the world of building robots, of course, not even robotic tortoises. Neither are we trying to write a full natural language processor which could understand everything that a human being might want to say to it. These sorts of achievements are truly well within the realms of science fiction. However, what we have built at CloudTrade, is a natural language processing engine which can understand those documents which we have programmed it to understand. This is much more sophisticated than the approaches which are otherwise prevalent in the marketplace.

For example, just hoping that a particular bit of information on a document (for instance, a VAT number) might always be found on the same place on a page, just isn’t going to work. Neither will the idea that you might be able to go hunting for some unique piece of text and then look in some predetermined distance and direction to find what you’re after. These sorts of techniques work occasionally, but most of the time pages jiggle around and the chances of being able to find something which is not only guaranteed to be unique, but also always in the same location relative to what you’re looking for is tiny.

We frequently get people coming to us after they’ve tried these sorts of solutions and then given up in frustration and I sympathise with this scenario. Often, they thought that the problem they had was an easy one so they bought into an easy solution, more often or not wrapped up with some sort of neural network element, which then proves unhelpful. They’ve then discovered that this easy solution didn’t work and that they had to spend all of their time filling in for its mistakes, or being told that they had “yet another” special case which would require costly scripting or programming.

CloudTrade are simply not like this.

Ok, I know anyone can make that sort of claim, but I like to think that we put our money where our mouth is by offering our solution as a full service, rather than as a software licence where you may be left to find out for yourself whether the solution works effectively or not. We configure it to fit your requirements and when it’s up and running we correct its mistakes and maintain it for as long as you stay with us. Furthermore, we’ll charge you the same price for every document we handle, no matter how awkward or complicated it may be.

We’re the only company prepared to do this because we know, ultimately, that we’ve built the right solution. It may not be rocket science, but it’s actually pretty clever, and it turns out that you need to be pretty clever if you want to solve this problem.

CloudTrade specialises in converting documents (with 100% accuracy)

so humans can read them.

Learn more about CloudTrade and our technology here.

Self isolation? No problem – keep your business running 24/7

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Remote Working

With the world slowly putting itself into self-isolation, never has it been more evident that digitisation of your business practices enables increased flexibility in where your team works and helping to keep it ‘open as usual’. Here, David Cocks, CloudTrade CEO, discusses how the move towards digitisation and automation can not only help keep your business running during times of crisis such as these, but can also benefit your business in the long run.

In the modern world, customers have come to expect services 24/7. Companies like Amazon have set the bar very high when it feels like that drone delivering the next brown parcel is already overhead before you have even clicked “proceed to checkout”. However, not every company has the luxury of scale to ensure they always have staff ready to complete the onsite business processes, whatever the peaks in demand.

Some companies now incorporate flexible working strategies to encourage home working where it fits with the business needs, but many tasks remain dependent on the physical presence of staff within the business office. This often includes the need for access to paper documents or the use of on-premise technology, be that computers, printers or even scanners.

In these difficult times, we are also forced to accept the real possibility of large numbers of staff not being able to travel to the physical business office through actual illness or community health protection necessities. The more we modernise our business so our staff can work from anywhere, the more we are resilient to the threats of massive disruption.

The state-of-the-art way to ensure your business meets scalability and business continuity demands is to automate fully the critical processes. Persisting with manual, repetitive tasks in the spirit of “it ain’t broke, why fix it” will not work when faced with a global crisis that is emptying streets, offices and leaves the commuter train ghost-like. Also, your customers will not tolerate whatever reasons  as to why you’re unable to deliver the goods and services promised, especially if these business critical – they will look to others who have identified the risks of reliance on outdate manual processes and have taken actions to mitigate these issues.

What do I mean by ‘automating the critical processes’?

Firstly, look at your internal processes and understand why things are done manually. This is often because of external factors, notably data not available in a form or quality that is consistent with the requirements for straight through processing (STP).

Just think of a sales order arriving by email. The customer service team have to open the email, save the attachment, scan the PDF, correct the OCR (scanned data) and finally upload the data into the fulfilment system. One person can process maybe 10 orders an hour – max! If staff are not available or not on-site, then there are no orders in your system, unhappy customers and loss of revenue. All you really need is the correct data in a machine-readable form without the reliance of scanning equipment, and you can go straight through to fulfilment. Your order is shipped in minutes, and not days.

Second is to use the right technology, designed to automate and deliver touch-free processing. I don’t mean systems designed to make a manual process more efficient, where you still need elusive staff to complete routine tasks. Systems that are designed to achieve guaranteed high levels of automation and accuracy are essential for the true, scalable, high-volume straight-through process. A system that can guarantee quality must be deterministic. That is, it must be clear how it works, why it works and (probably just as important) when it fails, why it has failed. If your business systems are non-deterministic, the output cannot be predicted and you don’t know how it works, then you can’t drive for full automation. Perhaps you already have an invoice scanning/OCR service – think how annoying it is when sometimes it gets the data correct, and other times it corrupts or misses information that appears clearly on the original document. The result is you need to check manually each document. It is only when the mechanisms of automation are transparent that you can achieve continuous improvement. A system that is best endeavours and (maybe) improves in an obscure way can never deliver the straight-through processes you should strive for.

So, business leaders think automation and think STP. Modernising your business is not vanity, or even just a way of improving margins, it is a necessity to survival.

I wouldn’t want you to be the next Kodak, Blockbuster, or more recently, Thomas Cook.

CloudTrade specialises in automating traditionally manual business processes

such as invoice processing.

Want to know more about electronic invoicing and the different methods available?

CloudTrade – a woman’s world?

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Gender Equality in Technology

Well, not quite yet… But we’re getting there! Here Amee Patel, Operations Manager, discusses some of the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and how CloudTrade has changed our practices to encourage female applicants for job openings.

Being a woman in a typically male-dominated environment, like tech, can be a tough gig, especially if you are the first female to join the technical team, as I was at CloudTrade a few years ago. However, I can safely say that I have survived (and now thrive!) in an environment with roles mainly filled by men and am continuing to show women that roles in tech are not scary places, and they can fit in here!

I began my career in 2013 on an IT helpdesk – where I was affectionately known as “Helpdesk Girl”, (the name wasn’t quite that nice, but you get the idea) which accurately summed up my duties. Two years after carrying this mantle, the glitz and glamour of commuting into London became too much of a temptation and I started to apply to join tech companies in the big city. When I interviewed at CloudTrade, one of the first questions I was asked was: “You will be the only woman in the company. Is that okay?”. I was taken aback, – I come from a technical background and I spent three years studying a male dominated field at university! Of course it was okay, I thought, and ultimately it had to be okay!

Yet during my first week at CloudTrade, the imposter syndrome set in. What am I doing here?! This is far too technical for me! The men in the team are much better than me… I will never be successful here, and so on… But I stuck at it and I worked hard. I made it my business to become a master of my trade. I was supported by management and I felt like I had found somewhere that I could succeed and was not made to feel inferior to my male colleagues.

As CloudTrade is a small tech company that continues to grow, we often recruit to fill new positions. Six months into my employment, CloudTrade employed its second woman to fill a marketing position. Eighteen months after that, we employed our third into a technical role. Within another six months, I was lucky enough to move into a management role within our Operations team, and within that time we recruited another three women. CloudTrade went from no women to six, but this took almost two years – recruiting women into tech roles is just not that easy, and whenever we tried to recruit, we saw a huge imbalance in the gender of those applying.

This disparity of genders did not surprise me. Being a woman in a tech company is daunting. Imposter syndrome is real. Feeling like you need to work hard to prove your credibility and gain recognition is extremely common, and it doesn’t feel very fair. These sentiments are echoed with facts. Women are less likely than men to study STEM subjects, and even less likely to pursue careers in tech.

While CloudTrade actively tried to recruit women to balance the gender divide, the wider sector also saw more global initiatives to support women, which were gaining momentum. We recognised this wasn’t just happening at CloudTrade, it was happening everywhere, and was being brought to the forefront of people’s attention. Here at CloudTrade, to help redress the balance we reviewed our recruitment process across the various departments – the adverts we were producing, the perception of the company from potential employees, and the profile of the people we were targeting. This piece of work saw a change in the candidates we were getting. Suddenly, we were getting applications from women – talented, qualified, ambitious women!

Today, as we approach International Women’s Day, I write this blog post as one of twelve women in a company of forty-four. I am fortunate enough to work closely with these women, who all bring something different to the table in their various roles. It is never easy as a woman to walk into a tech company and not feel a sense of “I don’t belong here”, which is why I feel so proud of CloudTrade’s journey over the last five years, and so grateful for the personal and professional growth I, as a woman, am offered here.

HI, the new AI – What the Terminator got right.

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HI, the new AI – What the Terminator got right.

Ever since Schwarzenegger told a desk Sargent that he’d be back and then was back 5 mins later crashing through the wall of police station, the world has been in love with the idea of AI.

And why not? The prospect of machines taking away the mundane tasks of the day-to-day, freeing civilisation to live a decadent and carefree life is a dream to aspire to – right?  And if some of those machines turn out to be human hating cyborgs then surely that’s a price worth paying…

Generations have been working away to create that first version of Skynet (the fictional superintelligence system). But rather than looking at teaching the system how to co-ordinate a nuclear strike (hopefully we have learnt something from the film War Games) companies have instead focussed on the more mundane but ultimately monetizable day-to-day tasks that occupies the humble office worker.

While not something that generally lends itself to a big budget movie, it’s obviously a subject that people are hoping will create a big budget company.

One area in which companies have focussed is on the world of data extraction from documents. Around the world, millions of documents are having their information extracted and placed into a target system. Sometimes they are using new technology to perform the task but often (more than you would think), data extraction is carried out by people just keying in the data.

A prime target for termination you might say? But this is where we begin to see more parallels with a movie script than you would expect, as m­­arketing teams in these companies polish the reality of AI into something Oscar worthy.

A quick google for AI data extraction will fill your screen with companies using buzz words like they are going out of fashion: Neural Networks, Deep Learning, Powered by AI, Machine Learning, Big Data, Document Understanding Platform, Set and Forget, Pre-trained AI models… The list goes on and on.

But the reality is that AI hasn’t quite lived up to the dream that Hollywood has sold us. Despite the claims out there that AI is still in the early stages, nobody has created a truly work-killing system. Either AI is only involved in a small part of the end to end process or it needs a large amount of human interaction to train and review the output, simply moving the human costs of processing from one area of a business to another.

So while we wait for AI to catch up with it’s own hype, and that might be 2030 or even 2060, we need to look for solutions that harness current technology to solve today’s problems. And perhaps we need to harness HI (Human Intelligence) to do this while the machines catch up with us.

Computers can already do amazing things when given the proper guidance. That is how we approach problems here at CloudTrade using our patented data extraction and interpretation software, coupled with the in-house expertise, to quickly and efficiently teach our systems without the trial and error that AI needs.

So maybe Terminator did get something right. You need something part-man and part-machine to deal with difficult problems…

Invoice Fraud: Get smart or get fleeced

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Invoice fraud can be an expensive problem, if you choose to ignore it. Last year invoice fraud cost UK firms almost £93 million, with 3,280 invoice and bank scam cases reported – at an average of £28,000 per case. Although there has been an increased awareness in the business and consumer press around the potential risks of invoice fraud in recent months, a 2019 survey conducted by UK Finance revealed that more than 4 in 10 UK businesses are completely unaware of these possibilities. 

The survey also uncovered that even though large firms were more likely to have taken the necessary precautions to protect themselves against these scams, they were also more likely to be the target. As likely, with scale becomes more possibilities for fraudulent invoices to ‘slip through the cracks’.

Invoice fraud could happen to businesses of all sizes. The gangs behind this type of fraud are increasingly sophisticated and will often get hold of details that allow them to pose convincingly as regular suppliers.”

Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime at UK Finance

Invoice fraud is when businesses are tricked into sending money to an account controlled by a fraudster rather than the genuine supplier. Often criminals will try to acquire details from businesses, such as the date when regular payments are due, to make their approach more convincing.

In my previous blogs, I’ve looked at how the latest technology can provide valuable insights into the data organisations receive. Essentially, it comes down to being able to automatically and efficiently process organisational data whilst meeting audit and compliance requirements. This principle can also be applied to identifying and avoiding invoice fraud. 

How to spot fraudulent invoices

Benford’s law

Try applying Benford’s law to your invoice data. According to this law — also known as the first-digit law — invoice data follows a certain sequence of numbers. When numbers appear more often than they should, that’s a red flag you may have a questionable invoice. 
So:

  • The number 1 should show up 30% of the time
  • The number 2 should show up 17% of the time, while
  • The number 9 should only show up 4.5% of the time.

It works as most fraudsters often use the same numbers over and over.

Split purchases

Take an extra close look at your smaller invoices. Most companies have different levels of approval depending on the purchase amount, so smaller invoices can be paid without drawing too much attention. Fraudsters could make, say, a £200 purchase without additional approval, and split up a fraudulent £800 purchase into several invoices for £175 or £180. This enables them to skate around your controls.

Other common signs

There are a number of seemingly small or common errors that can crop up on invoices that are also strong signs you are dealing with invoice fraud. These techniques are used by fraudsters, they are relying on your finance teams being too busy to notice inconsistencies. 

Watch out for:

  • Duplicate invoice numbers – whether a fraud or simply an oversight, duplicate invoicing is always a cause for concern.
  • Fictitious or new email addresses.
  • Unusually high delivery charges.
  • Incorrect totals – simple but often effective, sometimes the wrong totals go undetected.
  • Spelling mistakes, or different layouts.

How can technology help?

Identifying fraudulent invoices is a time consuming, manual, unloved process. To do it effectively, you’d need to check through all the invoices you receive very carefully, at line level, and compare these to previous ones that you know to be genuine.

So how can technology identify and prevent payment of fraudulent invoices? CloudTrade’s data capture solution leads the field with 100% line level data accuracy. Because of the power of our technology, we can capture far more data from each document and use that data to check for fraud, by validating all captured data for consistency. That exhaustive (but necessary) cross checking is automated by CloudTrade, giving a business greater peace of mind when it comes to fraudulent invoices.

To find out more about how CloudTrade can help your business, click here

What’s at the top of your CFO’s Christmas list?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Since it’s that time of year again, you might be thinking about what to get for the special someone in your life: your CFO. Though this is the person you work alongside every day, you may be at a loss as to what they’re hoping for under the tree this year. 

While their peers might disagree on the impact of the CFO outside of the traditional finance function, we all know that more and more is being piled onto their plates. This is mostly down to digitisation.  

The majority of business strategies are primarily focused on digitising all areas of business and the responsibility for this is increasingly falling on the CFO’s shoulders. We can track this increased responsibility through the 2018 CFO survey by McKinsey – it showed us the number of functional areas reporting into the CFO has increased from 4.5 (2016) to 6.2 (2018). According to the same study, your CFO is now twice as likely to be involved in the digitisation process.

With this in mind, we thought it would be useful to give you a peek at their Christmas list, and the kind of value it can bring to your business. Every budget is limited, so we’ve kept it short – which is more than we can say for any other Christmas lists you might be handed this year! 

“The financial director’s role has expanded greatly over the last decade. It is essential today to make the best use of the data, to know how to identify the additional points of growth, productivity and cost control. The Financial Director has become a true partner of general management in the definition and implementation of growth strategies.” 

– Maryse Lecutier, PwC Partner, Chief Financial Officers – Priorities in 2018

1. Performance Management

Still the most important thing on CFO’s lists, this is all about visibility. The ability to set targets and aim for them, to have an eye on which initiatives are working and which are not, all in real-time, is crucial for a happy CFO. 

Ask your CFO where they’ve created the most value and they will likely say two areas: strategic leadership and performance management. Though, according to Mckinsey, many still see CFO’s adding the most value to traditional finance tasks. As automation grows it’s likely that these time consuming and repetitive tasks will be absorbed by technological solutions.

As the CEO’s right-hand, performance management of the finance department directly affects your CFO’s ability to support the strategic decision making of the entire organisation. 

In order to make these decisions, your CFO needs data. Whilst some are lucky enough to be equipped, many do not have that luxury. In fact according to a PwC FR 2018 survey 89% of CFO’s wanted more data visualisation and better production methods to improve their reporting.

As a CEO or MD, you might be sceptical whether performance management is having an impact on your sales process. But as you can see, there are a myriad of ways it can enhance your CFO’s job. 

2. Process optimisation

This one is crucial for growth and it’s all about control. You can help your CFO standardise and automate the AP function in your business, freeing them up and taking their team away from low value-added tasks. 

In that PwC survey, 52% of CFOs thought it was important to improve the quality of process optimisation – with 67% wanting to reduce production times for financial information and 21% intending to fully or partially robotise their financial processes.

Process optimisation goes further, as the ability to provide deeper analysis for your finance team will help reduce the cost of the overall finance function.

“Process optimisation is not just a priority, it is a question of basic standards! It is about continuously questioning and improving our current processes. New technologies make this much easier and mean we can be much more efficient when it comes to tasks with a low added value.”

– Nathalie Pivet EDF, Chief Financial Officers – Priorities in 2018

3. Risk Management 

The bigger the company grows, the more risks your CFO might perceive. All sorts of different and new activities in a growing company can call into question the security of financial flows, as well as risks like sabotage, invoice fraud, damage to the image and cybercrime. We know that, alongside the many benefits of digitization, there are new risks that can arise in this increasingly connected world. 

  • 79% of Chief Financial Officers are concerned about fraud risks.
  • 76% of Chief Financial Officers are concerned about cyber-criminality risks.

For total security and essentially, compliance, you need to deliver strengthened cost control and invest in technological innovations, like AP and sales order automation. With these innovations your back office can function correctly, speed and accuracy increases and costs (and risks) go down. 

How CloudTrade can help

We’ve seen that the top priorities of mid-market CFOs include: performance management, process optimisation and risk management, they want control, compliance and visibility – all of which can be addressed with the technology we have developed at CloudTrade. 

Control

Give your CFO 360° control of their processes, before dodgy documents can enter into your vital FMS or ERP system by validating critical pieces of information (e.g. account numbers). Enhance their AP team’s effectiveness with end-to-end true automation from CloudTrade. 

CloudTrade offer a rules-based product, different from template or neural network methods, that other businesses champion. By acting as a gatekeeper for your business systems, we eliminate errors and diminish certain types of fraudulent activity.

The result: exceptional confidence in your business processes and your ability to combat fraud in our modern hyper-connected world. 

Compliance

CloudTrade is configurable to your specific codes and processes. Our automated process extracts and comprehends all the information held in every e-invoice and e-order that enters your business. 

The flexibility of our solution means that the automation process changes with your business. We validate the document information against your business’ codes, automatically rejecting any invoice that is not “to code”. 

This approach effectively eliminates the payment for invalid invoices, that aren’t within code, and will give your CFO genuine peace of mind.

Visibility

Our solution extracts from the data layer within the document, not simply scanning and taking a good guess (like neural network powered OCR alternatives). With 100% of the data extracted from your digital data documents (.pdf, .xls, .doc) you don’t need any manual intervention or correction by a clerk. Even better, once your documents are mapped by CloudTrade, the process is touch-less. 

We don’t disguise our product’s AI approach; data extraction isn’t magic. We deploy a cloud-based backwards tracking algorithm that applies a logical approach to data extraction – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

This results in faster downstream process completion, like reporting, as you now have perfect information-accuracy that you can safely and easily put straight into your FMS.

CloudTrade’s transparent data extraction tool, frees the CFO and their AP team to walk away from low-value, error prone tasks to higher-value business support ones.

Okay, so it wasn’t a strict Christmas list. Not sure how you box up “risk management” and stick that under that tree anyway!  We hope that you’ve learnt what your CFO would like to help make their life easier and exactly how CloudTrade can deliver these to your business. I think you will agree that there’s a huge requirement for modernisation in most business, and likely yours as well. 

While you can’t wrap this gift and put it under the tree, you can contact CloudTrade to book a demo and see how we can strengthen your CFO’s processes and increase the productivity of their team.


Is AI the future of shared services?

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Prague, Czech Republic

AI has the potential to complement human activities in Shared Services, driving efficiency for organizations on a massive scale.

Currently being used to automate mundane tasks in this sector, the long term projection is that AI will become a critical tool for delivering innovation in Shared Services. In order to facilitate this movement, we need to go back to basics and focus on one crucial ingredient – data. Without accurate data, AI will fail to deliver on its promise.

What was ‘the buzz’ at SSOW 19?

We recently attended the annual Shared Services and Outsourcing Week’s Autumn event, held in Prague. It is one of Europe’s longest-running business services events, with over 200 attendees and 70 speakers coming together in talks and roundtable formats.

It was great to catch up with old friends and make some new ones, too. This year, the event aimed to explore intelligent automation and data-driven service innovation (amongst other things). This was an invaluable opportunity to listen to delegates, understand their needs and propose solutions that can complement the systems they have already invested in, as well as hear from thought leaders and experts in Shared Services from a variety of companies across Europe. 

At SSOW 19, efficiency remained the watchword for organisations seeking to grow their profitability in a mature and fiercely competitive market, whether that be with AI or with more established Shared Services technologies. 

Shared services – an evolution.

Shared Services aim to make data processing more efficient, saving organisations time and money. But they also yield other benefits, enabling managers to resource their people more strategically. By centralising and (where possible) automating mundane tasks, management can focus on adding real value to the business via human-centric activities such as sales and relationship management. And thanks to greater specialisation and oversight, Shared Services reduce costly errors that can harm the wider brand. 

Shared Services used to be cost centres, but over the years they’ve evolved into profit centres. They no longer fight fires for the business – they optimise processes that drive revenue and ultimately, growth. Those with spare capacity even provide services to other organisations. The imperative to generate net margin for the wider business had led to managers thinking more strategically, with longer-time horizons. And a critical piece of this puzzle is data acquisition.

Accurate data is everything

Traditionally, the focus in Shared Services has been on processing documents coming into the business, for obvious reasons. This was especially true when technology was in its infancy, but in recent years, the focus has shifted to data analysis of documents such as orders as well as invoices, to optimise the wider supply chain ecosystem. Truth be told, as all of these processes are interrelated, organisations need to be holistic in how they address them – a siloed approach is ineffective when pursuing optimisation. 

We’ve seen successful management teams adopt tactical and strategic approaches in order to capitalise on short-term opportunities, whilst driving sustainable growth over the long term. But in order for decision makers to adopt this holistic approach, forecasting, target setting and ongoing monitoring are imperative, particularly when it comes to cash flow and tax considerations.

All of this is impossible without accurate data. And the impact of bad data downstream can be huge. For example, the true cost of processing invoices is much higher than most people think, because of the overheads associated with acquiring and passing through accurate data. Invoices processed with old technologies like OCR often require augmentation using human labour, with staff manually correcting the errors in the data. Even then, keystroke errors are inevitable, meaning that costs pile up further. The bottom line is that relying on old technologies like OCR and human labour is a false economy.

Looking to the future

At SSOW 19, we heard that Shared Services are changing, something we at CloudTrade knew already. Who knows what this dynamic and competitive field will look like in ten years, or even five years time? AI promises to reshape the industry, but it should be focused on addressing mundane and repetitive tasks and complementing value added human activities, rather than replacing them. Furthermore, data analytics raises questions over data privacy and ethics if used for purposes other than those for which it was intended.

What we do know is that all innovation, all growth, will be built upon the quality of data that managers can leverage in order to drive improved customer acquisition and retention. AI promises to cross boundaries and connect business ecosystems – for example, by connecting buyers with suppliers, and then connecting with sellers’ manufacturing processes and supply chains. 

To benefit from the long term promise of AI, companies should first focus on the quality of their data acquisition, so that any investment in machine learning further down the line is built on solid foundations – and solid data. Bad inputs render AI worse than useless. A lack of accurate data risks turning huge opportunities into huge risks, by giving management an inaccurate picture of how the business is performing and where it’s headed, making it impossible to deliver the required business outcomes.

CloudTrade can help businesses large and small to get their data acquisition 100% accurate. Our stand at SSOW was inundated with enquiries from delegates (as experienced at the recent Ariba Live conference). One potential partner told us that data capture with 100% accuracy was exactly what he was looking for, but that he simply didn’t believe we could deliver. He quickly changed his disbelief after a demo with our team.

If you’re active in Shared Services and keen to explore ways to future-proof your business and benefit from 100% data acquisition to support the long term promise of AI, get in touch to discuss further.

The current state of the capture market

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I can remember a time when microfilm was still king. Remarkably, it’s a technology that was first used in the 1870’s and, after a great run, it died away gracefully as scanning and OCR took over. Of course, it continues to be used today for long term retention of certain documents, but it’s now considered a technology of the past.

Data capture has moved on. 

As is common during most periods of technological evolution, there’s currently a lot of hype and hyperbole surrounding the future of data capture. Reflecting on this hype got me thinking about how the industry has changed during the 25 years I’ve worked in it. It also brought to mind how much further we still have to go, and the way that substance always trumps style. 

In recent months, I’ve seen data capture vendors using spin and semantics to try and hide the fact that they still use OCR. They use phrases such as cognitive capture, machine learning and robotic capture to wage war on each other, seeking one-upmanship rather than collaboration. It’s a sad state of affairs and it sounds like the last desperate wails of a dying industry. 

As we know, slowly but surely, the OCR market is consolidating, shrinking and dying as vendors acquire each other. In some cases, we’ve seen firms buying a handful of competitors before letting the solution languish with no further thought for technological development. Sadly, this always damages the end customer, leaving them to search out an alternative solution.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. As OCR declines, the rise in the number of businesses who can receive and process data-rich application generated documents (AGD) is heartening. Now customers can question the continued use of outdated and error-prone OCR-based technology on their own terms. They are no longer a slave to one type of technology. And it’s about time.

9 years ago, CloudTrade identified this shift towards AGD and started to develop a truly scalable solution that has become the undisputed industry leader. Roughly 90% of all business documents are now application generated. This means that senders now easily interact with each other without the need for long and costly setup and integration.

The adoption of AGD-led technology now presents significant opportunities for businesses to drive operational efficiencies and reduce costs. It also provides control compliance and visibility of their processes. AGD’s popularity, coupled with CloudTrade’s deep experience gained over the last decade helping clients, means we can now solve problems for companies globally.

This isn’t anecdotal. Evidence for this shift is supported by CloudTrade’s growth. In July, we processed more documents in a month than ever before. The longest had over 1,500 pages! This volume continues to grow, proving how far we’ve come since the days of microfilm and my arrival in the industry 25 years ago. Excitingly, it also feels as if we’re only just getting started. In order to find out more about these exciting changes and how CloudTrade can help your business, why not join one of our weekly Webinars?


To learn how 100% accurate data capture can change your business, contact us today.

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