Why we’re building CloudTrade Logistics

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In January this year, we launched CloudTrade Logistics, our solution that helps US carriers, freight audit and freight technology companies get 100% validated data from freight invoices with no OCR or human intervention. As we approach the end of Q1, it’s an opportune time to provide an update on how we’re getting on.

The importance of payments to freight cannot be underestimated. Few things slow business quicker than the late administration and execution of payments. Given the challenges that technology has been able to solve in other sectors, it’s hard to understand why such an integral part of the supply chain still suffers from a large number of problems. These problems lead to unnecessary delays, errors, compliance risks and, in the end, costs.

We launched CloudTrade Logistics to solve these problems. By integrating invoice processing and digital data exchange for all parts of the US freight industry, we enable companies to overcome inefficient methods of freight invoice processing, giving them the opportunity to transact digitally with trading partners, regardless of size, maturity or complexity. Our users include logistics companies, business process outsourcing firms and freight payment providers who needed an alternative to EDI and OCR to process and capture data. The list of potential users is long and the potential for cost savings across the industry is great.

We believe that our solution is different from anything else on offer in the freight industry, for three reasons.

1. 100% compliant validated data

We offer 100% compliant, validated data because our product allows our users to create custom-designed business rules and validations that run on the vendor supplied invoice; we don’t mistake an ‘I’ or ‘L’ for a ‘1’ which ensures the data we deliver is 100% accurate data. We remove the issues with incorrect data appearing in data fields such as Tax or VAT, account code or depot location data fields and when this is combined with our rules engine we can put in place controls to ensure that the PO is included and referenced on the invoice, that the PO is valid and sufficient funds available to pay the invoice and in some cases that the item/ship codes are correct – all of this helps the back office matching processes in TMS, ERPs and different finance systems.

A key risk for any business is collecting and using bad data. Audit and payment processes can be put at risk and an inability to process payments quickly can lead to problems with carriers and shippers. Even if a company uses compliance programs and systems that guarantee they remain compliant for tax and customs requirements, if the problem occurs at source, where data is inaccurately collected, mistakes will be made. This can lead to a delay in payment, increased audit activities and extra expense – and it’s one reason why CloudTrade Logistics is so useful for our customers.

2. Our solution is powerful

Our unique approach to data capture means we are able to collect a large amount of data from an invoice. Most organisations make do with capturing “header-level” data only. But we go beyond this, capturing as much (or as little) information as our customers require, giving them the data they need for their back office systems and with the added benefit of being able to understand their detailed spend profiles. This means a company can process files and payments faster than ever before, whilst longer term, identifying and capturing incorrect spend from the detail on complicated invoices.

3. Our solution is fast and transparent

We designed our solution to increase ‘Inbound Invoice Velocity’, which is a positive for all parties, as it means that payments can be made earlier, early payment discounts can be applied and cash/working capital can be made available immediately. Using CloudTrade Logistics also means that an invoice is always visible through the capture process, from when it’s been received, converted and then sent to the back office system.

Our solution can convert complex multi-bill carrier/shipment invoices into unique document sets for separate processing in the back-office systems; we can work with a single multipage document containing 1,000’s of pages, or process multiple files contained on one email – we haven’t failed a challenge yet!  We know, it can take a manual operator using a key-to-screen or OCR solution up to 30 minutes to capture the data on a multi page shipment or complicated invoice. CloudTrade Logistics completes this task in a matter of seconds.

Our solution is built upon our unique Gramatica technology and it offers 100% accuracy for most major carriers. Further, it’s also the first solution of its kind to allow freight payment providers, third-party logistics and business process outsourcing partners to increase efficiencies, cut operational costs and increase throughput, by doing away with the manual or OCR processing of PDF and paper invoices which invariably produce errors.

Global ambitions

We have recently launched the product into the freight and logistics market, and it’s been received very positively. We’ve seen an increase in new enquiries, our carrier reach is expanding and we have been working with our existing clients in the industry to help them increase ‘invoice velocity’.

Our plans for the future of CloudTrade Logistics include pushing further into the US. In time, we’re also looking to build upon our existing offering, enabling clients to process other complex documents that need rules and validations running against them. But that’s for the future.

For now, we’ve been delighted with the positive response we’ve had from US users and we look forward to working with them throughout the rest of 2019. Our focus will be on working with key partners and helping as many users in the freight and logistics industry as possible, providing a simple, best-in-class technological solution to a problem that we feel should have been fixed a long time ago.

Lift & Shift or is it time for a Step Change!

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Is it time to take the cost out of your finance and accounting Business Process Outsource model?

Why do organisations believe that ‘Lift & Shift’ of their business mess to an outsourcer will be easy? Can simply moving the process intact to the outsourcer deliver the magical 30% annual cost saving?

The reality, in most cases, is very different and there are many case studies to prove the point.

Simply transferring your processes, applications and poor practices to the capable hands (we hope) of your low cost BPO partner, will deliver, not surprisingly, the same outcomes you have today.

Your outsourcer takes your current inefficient processes and moves them to a different part of the world to take advantage of low paid workers, who don’t know your business. The data flow from your suppliers and customers is business critical, so why would you entrust this to them?

Primarily they cost less than your experienced staff, but they must learn your systems and business process.

  • To help them you may have taken the time to digitise your paper-based processes, such as scanning the receipt of your supplier invoices or your customer orders.
  • You may have invested in OCR to convert your scanned image into a digitised and searchable document, that is assuming you have scanned the paper correctly in the first place and the OCR hasn’t turned the 6 into an s or a B into an 8??
  • These scanned images may also be archived in your Sharepoint or Dropbox folders and if we have gone the extra mile the documents may be sitting in your workflow application, waiting for coding, approvals, validations and exception management? But remember when you outsource you or they must get the original documents to the new team to process.
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Sure, there are many success stories and the BPO industry manages some of the largest and most well-known business in the world, and some forward-thinking outsourcers are embracing innovation as a collaborative approach with their clients, so it isn’t all doom and gloom.

But, and it’s a big but, innovation is key. Imagine having a legacy OCR solution that, at best, is delivering 20% recognition levels, you have little or no control of how suppliers and customers are sending their data to you and you have poor compliance over the data that is actually on the documents e.g. missing mandatory fields, invalid data, duplicates, incorrect part codes or VAT rates etc…

Can you really expect the outsourcer to cope with and deliver the benefits that the 300-page outsourcing contract suggests will be made available?

Most companies that outsource not only have to tinker with their contracts post the transfer phase, but also have to invest in both innovation and process transformation to achieve the benefits of the promised land.

Digital Transformation Before Outsourcing – What a novel thought!

Is your BPO provider committed and contracted to invest in new technologies?

In my view, unless the outsourcer is contracted to deliver innovation and incremental year on year tangible benefits, you must embrace the required transformation before you pull the plug.

This way you control the change agenda, deliver innovative and best of breed technologies to start the journey, before you outsource!

At least now the BPO provider stands a fighting chance of delivering the agreed benefits and making your finance processes world class.

Business process transformation needs to be easy, risk free and deliver rapid benefits.

CloudTrade_Square 400 x 400

Enter www.cloudtradenetwork.com a completely free service for customers and suppliers to send their invoices to you by email.

Your senders benefit from:

  • no cost
  • no IT project to set up the service (they may already be emailing these documents)
  • and common adoption rates of 80-90% are what we experience.

Generally, a supplier produces an invoice, prints it, then scans to an email. You, the poor buyer, must hope the document has been scanned so its legible, so you can key the data into your system from the image. You may have to print the doc ‘again’, scan again and use OCR so you can key the errors by hand, which, is just what the BPO provider does – Crazy to say the least, but it is the reality.

There is however an alternative the smart guys at CloudTrade have developed tools and a methodology to help you encourage your suppliers or indeed your customers to create their documents as digital files and email them, so no scanning or OCR required with CloudTrade, great so no data errors, either!

With these digital data rich files our task is to extract data that is needed to complete the transaction. Sounds complicated and difficult but CloudTrade believe that data acquisition is a ‘logical’ problem and have developed a super-smart piece of tech that sits in the cloud to read your documents without making mistakes. No more reading of an S as a 6, in fact they guarantee to extract the data you need with 100% accuracy – a very rare statement in the data capture industry.

Once the data is captured, its run through their patented rules engine, called Gramatica. Using the same rules and logic your staff use to process documents, but automatically and in seconds, irrespective of the size and complexity of the document.

The final step is to validate the content against your business requirements, enrich or transform the data to enable automated upload to your downstream application, such as SAP, Oracle, Sage, Xero, Quickbooks etc. so if the invoice is missing or has incorrect data CloudTrade’s rules deal with it so you don’t have to.

Non-compliant documents having missing information and or invalid data and can be rejected back to the sender or routed for intervention, or alternatively, the data can be derived from your systems, the choice is yours.

BPO vendors call what we do ‘Lights Out Processing’ – compliant and legible data documents received by email are processed with 100% accuracy and posted directly to your processing applications with no touch.

Let’s face it if there are two critical business processes to protect, it must be the receipt of orders and invoices. Get these wrong and all hell breaks loose, it can cost us money or in the worst-case scenario the business!

Does a 100% data accuracy approach sound like it could be of value to your business?

Imagine for a moment your outsourcer had access to this technology, what do you think the benefits would be to you now? If you are considering the services of a BPO vendor, ask them if they are a CloudTrade partner, as only our technology can deliver 100% accuracy and true automation.

Or think about entrusting us to set up your digital transformation and get your processes in order before you outsource. It is well worth considering particularly when the deployment of a CloudTrade solution takes a matter of weeks not months, and the benefits are immediate.

Visit the website for video and case studies and better still request a demo, you and your outsourcer will be impressed… that I can promise.

Remember, innovate and transform before you outsource, this way you stand a fighting chance of success, happy days….

Why partnerships benefit ERP providers

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As we all know, SaaS based ERP solutions offer the opportunity for Automation, Transformation and the chance to more readily keep pace with the continual change taking place all around us. These solutions are designed to offer organisations the most dynamic platform which they can build upon to succeed.

However, not every organisation is ready to embark on this journey to the Cloud or adopt a standardised platform. Others who have made the move to the Cloud often continue to rely on additional systems and processes to ensure they deliver a solution that fully meets their business needs. No organisation is identical and, as a result, many organisations see the Cloud as a component part of their future strategy or are adopting a multi cloud strategy.

For the most part, change happens slowly, especially when it comes to the adoption of new technology. Thus, most organisations will move gradually to the Cloud, investing in solutions that support this journey. However, in order for this evolution to be successful, it’s crucial that benefits and returns are felt in the short term with rapid ROI whilst ensuring the project supports the broader cloud strategy.

Consequently, it’s clear to me that this need for short term ROI means that the role of the ERP vendor and Systems Integrator is changing. Nowadays, in order to deliver value to the end client, vendors and SIs must also take on the role of service provider. Here’s why.

Modern ERP solutions are increasingly efficient, fulfilling near 80% of market requirements. But, as we know, clients demand as close to 100% as possible and, in a competitive market, they’re within their rights to do so. Therefore, additional services and products must make up this shortfall. Organisations can look to the market to fill the gap, but a growing number of vendors and SIs are seeking out strategic partners who can provide additional value for their clients.

IN PARTNERSHIP, THEY CAN OFFER CLOSE TO 100%. AT CLOUDTRADE, WE BELIEVE IN THIS APPROACH

What partnerships mean to CloudTrade

Having spent 20 years working within the Technology sector, predominately within the ERP and Purchase to Pay arena, I understand the importance of delivering value to clients. I also understand that clients rely on their chosen partner to advise on the best use of technology.

Even in my short time behind the desk at CloudTrade, it’s become clear to me why our partners have enjoyed such a lot of success. Our solution provides them with recurring revenue streams but, more importantly, it makes their service more valuable. Our solution works alongside our partner’s technology, providing a more rounded service for their clients.

I can roughly split our partnerships into four categories:

  1. Partners that are closely aligned to a single software solution.
  2. Partners that focus on vertical markets or on a specific element, for example, supply chain or P2P. 
  3. Partners that can, either, white label our solution or develop their own IP.
  4. Partners who work with us to deliver a service that adds value to their existing core business service.

Clearly, there is no ‘typical’ CloudTrade relationship, but it’s easy to see how each of our different partners gain value from our relationship. Furthermore, the different types of partnership exemplify the flexibility of the CloudTrade service. This means that the product and the partnership can be moulded to suit any individual needs.

Why partner with CloudTrade

I’m learning quickly why our existing partnerships are so successful and why I believe that the potential for our partners is so great. It’s simple – as with all great partnerships, both sides have something to offer. The partners are complementary.

Whilst vendors and SIs have the expertise required to deliver the ERP solution, CloudTrade has the patented product and deep expertise needed to deliver automated data capture for use in a variety of areas, such as AP. Together, side by side, we deliver value to clients.

END CLIENTS NOW DEMAND THE EASE OF DEALING WITH A SINGLE PARTNER TO DELIVER AS CLOSE TO 100% OF THE SOLUTION AS POSSIBLE.

Ultimately, the right partnerships deliver benefits to all of us and I’m looking forward to working on firming up our existing alliances and developing new partnerships as the year continues. I hope to see you all along the way.

Jeremy Phillips

CloudTrade, EMEA Alliance Director

Jeremy.Phillips@cloud-trade.com

What we did right in 2018 and our aims for 2019

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Recent reports suggest digital payments and financial solutions are falling foul of fraudsters. Is this a sign that companies should return to paper? Let’s revisit why we moved away from paper to begin with…

2018 was a seminal year in our development here at CloudTrade.

We made great strides in onboarding new partners, including IBM, DXC (formerly Hewlett Packard Enterprise), SAP Ariba, BT, Cegedim, Opus Capita and SupplyOn. We were also delighted to increase the volume of work undertaken with existing clients. During the year we saw a 20% increase in partners and a 30% increase in end-customers using our service. It feels like we’ve graduated to an ‘early majority’ customer audience, which is gratifying.

In July we announced that we’d raised capital. This is the first time we’ve used external investors to fund our business, securing £2 million from Calculus Capital to accelerate our growth. We remain committed to running a profitable operation that’s not reliant on external sources of funding.

Time to scale

Since launching the business we’ve spent a lot of time and money making complex problems seem simple using our patented technology.

We’ve built a business on helping other businesses to become more efficient, with users seeing back-office document processing savings in the region of 60%. Partners and end users appreciate the value we bring to their Purchase-to-Pay and Order-to-Cash processes – we deliver electronic invoices, orders and other documents straight into their processing applications.

CloudTrade is now one of the fastest growing e-invoice and e-document networks, with a comprehensive and robust product that connects over 300 organisations to thousands of their trading partners across the globe. Our business is growing at over 40% YOY and processing over 1 million documents every month. Transaction volumes have increased materially, rising from 3 million documents in 2016 to a current annual run rate of over 12 million.

We’ve spent the best part of a decade building a reputation for excellence in our industry. 2019 is the year we scale. We’ve been described by TechMarketView as a ‘little British battler with strong global growth potential’. It’s time to realise that potential.

A new chapter for our business

We’re entering a new phase as a business, one that demands a huge push from the team to grow our footprint and affect positive change on a much larger scale. This is why we turned to external investors. We’re using the money to strengthen our global sales and support teams, expanding our platform to cover additional languages and bolstering our presence in Europe and the US.

In 2018 we welcomed Philip Padfield, the hugely experienced former CEO of Science Warehouse, as our new Chairman. Phillip is a seasoned operator in the tech sector and his presence strengthens our senior team. We also appointed Steve Emecz as Chief Revenue Officer and hired Tara Burghardt to oversee our marketing efforts globally.

In late 2018 we launched our US logistics business. Over $147 billion is locked up in AP invoice disputes, and we see a huge opportunity to help freight carriers, audit and technology companies get validated data from freight invoices without OCR or human intervention.

Getting out and about

We’ll be attending some great events in the first half of 2019. In March we’ll be heading to Birmingham for Advanced World, the largest annual gathering of the Advanced customer community. And in April we’ll be packing our bags for Austin, Texas, where SAP Ariba Live will be taking place (we also attended last year’s event in Amsterdam

Attending these events is a great way to deepen relationships with prospects and partners and grow the business.

Everything starts – and ends – with the product

Above all, we remain focused on our product. Without an outstanding solution that moves the needle for our partners, we don’t have a business.

Last year we launched our public cloud-based service, migrating to Microsoft Azure in order to meet the growing demand for our services and benefit from secure geo-location, geo-replication and automatically scalable, serverless systems. In 2019 we will continue to optimise our offering, with a focus on Azure containerisation. At the same time, we’re working hard on improving our reporting tools, enabling partners and users to better visualise transactions and at the same time, appreciate the value of what we offer.

This is a hugely exciting time for CloudTrade. We’re making real progress in growing our business and looking forward to keeping you updated on our progress throughout 2019.

Listen to your customers – they’ll tell you what the future looks like

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2019 feels like a significant year in CloudTrade’s development and, as we push through the first quarter, I want to provide you with a bit of an update about how we’re getting on. It’s good to have you with us.

For me and the team, 2019 seems transformational, a year when we shift gears and begin a new, exciting stage of development. Allowing myself a moment of reflection, it makes me proud to think how far we’ve come. In truth, we’re just getting started. There’s so much more we can achieve.

I’ve learned that, in business, in order to stay on track, it’s important to occasionally take a little time to remind ourselves who we are, where we came from and where we want to go. To be honest, these things haven’t really changed since Richard, Richard and I founded CloudTrade. And that’s a reassuring thought.

When I think about where we want to go as a business, I’m always guided by one thing: our customers. In an age of buzzwords, cliches and enough business books to fill the Bodleian, business owners and companies can lose sight of their goals. They become fixated on building something that isn’t in demand, or, is in demand, but is something that they cannot execute. This is an error we’ve been determined not to make.

As part of CloudTrade’s management team, a key part of my job is finding out what our customers want. We then work out how to build an innovative product that delivers it to them. That has been the way I’ve always looked at business. The trick is to listen to your customers – they’ll tell you what the future looks like.

In a nutshell, that’s the story of CloudTrade, which we created in 2010 with the aim of disrupting the document capture marketplace. Richard, Richard and I had a lot of experience in the e-invoice and purchase-to-pay market, and we knew that the market was tired and inflexible and we spotted an opportunity to provide a disruptive solution that was driven by genuine demand. To use a tired cliche, we scratched our own itch.

Our sole intention was to fully automate the handling of documents, making this channel of communication an electronic process. 3 themes were going to help us achieve that goal:

  1. The e-document product we created was truly different, disruptive and unique, allowing us to own our own IP. This meant we delivered a product to our customers that they couldn’t find elsewhere.
  2. Having worked in technology for many years, we saw that the market in 2010 was switching to SaaS products. We hoped to take advantage of this shift.
  3. We were veterans of the industry, so we immediately signed two customers who used and tested our product. Parseq and EGS showed faith in us. They are still clients today.

9 years on, CloudTrade now processes documents for over 300 organisations and the volume we are processing has grown to a current annual run rate of 12 million. Revenue has increased over 40% year on year and we hope to report a similar increase in March. To reach this point, it’s been hard work but we were only able to do it because we never stopped listening to our customers.

That thought has guided our past and it is going to guide our future too. It will tell us what to do, and what not to do too. Significantly, in July last year, we closed our first funding round. The investment from Calculus Capital will be solely used so that we can do more of the same. It’s growth capital and it gives us a great opportunity to double down on what we’re good at.

As I mentioned a little earlier, in some ways, it feels as if we’re just getting started. In addition to all of our usual business activities, we also want to actively engage with our customers on a more regular basis, so you’ll be hearing a little more from me and the team as we launch a weekly blog, a monthly newsletter and increased activity on social media.

As I hope you can tell, all of us at CloudTrade are really excited about getting stuck into the next stage of our development. Our content strategy is an important part of that, allowing us to talk to you, our customers, on a more regular basis. We want these conversations to be two-way, so we’d love to hear what you think about what we’re doing as a business.

Listening to our customers has been the reason why we’ve been able to build the business we have. It’s the magic rule that all business owners should follow. Listen to your customers. And then build an innovative product that gives them what they want. It’s simple, really.

Thanks for your continued support from all the team at CloudTrade. I hope to hear from you a little further up the road in 2019. 

David

CloudTrade Logistics – Helping to unlock $147 billion

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Recent reports suggest digital payments and financial solutions are falling foul of fraudsters. Is this a sign that companies should return to paper? Let’s revisit why we moved away from paper to begin with…

Introducing CloudTrade Logistics as a trusted partner for US Freight companies.

January 2019

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I’m truly excited to be setting up and leading this new initiative for CloudTrade: CloudTrade Logistics.

The US team have a great opportunity to help freight carriers, freight audit and freight technology companies get 100% validated data from freight invoices with no OCR or human intervention. Our technology is unique: it delivers efficiencies with the automated capture of Freight data within minutes of receiving the invoice – and we know this is a key area for ALL carriers in the US as over $147billion is locked up in AP invoice disputes!

The U.S. Federal Government ELD mandate requires all applicable operators of commercial motor vehicles to use Electronic Logging Devices (ELD’s) which will enable unparalleled access to vehicle and transport-goods data. This, in turn, will provide opportunities for new and existing businesses to provide solutions to access this data.

The most significant problem is that many organizations run legacy/heritage systems which still can’t ingest a PDF invoice…            and this is where CloudTrade comes in.

CloudTrade Logistics gives organizations the opportunity to test a sample invoice and then engage with us to process electronically generated documents – at a fraction of the cost of OCR/Manual input, and with 100% validated data.

The best part is that our patented RPA and rules engine allows us to model complex data scenarios that were previously managed by human operatives, and in some instances, this has reduced the invoice processing time down from 30 minutes to a matter of seconds, with 100% data quality guaranteed.

Over the next few months I’ll be providing some updates on how things are going – so wish me luck!

Roger Hatfield

Vice President – North America

Early payment discounts and the invoicing solution

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Roger Hatfield, Vice President Cloudtrade Logistics,  North America discusses the benefits e-invoicing can bring to accessing early payment discounts in the US.

In early spring of 2018, interesting news came in from across the pond with the publication of the first edition of the UK Government’s new ‘name & shame’ report on late supplier payments. The good news is that just under half of all the invoices that were reported on, were paid within 30 days, but there were serial offenders, who made their suppliers hang on for 31+ days and longer.

While Europe is ahead of the USA with their e-invoicing initiatives, the figures shows that only 25% of the companies, who were reported on, offered e-Invoicing. What happened to the rest? Why aren’t they taking advantage of e-invoicing to manage their supplier payments? And what lessons can we learn for us here in the US?

My view is that while many organisations appreciate the problem of late payments, and the knock-on effects it can have on their supply chain they cannot change their modus operandi: they are hamstrung by their current systems, practices and processes and cannot make any change in the short or medium term due to help erase late payments. This is a global problem.

Missed Early Payment Discounts

It’s clear that the UK and US markets are different in their approach to supplier’s payments; with the UK using more traditional ‘direct’ banking methods to pay their suppliers; whilst, in the USA, a lot of organizations still use cheques but there is also a wealth of payment providers who provide a multitude of solutions from invoice receipt/processing, online vendor/supplier payment portals and invoice automation to help manage the payment process.

But I do wonder how many organizations are able to take advantage of the hard earned, and negotiated, early payment discounts (EPDs) from their suppliers?  Many of the payment solutions on offer in the US allow organizations to keep their existing bank relationships and pay suppliers by ACH, check, virtual cards and credit cards in a faster time frame than would normally be achieved by processing in-house. Using a payment provider can slash processing costs by up to 50% or more and gives a business’s accounts payment function full visibility into payment status and approvals. But what about those EPDs?

An opportunity for EPD gains

In comparison to the UK, the USA is streets ahead when it comes to paying suppliers – The Paystream Advisors 2016 Data Capture and Mailroom Technology Insight Report stated that nearly 92 percent of invoices received electronically are paid on time, compared to only 45 percent when invoices are received in paper form.

In my view this is where the problem lies – the Federal Reserve states that currently only 25% of US invoices are electronic, so that’s 75% of all US invoices being processed by other means – a huge opportunity for efficiency and EPD gains.

We know that reducing your Days Payment Outstanding (DPO) helps support your supply chain partners, and that shortening your DPO could provide additional margin to your bottom-line and improve your cashflow – so where is the problem?

The cost of OCR

Well, let’s consider the 75% of invoices that aren’t electronic – these will include, paper, PDF and other electronic forms, outside the traditional EDI or network-based channels.  A proportion of these invoices will have been outsourced for processing by an optical character recognition (OCR), mailroom or payments provider, who will provide invoice capture, management, and integration services to give users an end-to-end payables solution.

The attraction of this approach is that it gives organizations one solution for all their AP processing needs – no matter what format invoices are received. The service provider will typically process the documents using OCR, which means that every electronic document received is converted into an image for OCR processing.

We know that OCR is normally okay, when every invoice we receive is in the same format, size and the data fields remain in the same places on the image. But, suppliers tend to send complex documents, across multiple pages and with specific line item detail, which you need to process into your back-office systems to manually or automatically perform the 2/3 three-way match. This is where the costs mount up, as it is very likely that every processed invoice will need to be reviewed manually because the suppliers ‘standard’ invoice format changes dynamically with the addition of multiple lines and pages. An alternative approach that the majority of organisations use  is just to capture the header level and totals from the invoice, without the requisite line level detail, but this doesn’t help you understand your spend at a granular level and is exactly the data that you need for financial/supplier reporting purposes and to be able to claim those ‘hard negotiated’ early payment discounts.

Remember that every time your OCR or mailroom provider looks at, and corrects, an invoice, it is likely to cost you money – if the document is already electronic why convert it in the first place? 

Could ‘true’ e-invoicing be the answer?

With the latest e-invoicing technology suppliers don’t have to do anything different. It allows them to simply create their invoice, convert it to a PDF and email it to a named email address. The technology uses the original invoice and extracts the data (100%) from the PDF and puts it straight into the buyer’s finance package. Simple.

More importantly, the supplier doesn’t have to pay or log into a portal. All they need to do is ensure their invoice is produced as a PDF (which their own finance package is able to do for them) and then email it over. For the buyer, the time-consuming process of keying and rekeying and matching line level detail in data is removed. There are no more paper invoices to hold on to, or potentially lose. The data is all held electronically.

As well as saving money on accounts payable processing costs, this simple approach means the invoice data is presented back to the payments system in real time. Immediately after it has been processed successfully, it will be in the payments systems, typically within 1-5 minutes of receipt, including full line level detail. 

The latest e-invoicing technology can also apply validation against key data provided by the users and business rules can be applied against other key data fields on the invoice – such as rejecting invoices that don’t contain a PO number.

There is no doubt that e-invoicing provides the foundations that allow organisations, of all shapes and sizes, to put automation and controls around their invoice to payment function. Increasing their ability to pay on time, understanding what they are spending at a granular level and helping them reap the rewards of those EPDs.

Isn’t it about time you thought about how this could affect your organisation and the bottom line?

This article was published by EBN Online.

Unique 100% accurate data capture for invoice automation.

Invoice processing just got exciting

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Philip Padfield, CloudTrade Non-Executive Director and Tara Burghardt, CloudTrade Marketing Manager speak with Peter Smith at Spend Matters about the digital transformation of invoice processing.

December 2018

Written by: Peter Smith, Managing Director of Spend Mattersview the original article

Phil Padfield and Tara Burghardt CloudTrade EInvoicing-228x138

Last week I caught up with Philip Padfield, who was CEO  of Science Warehouse for several years until earlier this year when he was instrumental in selling the firm to their new parent company, Advanced.  It was good to see him   – he is clearly very smart but also one of the most personally interesting and amusing people I’ve met in our industry.

He left on good terms after the acquisition (“It’s going well, I understand”, he says) and is now pursuing a portfolio career, including a non-executive Chair role with CloudTrade.  He also introduced me to their new marketing head, Tara Burghardt (who is also, we discovered, the aunt of a young man my daughter knew as a teenage Surrey Heath “school disco” goer. Small world!)

Anyway, CloudTrade has been going since 2010 but seems to be slipping into a higher gear, raising £2.2M this year and bringing in Padfield (who knows his way around the software start-up / next stage world) to strengthen the senior team of three founder directors. When we weren’t talking teenage discos and music (he’s an ace guitarist), we talked about the CloudTrade business, which lies in the absolutely fascinating area of electronic invoicing, and more specifically, having very clever software that enables pdf invoices to be handled easily and accurately, with full capture of data and conversion into e-invoices.

There you go, I told you it was fascinating, didn’t I?  Well … maybe for some. But perhaps not for everyone! So Burghardt asked me how the firm could get the attention of procurement leaders.  Are they even interested in invoicing?

Good question, I replied. I wasn’t really when I was a CPO. It’s the boring end of the process, involving lots of admin (historically) and not a lot of glory to be had.

So, she asked, how do we get through that?

OK, three quick thoughts.  Some procurement execs will be motivated by “doing the right thing”. They can see that payment (invoicing) is the end of a holistic process, and really it should all be joined up. Making that more efficient – and addressing that long tail of small suppliers (which the CloudTrade product does) should be part of that overall process improvement.

Secondly … is your software really clever, I asked?

Yes, she replied, we have patents on our core tech – essentially “robots” that read human readable documents – the solution can do things that the big purchase-to-pay suites and platforms can’t.

OK, so perhaps appeal to the techies amongst our community. It might only be addressing part of the process, but this sounds like “digital transformation” to me.  If the CPO can tell the CFO or SEO that they’re using leading-edge digital technology to revolutionise handling of invoices … there’s some brownie points in that approach perhaps?

And finally, if you can link it to supply chain finance, then that is a pretty hot topic – because it has given CPOs a way of actually generating revenue and profit from the invoicing process.  Can you do that?

Yes, we can, said Burghardt. We partner with other software firms, where our product adds to their functionality, and several of those offer SCF options. So, we’re an enabler for that.

That was the extent of my advice, but I was told that the firm’s main target market is “the massive middle” – possibly those mid-sized firms who may not have automated AP and invoicing too much as yet. All this is through the firm’s partner network – that includes Advanced, SAP and IBM who are deploying the Cloudtrade solution to larger end-user organisations.

So, there you go. We obviously haven’t seen the product in action, and try as I may, I can’t make invoicing the most exciting thing in the world. But if you haven’t gone far down the road of automating and sorting out what can be an expensive and difficult process, you might want to take a look at CloudTrade

How RPA can drive efficiencies in your back-office

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The second instalment of a two-part blog on best use of RPA to optimise digital transformation of your processing function. 

By Steve Britton, Global Client Services Director at CloudTrade.

Read part one: AI and RPA in Finance, what is it and why should I care?

Haven’t we all been promised a paperless office for years? And although there have been various attempts and solutions, the latest answer to the paper problem appears to be machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA).

Once you have identified paper as the problem in your organisation, the first step towards automating your back-office functions is to understand how you can convert inbound streams from paper to a data file, which may include taking advantage of the following:

  • Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) computer to computer data transfer
  • XML data transfer – sending party provides a structured data file
  • Portal for web form creation or data file upload
  • Email with an attached file (such as a data PDF)
  • File share transfer, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Share Point, etc.  

If you can leverage the above, you have come a long way in addressing the issue of paper documents being delivered via physical mail. The trouble is, most of the above options require the sending party to make changes. EDI and XML require an IT project to complete and maintain the transfer. A portal will require duplication of effort by the sending party and a willingness to connect to a multitude of portals. 

Emails are by far the easiest method of sending and receiving files. After all, who doesn’t have access to an email account these days? Files are easily attached to email too. A file share can be useful, but how do you know if the documents have been received and processed effectively? 

What the above process has done is change the mindset of the receiving and sending parties to adopt electronic transfers, so we are starting the digital journey and beginning to solve some of your processing inefficiencies! 

How can businesses take advantage of Robotic Process Automation?

So, now you have the data – unless, of course, the files sent are images. If someone has scanned a document to create an image (pdf/tiff/png, etc.), then you don’t have data, and you need to convert the image (picture) into data using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) 

The challenge here is although OCR has been around since 1913 (Optophone) and was commercialised in the 1930’s OCR technology has undergone many variations and developments in the last 70 years or so. OCR is reliant on the quality of the document being scanned and the scanning quality.

We’ve all seen ‘B’s’ converted to ‘8’s’ and ‘1’s’ to ‘L’s’, among other errors. These OCR errors require powerful algorithms to try and clean up the error or to pass them over for human intervention. So, it’s clear that an efficient and automated process needs to avoid paper and OCR.

We are now left with the inbound data file, which is where AI and robotics can come into its own and can start to transform and optimise your digital transformation and automate your process.

Computer programs and robotics rely on logic and data to function, an image file is simply a picture that a program can do nothing with.  If you provide a program with the data from an application, invoice or patient, we can then automate that logic.

As you receive data and do not need to rely on OCR, you can’t misread the characters, so gone are the days of translation errors, and we have accurate data to work with. The next questions are, why do I need the data and what do I need to do with it to complete the transaction/task?

These processing steps/rules are what an AI and robotics solution can manage and automate. Taking an accounts payable process as an example, if we address those suppliers who issue the highest volume of invoices first, we will ensure an early and rapid reduction in manual processing. Get them to send a data pdf via email, it’s so simple, and there is no cost to the sender.

The process will look something like this:

  • A supplier issues an email with attachments or file transfer of a data file (pdf, MS Office Doc, other data stream).
  • Receiving party collects the file from an email account or file share and because the data is already present, it deploys a program to read and extract the data, with 100% accuracy.
  • Suppliers will send their layout of an invoice with critical fields in different locations and with different formats such as: 
    • Date formats
    • Number lengths and including a prefix or suffix
    • Units of measure
    • Delivery addresses  

Once the program has the data and understands what the receiving system requires, the extracted data can be validated and, where required, enriched to ensure the receiving system can automate the upload and then process the transaction. 

This process may include validating the data with a purchase order (PO) and or a receipt note. This is where the interesting stuff happens. Let’s assume there is an error, the price is incorrect, or the PO cannot be found, the AI/robotics can trigger an action to automatically query the price or the validity of the PO and action the response. 

If there is a logical set of business rules that can be deployed to manage a business process, this can be programmed, and the formula can be as complex as required, but where a human makes an intuitive decision, it’s harder to program.  

AI uses the programmed intelligence, and the robot can fetch and carry data based on the applicable logic and it’s a symbiotic relationship. But, it all must deliver the required outcome and accommodate the multitude of variances and scenarios that are found in the real world, such as 8/12/2018, now is that the 8th December 2018 or the 12th August 2018? If the sender had an address in the USA, then August would be the right answer. 

AI and robotics can process your data very effectively, but any robotic process needs to receive accurate data in a format that it can read, the downstream process must be understood and supported by the AI and RPA process to deliver value and effective business outcomes. 

This article was published by: ReadITQuik

Find out how to access 100% accurate data for your process automation programme:

AI and RPA in Finance, what is it and why should I care?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I know what Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is and I see Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in the press all the time, I hear you say, but can these new technologies really make a difference to my business’s management of our finance processes?

Part one of two parts, read: How RPA can drive efficiencies in your back-office.

By Steve Britton, Global Client Services Director at CloudTrade.

Steve Britton CloudTrade 200 x 289

Let’s explore the technology first, then look at the challenges in finance and accounting that A.I and RPA go some way to meeting.

The difference between A.I and RPA

A.I is a computer program that addresses a task that usually requires human intelligence (or at least that is the theory), such as visual perception, decision-making, completing complex, but repetitive tasks.

RPA uses AI to manage a complex set of decision-based tasks, such as reading data. Based on the required business process, RPA applies rules to ensure that the data meets the set requirements. If the data does not fit, RPA ‘discovers’ the required data to enable the task to be completed.

Examples of RPA would include, processing a mortgage application, an insurance claim, a supplier invoice, or a customer order. In these scenarios, data is generated, either by a human or a computer system, and must be processed by the receiving system.

Any data must be acquired, interpreted and the information it conveys checked, to ensure it is complete and correct. Identifying where there are gaps or errors, and correcting those errors, means the task can be completed.

The term ‘Robotic Process Automation’ (RPA) is derived from the computer programs the process uses. Those programs are known as ‘robots’, and they can process data and complete complex tasks automatically, providing there is a logical or a rules-based set of steps to follow.

The element of human intuition is still preserved by a human’s cognitive ability to combine reason and logic. It’s worth noting that we have not yet been able to evolve computer programs to be able to think for themselves. Well, at least not in the day to day world of finance processing, but I am confident science fiction will soon become science fact and we’ll see logical programs very soon.

How to navigate your way through all of the RPA programmes out there

The reality is that the massive demand, and the clear benefits that RPA technology can bring to data processing tasks, has given rise to many RPA type applications. As with all computer programs, some of those programs have been specifically designed to address a market vertical, like manufacturing, pharmaceutical, engineering, logistics, hospitality, or banking & finance. Others have been designed to be more ‘generic’ in nature.

However, it’s important to remember that an RPA or AI application isn’t likely to do very much ‘out of the box’. Any RPA application must be integrated and configured to address the operating and business environment of deployment. Therefore, the application provider and the implementation team need to be conversant with the industry and business process they will be addressing. This is often the first error businesses encounter when they are looking for an RPA solution. One size really does not fit all, and you need experts that understand the field they are looking to automate.

Before you start to review the AI / RPA platforms available to you, you need to consider whether the required data is available to support an automated process and whether you have the current baseline metrics to measure and evaluate its performance.

Remember, a robot is ‘dumb’ without data. That includes the quality of the data across the entire process lifecycle. You don’t want to automate 2/3 of a process and then find that the remaining tasks require human intervention and you end up with no cost or compliance benefits.

Baseline Data & Metrics

That brings us on to baseline metrics. You must measure the end to end process, touch points and resulting costs. If you don’t how will you accurately measure the outcomes and benefits?

So, why do we need automated processes in F&A? Well, a recent Hackett report stated, “Highly educated accountants and financial personnel spend 65%+ of their time on manual, low-value processes.”

This is clearly unsustainable and an imbalance that makes the business case for driving efficiencies and automating many business processes clear.

Choosing the right solution for you

The first question you need to ask yourself before you embark on any automation journey is exactly what business processes need changing and why? In my opinion, this should start with ensuring we are able to capture and record the baseline measurement of the process in question.

If we take the Accounts Payable process as an example, this needs to start at the beginning of a process. The requisition, creation or at the very least the ‘decision to buy’. We need to know how this is communicated with the supplier. Not at the ‘Invoice Capture’ stage, as is so often the case.

Performance improvement claims made by RPA vendors and solution providers, must be translated into the quantifiable outcomes that will be delivered and form the basis of an ROI calculation.

‘Sales’ claims must be supported by relevant case studies, as this will ensure you are buying a product that is designed for the purpose and outcomes you need.

I wouldn’t buy a 4×4 vehicle if I was only driving on a motorway or use a pair of scissors to cut my lawn. Both tools can do the job but would certainly not give me a cost effective or efficient outcome.

The same applies to RPA integrators/solution providers, experience in the Insurance or mortgage industry will not provide the detailed knowledge required to deliver an effective finance and accounting solution.

Making sure you have the right partners

Once you have selected the right RPA vendor that has the relevant AI capability. You need to choose the right consulting firm to design, implement and support (don’t under estimate the amount of support that will be required) the solution, this must include the delivery of a tangible business case that is measurable.

The measurement of the ‘As Is, To Be & Run’ phases must be accurate and delivered in a way that can be easily consumed and understood. It must deliver transparency and the ability to govern the process, deliver performance metrics with the ability to interrogate data from a single UI to a granular level and be able to run what if scenarios that are actionable.

In short, the deployment of an RPA solution is a journey, not a destination, and your service provider must be prepared to work in partnership with you and your end to end process lifecycle if real benefits are to be achieved and ‘maintained’.

This article has been published by Financial IT.

CloudTrade technology provides accurate data for successful RPA programmes.