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Streamlining the processing of up to 250,000 multilingual invoices annually

Discover how Inpute delivered process efficiencies, resource savings and streamlined the accounts payable process for a U.S multinational organisation

Intelligent data capture solution | U.S. multinational case study

Project at a glance

Challenge we helped to solve:

The finance team was manually processing over 250,000 multilingual invoices across 55 operating units. The dispersed processing was proving difficult to manage and accurately report on. 

Solution delivered:

We worked closely with the client  to deliver an automated invoice capture solution using our intelligent data capture and validation expertise. The document capture solution is integrated with the client’s Oracle ERP and processes invoices across 55 operating units in over 10 languages.

Solution for:

Accounting & finance

Capabilities deployed:

Business results we delivered:

  • Automated processing of over 250,000 multi-lingual invoices per annum
  • Over 4,000 hours in resource savings per annum allowing staff to focus on other value adding activities.
  • Increased digitisation of invoice processing helped the company transition to home working

“We’re a growing company, and process efficiencies like the ones facilitated by Inpute means that we can take on more work with the same resources. Also, it’s certainly speeded up processing.”

Director
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U.S. Multinational Organisation

Challenge

Every year, a quarter of a million invoices are manually entered into an invoice processing and management system

Inpute was engaged by a US headquartered multinational with sales of $1.8 billion in 2020. The company employs over 3,600 people in nearly 160 production locations across more than 30 countries and is a world leader in their sector.

The client’s global procure-to-pay director explains that the company operates a number of shared services centres to which all invoices from those nearly 160 locations are sent for central processing. Every year, a quarter of a million invoices were manually entered into an invoice processing and management system. These invoices come in a multiplicity of languages with dozens of regional variations and other idiosyncrasies. The invoice processing system is also integrated with an Oracle ERP system, to which the invoices are sent for final processing. 

“Like many companies,” the director explains, “we were looking to make the process more efficient, automate it where possible and generally become more efficient at what we do.”

The existing invoice processing system was supplied and managed by a third party supplier who would also partner on the project. It was imperative therefore that the document capture solution be sufficiently flexible to work with both the existing invoice processing system and Oracle. In the same vein, the chosen vendor would need the skills and the commitment to work flexibly with all stakeholders in what would be an extensive and transformational project.

Solution

“Make no mistake, this was a complex project”

With Inpute on board as the chosen vendor, the project team began with a number of interactive sessions where the client explained current processes and the design team began to sketch out how those processes might look in the future. In order to divide the project into bite size pieces, the client decided to concentrate at the outset on ‘western languages’ – i.e. those that use the Roman alphabet. Eastern languages (Chinese, Thai & Korean) would be dealt with in the second phase.

One of the first big challenges that the design team encountered was connectivity. There were three systems at play: the existing invoice management system, the existing ERP system and the new document capture system. Finding the most efficient way for information to navigate the different firewalls and configurations took a lot of trial and error.

“There was a certain amount of discovery and mutual head-scratching at this stage,” the client explains. “We put our network people on it, talked to Inpute and knocked ideas around until we came up with the best possible solution.”

Corporate structures also presented a number of challenges. The client company consists of 55 operating units based all around the world. Each is a distinct legal entity. For this reason, the invoices could not be processed in one large, homogenous mass. Instead, the system had to have the capacity to create closed workflows, where invoices relating to one entity could not be seen by another. Restricting the first phase of the project to western languages may have reduced the complexity, but not by much. The new system had to deal with invoices in English, American English, German, Italian, French, Dutch, Finnish, Turkish, Spanish, Slovakian and Polish. It had to understand the different date formats and critically, know which ones applied to which suppliers.

“Within each of these languages, there are certain key words that were programmed into the system: the word for invoice, the word for date and so on. And on top of that, different places within different countries have their own abbreviations and conventions that the system must learn to recognize. So it took quite a bit of engineering, but it was all handled very effectively and without fuss.”

Working through these networking and machine learning issues took time. The client is keen to point out that strong relationships in the project team were critical in helping find the best path forward. “The Inpute team were excellent. They were very responsive in helping to tweak the system and configure it to take all the various complexities into account.” 

“And make no mistake, this was a complex project,” the global procure-to-pay director continues. “I wanted to get it right. I didn’t want it rushed. We had a lengthy testing phase, during which the system learned from the thousands of invoices we put through it. That way, when we flipped it over into a live setting, it could hit the ground running.”

While you aspire to divert as many invoices as possible down the ‘happy path’ – i.e. where there’s no requirement for any manual intervention, Inpute’s solution allows users to alter invoice data manually if necessary. Moreover, with each amendment, and with each new invoice, the system learns a little more and becomes a little more efficient. Currently, the client reports that 60% of the invoices are on the happy path – up from 25% when it first went live.

Testing takes patience and the skill to drill down into the data to discover the source of the problem. “This is where the Inpute team came into their own. You just don’t know how a system is going to react, so there has to be that level of flexibility.”

Result

Difference we delivered

The client explains that the key benefit to the company has been the freeing up two full time equivalent workers to date, or approximately 4,000 hours.

“We’re a growing company, and process efficiencies like the ones facilitated by Inpute means that we can take on more work with the same resources.”

Moreover, because 60% of the quarter of a million invoices processed every year once captured are initially entered into Oracle ERP without any human intervention, these workflows have been speeded up dramatically. The system has also streamlined manual interventions where they are necessary.

The system is equipped with machine-learning technology ensuring that the number of invoices processed automatically will increase, thereby driving resource savings higher over time.

The new system has also made the shift to home working as a result of the Covid pandemic much smoother. The fact that all invoices are now processed electronically has eliminated the reliance on paper and has allowed processing to be monitored remotely. “We didn’t miss a payment, we transited easily. I think if we didn’t have such a digitized and advanced system, we’d have been in big trouble.”

“Multilingual invoicing adds new complexities to an already tedious corporate invoicing programme. Through our tailored intelligent automation solutions, our experts made it easier to manage and monitor invoicing regardless of location or language.”

Aidan Mullin
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Director of client services, Inpute