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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The long term value of accurate data capture

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In my role at CloudTrade, I’m fortunate to work with our partner organisations who provide technology solutions spanning many sectors and geographies. In recent years, topics of discussion have included Business Process Improvements and digital transformation to Robotic Process Automation, data mining and more recently, process mining.

Regardless of the latest technology, one thing has remained constant – the need for high quality data. Inputs are absolutely critical and yet, they are often overlooked in favour of outputs.

Data is everything

Get data capture right, and organisations are empowered to gain actionable insights and provide an improved service to their clients. Get it wrong, and technology upgrades can cause more harm than good. 

It sounds obvious, but organisations seeking to leverage cutting-edge technology need data. That’s why it’s so important that organisations prioritise the capturing of data that is accurate and accessible in a structured format. This enables data elements to be linked and insights gained. And it provides opportunities to leverage exciting new technologies like AI.

The interoperability challenge 

Traditionally, organisations looking to capture unstructured data to fuel process mining and insight projects have relied on traditional capture technologies like EDI, data ‘flip’, outsourcing or even OCR.

These technologies have much to offer if implemented correctly, but this isn’t always the case. Another challenge is uneven adoption amongst suppliers and buyers, leading to a lack of interoperability. So, it makes sense to focus on connecting different parts of the supply chain through technologies that are accessible, affordable and ubiquitous. Application generated documents, like PDF’s, are a perfect example.

Why “good” is the enemy of “great”

As Jim Collins has observed, “Good is the enemy of great”. 

Often, organisations adopt technology solutions with sub-optimal outcomes because they believe they don’t have the time, money or resources to change their approach. As we have pointed out previously, many organisations are unsure how best to integrate the technology into their existing workflows. Or they choose to ignore implementation, believing it’s too complicated and expensive.

Instead, they introduce workarounds or simply accept that technology can only deliver a certain level of performance due to technical, financial and operational barriers. The result is that data quality suffers and people are basing decisions on flawed or incomplete data.

We all know how fast technology is moving. The potential that RPA, machine learning and AI have on our everyday lives is huge and exciting. To deliver on their promise, we need to ensure that the data we feed into the top of funnel is as clean and complete as possible. And that means a laser sharp focus on ensuring data capture is 100% accurate. 

Think of it as an investment in the future of your business – one that will reap dividends once technologies like machine learning become truly accessible and affordable.

The right capture technology for the right source

CloudTrade’s partners use our patented service to ensure they’re able to accurately capture data from semi-structured and unstructured sources – including application generated PDF invoices – and turn them into structured formats, including Excel. In this way, we’re accelerating the adoption of new technologies by providing the underlying data that powers them. 

We’re conscious that many organisations are investing heavily in digital transformation. These projects come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re to be greatly encouraged. By adopting the right capture technology for the right source, outcomes are always more accurate and complete.

CloudTrade’s offering has been designed to slot into existing processes and technological infrastructures, enabling organisations to fill in any gaps when it comes to information capture. Now you can leverage the power of high quality data, however you choose to use it.


Learn more about e-invoicing and e-ordering

How to get started with e-ordering

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of my first roles in the industry was at one of the world’s largest document management providers (Xerox). I was tasked with persuading businesses to use digital for order processing. 

Open-minded prospects, ‘low hanging fruit’ as I called them, saw the benefits of e-ordering and converted to digital. However, a large percentage refused. Problems inherent with digital meant that many decided to stick with tried and tested methods, such as fax and telephone. Nearly 20 years on, many of those problems remain. And while some are embracing a hybrid model, many businesses still ignore or refuse digital. Today, fears around revealing B2B pricing online is a common roadbloack to implementation.

E-orders need to be processed with 100% accuracy. Once an order is received, a supplier needs to ship the order quickly. Errors and delays equal costs, so e-ordering is directly linked to revenue. If e-ordering fails to deliver fast, accurate, line-level data, the bottom line suffers. 

When it comes to e-ordering, businesses have options:

  • EDI satisfies high volume clients, but it’s costly and timely to implement. 
  • OCR might be used for smaller clients for back-office functions, such as finance, but it’s not accurate enough for eOrdering 
  • E-commerce businesses have built B2C-style portals for their B2B websites. These satisfy some customers, but they don’t scale. 

With over 50% of all inbound orders still non-digital, the challenge is the same as the one I faced in 2001: beyond ‘low hanging fruit’, how can a business convert more customers to e-ordering? 

Businesses need to find an answer and fast. B2B buyers today demand digital. According to a recent Forbes article more than 70% of a business’s 20 to 35 year-olds are involved in the B2B buying process and, based on a study by Merit, one third are the sole decision maker. These digital natives are in key buying positions and expect automated solutions. They browse online, tap-to-pay and receive next-day delivery. Anything less is unacceptable.

These buyers might demand digital, but they don’t want to lose time keying in purchase orders. And they don’t want banter with a salesperson. They just want to send an order, knowing it will be accurately processed. Ideally, most want to send an application generated PDF via email.

Over 90% of buyers prefer this method of sending orders as their purchasing system can send them with no technical development needed.

CloudTrade offers an e-ordering solution for businesses of all shapes and sizes, providing 100% accuracy from PDFs. Additional features, such as address lookups, auto code swaps and unit of measure checks mirror the traditional role of call centres. It’s the perfect solution for a new generation of tech-savvy buyers.

CloudTrade also gives buyers control and visibility. This lowers operating costs and increases customer satisfaction levels, leading to repeat business and higher revenues. What’s more, our focus on accuracy leads to time savings for call centre teams. They can then focus on value adding tasks, such as cross-selling and up-selling. E-ordering does all the hard work for them.

The demands of buyers today are different from those that I encountered when I set out in the industry. Today, a new generation demands instant, fast, accurate solutions at the touch of a button. Surprisingly, the problems with e-ordering that buyers encounter are the same as those faced by my prospects. Fortunately, PDFs offer a solution, and it’s one I wish had at my disposal when I was starting out. 


Is ordering a bottleneck for growth in your business? Contact the CloudTrade team today for a chat about e-Ordering.

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How to grow the value of your data capture investment

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over the last twenty years, organisations have invested heavily in OCR and EDI solutions. This investment in data capture technology has been rewarded with efficiency savings as automation has reduced costs and lowered error counts.

Whilst the initial investment in OCR was the correct choice at the time, the rapid evolution of technology in recent years has left some organisations lagging. OCR and EDI now fall short of modern data capture solutions.

The best businesses stay on their toes

This pattern is common across industries. Investment into any technology runs the risk of fast becoming a bad investment if the technology isn’t kept up to date. However, this shouldn’t put companies off making investments. By keeping pace with technology, forward-thinking organisations can find new ways of working, creating a dynamic operating model that enables positive transformation and drives continual efficiencies whilst promoting strong revenues and profits.

The pace of change can lead to legacy capture technology becoming out of date. OCR and EDI are examples of this. OCR is prevalent across a range of industries and, whilst it’s a solid method of capturing data, it’s far from perfect. As my colleague, Stewart Jacobsen, mentioned in his recent blog post on the state of the capture market,

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.

Alliance Director at CloudTrade, Stewart Jacobsen

For example, it often requires manual intervention to support accurate capture or undertake corrections. This makes it inefficient and when compared with technologies that have evolved in the last decade, expensive. Most pressingly, it’s also limited in the scope of data OCR can capture.

Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

EDI is similar in that the pace of technological evolution is now exposing its flaws. Whilst it offers the opportunity to accurately capture line level data, it can be frustrating and cumbersome for the vast majority of senders to configure, as suppliers have to make changes to their systems and infrastructure to support EDI. This takes time, effort and budget, as well as technical expertise.

Many of the shortcomings of OCR and EDI can be overcome by completing a process that requires limited investment. By undertaking a simple analysis of their senders, an organisation can learn to apply the right technology. In basic terms, EDI is suited to a small number of high volume senders, whereas OCR is suited to occasional suppliers. Finding this solution doesn’t take much time or capital. Rather, it’s common sense, a rational assessment of the situation and a practical solution put in place. Companies can then decide what technology to focus on.

Data capture of the future

However, there’s no need to be so prescriptive. CloudTrade’s technology allows organisations to service both types of clients by tackling inbound documents that fall between these two points. Our customers can use their current legacy technologies that they have invested in, adopting a digital strategy that gives them access to the ‘massive middle’, where so many suppliers sit.

By employing our technology, organisations are adopting a low-cost method that supports the step-change in transformation required. Our customers don’t need to make big investments in new technology. Rather, we help them to get the most of their existing capture technology in a low cost, efficient manner. This allows them to drive improve cash flow and customer experience.


Speak to a member of our team today and we can show you how our 100% data-accurate solution has helped businesses around the world reduce costs and increase revenue.

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Is digital transformation a technology issue?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

We are all immersed in the digital world.

In our private lives we interact daily with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp. At work, it’s applications for communicating with colleagues and clients; email, LinkedIn and Skype. There’s also Microsoft Office, document and content repositories, PMO and finance applications that power the practicalities of everyday business.

Increasingly, the information we share is digital. If we are to survive and thrive, we must figure out efficient ways to send, consume and interpret this data. So it’s alarming that a recent survey conducted by KPMG found only half of executives say their company has a digital transformation strategy, and only a quarter know what their next steps will be. The issue here is that most people think of digital transformation as part of IT development, rather than a corporate or personal strategy. As a result, they often end up relying on crude technology and just making do.

On a daily basis, I’m sure you’re bombarded with buzzword ladened marketing pitches about disruptive technologies, cognitive machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain and robotic process automation. Information overload and the multitude of suppliers peddling ‘world class’ solutions has become a cliché.

Yet, success stories still make it through the noise and the fear of standing still galvanises people into embracing change. We all recall what happened to the likes of Kodak and Nokia when they ignored technological innovation. We also hear IT horror stories, where the shiny (and expensive) new system fails to deliver the promised business gains.

The wood from the trees

Digital transformation is a strategy. For it to work, it needs to be accepted across the entire supply chain, providing benefits to senders and receivers. There is no point in embracing a technology like Blockchain if the majority of your clients are using a different strategy. Betamax and VHS spring to mind, for those old enough to remember. And talking of the future, it’s millennials who will be inheriting these decisions.

The benefits of a digital economy are obvious – repetitive, mundane tasks can be automated, human error removed and transaction data communicated instantly, reducing costs and allowing humans to add value to the process where it matters.

So, we need to make digital transformation easy for everyone to embrace. It’s a journey, and businesses need to take everyone they interact with along with them, rather than leave them behind. At home or at work, we have many modes of content creation and communication, so any digital transformation strategy must consider the target audience.

If businesses put unnecessary barriers between them and their counter-parties, the result will always be resistance and noncompliance. The buyer of a product or service simply wants to receive what they’ve ordered on time, at the agreed price, and this means a simple non-disruptive way of paying and recording transactions.

Technology can enable Digital Transformation

For example, a restaurant ordering flour for baking cakes, making pizzas and bread needs three different types of flour, detailing these as separate line items on the order. But, if the invoice has the total price and simply says “flour”, how do I know what has been delivered and in-turn manage my inventory?

The signed delivery note might have the correct information, but the restaurateur would have to manually enter the delivery note and invoice information into their finance and stock systems. They could just match at header level to save data entry tasks, but they would then have lost compliance with data integrity.

Technology alone can’t deliver digital transformation. But it can help to enable digital transformation. In the case of the above example, the buyer needs to communicate with the supplier electronically and include information on the order that the supplier can recognise and process automatically.

Similarly, the supplier needs to acknowledge the order, make recommended changes, receive final confirmation of the order and arrange delivery and invoicing inline with the order. That way, they can complete the transaction.

In the real world this rarely happens. So how do we leverage technology to deliver an end-to-end digital transaction?

The importance of interoperability

What the sender and receiver both need, is a common communication platform where data is recorded, encrypted and freely exchanged. Email is the most obvious candidate, since everyone uses it on a daily basis.

Communications need to contain information that can be clearly understood or interpreted with validation, ensuring the detail enables both parties to complete the transaction with commonly available technology. This interoperability is crucial.

To see how to works in practice, take the processing of a purchase order. If a buyer sends an order by email as a digitally created PDF, the buyer can leverage the native PDF capability contained in their ordering or finance application. Email is secure and provides an audit trail, which is critically important. This is a great start, as the record of purchase adds no additional cost to the buyer, no stationery, ink or postage. And crucially, the supplier has a digital record of the order.

An application-generated document can be processed automatically without the need for scanning and OCR, which tries to convert an image into a machine-readable format, but unfortunately cannot eliminate character recognition errors. With an application-generated document, the supplier is able to read the header and line information on the order for processing. This is the first step in the journey to digital transformation, but there is more work to be done if businesses want to achieve end-to-end automation.


There are many confusions and challenges when it comes to e-invoicing and to realise maximum benefit it is important to understand those differences and select the right one for your business. 

Read our e-invoicing to help make better e-invoicing decisions for your business. 

Read a review of different E-Invoicing Methods


Data is everything

We have heard much about the potential of Blockchain, Cognitive AI or RPA to automate business processes. But the one thing this digital transformation journey needs in order to succeed is data. An RPA process without content or context gives us a dumb robot, and a blockchain with missing data has no integrity. So how do we overcome these issues?

At CloudTrade we have developed a simple-to-use service that acquires transactional data from any application-generated document with 100% accuracy. The data is then interpreted and validated to ensure content and context meets the requirements of the receiving system, providing end-to-end automation. It’s simple but highly effective, as it allows the sender to email their instruction at no additional cost, which is then acknowledged and automatically processed.

Take the order example. The buyer creates their purchase order in PDF format via their finance or ERP application, and they email this to the supplier’s email address for processing. CloudTrade acts on the data contained in the email body and attachments, extracting header and line information with 100% accuracy. The line level data can contain SKUs, unit prices, tax amounts etc.

The line level detail then allows the buyer to automatically process the invoice for payment, again by using CloudTrade for invoice processing.

Line level detail opens a whole new world for spend analytics (how much Type-0 flour did I use last year and from which supplier etc) data governance, compliance and trade finance options.

The digital transformation journey is not just a technology issue. All parties need to participate, and that means adopting systems that leverage ubiquitous technologies like email and PDFs. CloudTrade can be deployed to remove barriers to entry, ensuring critical line level detail is captured and correctly interpreted to allow end-to-end process automation.

By doing this, we can drive adoption amongst buyers and suppliers, helping businesses everywhere to embrace the digital revolution with confidence.


Book an exploration call with our sales team to understand how CloudTrade can help automate your e-invoicing and e-order processes. 

Demonstration?

Higher education embraces digital transformation

Reading Time: 2 minutes

As we’ve discussed on the blog before, digital transformation doesn’t have to be all or nothing. For many organisations, the best way to enact meaningful digital change is to take small steps towards big digital goals. Slow and steady wins the race.

This is true across every industry. At CloudTrade, our technology is designed to be flexible so it can help a range of organisations, whatever their size or expertise.

One industry we’ve been engaging with recently is higher education. A number of higher education institutions are embarking on digital transformation projects. They’re actively looking to change how they run operations, manage their workforce and engage with students. Digital technology is prompting industry-wide change.

This is being driven by a number of key factors:

  1. Higher education institutions recognise that technology can help them build for the long term. Technology is a good way of future-proofing operations.
  2. Higher education is highly competitive, with institutions striving to attract the best teaching and student talent. Digital proficiency is a way that institutions can get ahead. Transformation, if done right, can provide a real reputational boost.
  3. Forward-thinking institutions know they need to enact digital transformation or risk being left behind. This is especially true of machine learning and AI which rely on large, high quality data sets. The sooner digital projects like electronic data capture begin, the sooner benefits can be realised.

Higher education institutions are adopting technology across departments. Digital transformation doesn’t have to benefit a single back office function, such as finance. It can also enhance the operations of an entire institution, from how it presents itself online, to how it communicates with students.

Digital transformation can also act as an enabler. If back office functions correctly, speed and accuracy increases and costs go down. What starts in operations with electronic data capture realises benefits in other parts of an organisation. All that’s required is an initial action, which is why most projects can be undertaken by using “nudge” techniques to make small incremental changes.

Our approach at CloudTrade shows how small scale projects can affect change. It’s why we’re working with a number of higher education institutions to provide 100% accurate data capture for their back-office functions. Our service is commonly associated with finance-related documents, but our technology can automate data capture across a range of documents. This lowers back-office costs at higher education institutions, drives stronger analytics and enables automation in downstream systems.

Higher education is a great example of an industry embracing digital transformation. It’s a sector that also illustrates the flexibility of CloudTrade’s technology, showing how we help all organisations, whatever their industry, whatever their requirements. If you’re interested to find out how CloudTrade can help your organisation, click the button below to book a call with our sales team.

The big benefits of supply chain finance

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Supply Chain Finance

We recently wrote about the issue of late payments. But it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, the rise of supply chain finance offers suppliers a neat solution to the critical problem of getting paid on time – and offers buyers a chance to improve their cash flow, too.

No wonder then that adoption is skyrocketing, with tonnes of providers launching to target specific market niches. But how does supply chain finance work? And how can you make it work for your business?

What is supply chain finance?

Supply chain finance – otherwise known as “reverse factoring” – has exploded in popularity in recent years, as businesses have recognised the positive impact it can have on cash flow and relationships across the supply chain.

It performs something akin to a magic trick, enabling businesses to lengthen their payment terms to suppliers, whilst helping suppliers to get paid early. Supply chain finance comes in many different forms, but perhaps the simplest variation is when a supplier sells eligible invoices at a small discount to a finance provider, who is then paid by the ultimate buyer of the goods or services covered by the invoice.

Who benefits?

Everyone benefits from supply chain finance:

  • The supplier gets paid early by a creditworthy counterparty
  • The buyer of the goods or services enjoys the benefit of extended timelines for payment
  • The finance provider makes a margin between the price it paid for the invoice from the supplier and the price it will receive from the company upon settlement

For suppliers and buyers, this is a great way to improve liquidity management. But it’s not as easy to achieve as it sounds. To make supply chain finance work for your business, you need to look under the hood of your finance system to ensure that you have the correct document processing infrastructure in place. Without it, frankly, it won’t work.

Speed is everything

What is the key to successful supply chain management? Speed, the quicker you can get an invoice authorised and ready to be paid, the better for all parties. Unfortunately, this is a formidable challenge for many businesses, who take an age to process documents.

CloudTrade slashes the time it takes to get invoices authorised:

Application-generated documents are validated and data is extracted. It can also be augmented and enriched if necessary, before being ingested into the finance system and used in other areas of the business, facilitating greater visibility and control.

The invoice is posted to the target system, ready to be paid – without being so much as touched by the buyer.

Typically, invoices arriving into Accounts Payable take between 10 and 30 days to be authorised for payment. With CloudTrade it takes less than 24 hours.


DOWNLOAD OUR FREE E-INVOICING GUIDE TO HIGH SUPPLIER ADOPTION


Cash is king

On a practical level, the speed and accuracy of this process means that buyers have much more negotiating power when it comes to paying invoices.

If an invoice due for payment within 60 days can be authorised for payment within 1 day of being received, that leaves 59 days to play with. To press home this advantage, a notification can go out to the supplier informing them that the invoice is ready to be paid – and the buyer can ask for a healthy discount for early payment.

This is a great example of how increasing the velocity of document processing can create new opportunities for your business. CloudTrade’s unique Intelligent Data Capture[2]technology enables organisations to exploit supply chain finance to get more visibility and control over cash flow.

Give back to your business

In recent years, the focus amongst UK companies large and small has shifted away from cost reduction towards cash management and compliance. Companies are already pretty efficient, and there isn’t much wood left to chop in order to improve profitability. Rather than saving hours by cutting headcount, our clients and prospects tend to be focused on giving hours back to the business.

Supply chain management is the perfect way to achieve this. CloudTrade’s technology creates opportunities to improve the way companies manage cash flow, whilst keeping suppliers happy and countering the late payment epidemic.

The value of this is not to be underestimated. No man is an island, and no business exists in a vacuum. By investing in faster document processing, you’re investing in your relationships across the supply chain. And in the long run, there’s no better way to grow a business.

CloudTrade helps you and your suppliers save time and money. Book a discovery call today.

The future of e-invoicing: To EDI or not EDI?

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EDI is a direct connection between two systems

Organisations looking to implement EDI for the first time need to consider the challenges associated with this legacy approach to electronic trading. And those looking to upgrade should think twice before throwing good money after bad.

EDI has been around since the 1970s and in that time, service providers have often over-promised and under-delivered. This hasn’t changed. Clients are promised the earth, but those who adopt EDI to streamline their document processing are often disappointed. On-boarding trading partners to EDI can be a challenge.

The process for organisations to onboard their suppliers to EDI is frustrating and cumbersome for all involved. The main problem for a supplier is that they have to change their systems and infrastructure in order to support EDI. It takes time, effort and budget, since it requires technical skills to make it happen.

In order to understand the challenges, it’s worth first understanding the process that a supplier needs to go through when setting up an EDI connection:

  1. EDI service provider contacts supplier. The relevant contact often resides in credit control, so is unable to make it happen immediately.
  2. They have to log a request with their IT department to update their finance system and infrastructure. This means they require a compelling business case, which must be submitted to management.
  3. If successful, they obtain sign off from the relevant decision-maker.
  4. They then wait for changes to be made to the finance system and infrastructure, before going live.

This process requires oversight from multiple teams within the supplier’s organisation, including credit control, ERP, IT and infrastructure. Often, third party outsourcing providers are involved in the picture, too. This means the EDI vendor and the end client are forced to treat every single connection as a full-blown project. No wonder the process is normally measured in months, rather than hours.


e-Invoicing made easy

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EDI service providers might have good intentions, but this approach inadvertently causes unnecessary friction between buyers and sellers. It can take months to connect new trading parties and get electronic business documents flowing. This is a problem, causing delays and lacklustre adoption of EDI amongst suppliers, since only those with high transaction volumes and the right technical skills can justify coming onboard.

It doesn’t need to be this way. Ultimately, receiving organisations just want high quality transaction data automatically uploaded into their systems so they can process business documents such as invoices quickly and accurately. Using CloudTrade, it’s as simple as sending a PDF invoice via email. Our technology maps the data carried in the PDF to the file structure required by the receiver. It really is as simple as that.

When you compare this low-maintenance onboarding approach with that of EDI, the difference is stark:

  1. Supplier receives an email requesting that invoice is sent via email as a PDF.
  2. Request is received by credit control clerk and the invoice is emailed to the relevant address.
  3. CloudTrade converts the PDF into the relevant EDI or XML structure with 100% accuracy and delivers it directly into the buyer’s system.

There is no business case required, and no IT spend. The supplier simply has to flag their customer marker records to ensure invoices are sent to the buyer in the correct format.

In recent years, the trend has been away from traditional EDI and towards more sophisticated and non-disruptive forms of data acquisition. Some suppliers – particularly those serving the public sector – are being encouraged to implement some of these other approaches by government clients. The proliferation of PEPPOL looks set to accelerate this trend.

And yet, adoption of EDI remains widespread. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the way EDI is accessed is all too often inefficient and wasteful. To deliver on the promise of EDI and reduce friction between buyers and suppliers, we need to focus on technologies that integrate seamlessly with existing finance systems.

Put simply, we need to make it easy for suppliers to come on board. And that means removing the barriers for them to trade electronically by embracing intelligent data acquisition technologies.


Learn more about our alternative to EDI