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Where is invoice processing heading these days?

Thomas Hougaard

The Egyptians did it, the Greeks did it, the Romans did it, and today everybody does it — trade in credit. Order goods, receive goods, receive an invoice, and pay the invoice in due time. We strive to become more efficient in the process. Strive to save money.

We have automated invoice processes with clients for years — decades actually. Many of our clients come from manual processes and according to AIIM 40% of all businesses are still managing their invoices with manual processes. But now an increasing share are upgrading from 1st or 2nd generation solutions. This indicates that change is under way in the area of invoice processing, and in this piece I’ll share the trends we are seeing among our clients.

Integration

As a response to the financial crisis in 2007-2008, we saw many companies optimize operations to compensate for the decline in market demand, lower margins, and poorer results. One of the major trends in this optimization was an increased integration in the supply chain. When you place purchase orders with a supplier, the PO is transferred automatically into the sales order system at the supplier. When delivery takes place, shipping and invoicing information is automatically transferred to you as buyer.

This increased level of integration introduces completely new requirements for the supplier invoice processing vendors. Where clients earlier would be satisfied with stand-alone solutions, able to turn paper invoices into reasonable business data, they now expect much more. Paper is now the fall back option. EDI, e-invoices, and XML are now the norm. Focus is at optimizing the entire process for all the people involved. Stand-alone is no longer an option. Real-time integration with the business systems is a must.

Concentration

Another trend we’ve seen for several years is concentration. Clients concentrate their business with fever suppliers, for many reasons. Every time you have to deal with a new supplier, it cost you effort to get it up to speed. Every supplier relation you have to maintain will cost you effort. Add to that the fact that by scattering your procurement over many suppliers you reduce your bargaining power with each of them. We’ve seen even big clients go so far as to reduce the number of suppliers to one. Not a few, but one.


 

Typically this makes the abovementioned integration easier: to create orders directly in the supplier’s IT systems, and receive all invoices in a unified computer readable format — EDIFACT or XML — either as automatic uploads or via Email. Setting up Next Invoices to receive a single OIOXML format from email is extremely simple and efficient. Done right, it’s a walk in the park, the day you switch to another vendor. Done wrong, it’s a true vendor lock-in.

Specialization

As mentioned above 40% of all businesses still process their supplier invoices manually. Not necessarily using paper but maybe sending PDFs around using emails, with exactly the same lack of control and auditability. The share of businesses handling their invoices like this is rapidly declining; as sound specialized alternatives are becoming increasingly available. Many new ERP solutions include basic invoices processing functionality, which no matter how rudimentary it may be, beats paper and emails by far. Some of the big ERP systems — no names mentioned — have gone so far into full-blown business processing, that setting up, and maintaining their solution calls for not only a major project but also supporting staff.
 


 

For a vendor like Multi Support, it becomes increasingly important to focus on our place in the landscape. Browser-based access, Cloud availability, and REST-based integration allow Next to fit into any existing IT landscape. Also landscapes, that over time comprises more than a single business system. Short-term optimization with long-term flexibility.

More business. Less technology

We have over the years provided great scanning solutions. Many of them with fantastic software that works miracles in extracting data from paper and PDF invoices, once you get the software trained, and as long as you keep an eye on the ones that slip through. We’ll keep doing this, but we now meet clients with another approach.

“No matter how brilliant it is, I simply don’t need software that helps my staff extract data from invoices.

All I need is valid invoice data in my books, and payments in the bank. Period!”

You don’t stay in business for long if you don’t listen to your clients. Next Invoices as a Service ® is the result of just that. To selected clients we now offer: No software to extract data, no operators to train, no trouble with OCR, or EDI and XML formats, no software to install, and no servers to run. An address where to send your invoices, and an easy to use browser interface, is all you get beside of course “valid invoice data in your books, and payments waiting in the bank.”

We don’t call it full service invoice processing, because as a client you get to choose what parts of the process you take care of yourself, and what parts you leave with us. With an option to change your mind at any time. For that reason its called Flex Service Invoice Processing.

The Next promise

It’s no secret that the dramatic changes that are taking place in the Invoice Processing industry, pose a huge challenge to vendors in the industry. At the same time they represent huge opportunities. Huge opportunities we’ve decided to take advantage of. To this effect we’ve defined the Next Promise:

“No matter what ERP systems you deploy in the future, no matter if it’s on premise or in the cloud, Next will integrate. No matter what procurement portals you team up with, and how you make purchase orders, Next will match them. No matter if you receive your invoices on paper, in EDIFACT, XML or whatever, Next will capture them. No matter if you want to handle the actual documents yourself, or leave that work to us, Next will support it.

You will have to pay the invoices yourself. The rest you can leave with us.”

Final words

This is where we believe invoice processing is heading these days — more business, less technology, more flexibility, and less constraints. To the benefit of all clients looking to make the process more efficient. Looking to saving more money.



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