The community for leaders in finance shared services
Keywords: automation technology, e-invoicing, OCR, mobile technology, cloud technology, supply chain financing, supplier portals
Blog Post | 7 January 2013
Author: Anna Bowsher
Just before sharedserviceslink.com’s Accounts Payable Tech and e-Invoicing Summit last December, we conducted a survey of our members to find out exactly what were their thoughts were on the latest automation technologies in the finance shared services arena.
One particular question asked which automation technologies respondents were currently using in their finance function (dark blue), and which technologies they would like to be using (light blue). In some cases, the results were particularly revealing.
As could be expected, a majority of respondents were using e-invoicing (63%), some form of OCR technology (67%), an automated workflow (59%), and P-cards (45%).
However it was the results of the question asking which technologies they would either prefer to be using, or would like to additionally be using, that revealed some interesting trends.
A stand out statistic from the survey was that interest in supplier portals was very high, with 26% of respondents stating they would like to be using the technology in addition to the 28% who are already using it. This clearly shows that having a closer, more transparent business relationship with your suppliers makes for better business. As one of the delegates to the Summit said, “Commercial relationships based on electronic trading last longer and are worth much much more”.
Secondly, technology to facilitate supply chain financing (SCF) initiatives, e.g. dynamic discounting, showed one of the higher levels of interest, with 18% respondents saying they would like to implement it above the 7% who were already using such technology. This demonstrates that even though the economy is recovering (albeit very slowly, according to 2012's economic data), companies still feel that there are significant savings to be made here. The UK government itself last year announced they were launching an SCF scheme with their largest suppliers.
The final and maybe most revealing result from the poll was that there is an increased interest in emerging technologies such as mobile and cloud technology amongst finance shared services professionals: an increase in 26% and 15% respectively. This may seem contrary to the concern over the availability of working capital (needed for technological investments) implied by the enthusiasm for SCF initiatives. However a key attraction to both mobile and cloud technologies are their flexibility and relative low cost.
Mobile technology, as demonstrated by Ben Patricks from Pret a Manger at the Accounts Payable Tech and e-Invoicing Summit, frees your workforce up from the administrative, time consuming tasks, such as invoice approval, in order to get on with the more value-adding activities. Cloud technology, as demonstrated by Oxfam’s Peter Ransom and Stewart Marshall, allows for significant cost savings and business flexibility, in that you can save resources by having the service managed remotely, and that you only pay for what you use.
An overall lesson learnt from these results is that while technologies such as e-invoicing and OCR continue to have a strong influence over the market and remain key in the advancement of finance shared services, the increasing availability – and therefore decreasing cost – of alternative technologies is allowing shared services professionals to think a bit outside of the box in terms of how they use and interact with technology in every aspect of business today.
What automation technology will you be exploring in 2013?
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