Digitisation of invoice management, smart data extraction & access anywhere
Trafford Council is the local authority of the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford in Greater Manchester, England. One of 10 metropolitan district councils in the region, and one of 36 in the metropolitan counties of England, it provides the majority of local government services in Trafford, overseeing local services for around 210,000 residents, including rubbish collections, street lighting, libraries and leisure centres.
Distance is no object with electronic records in Trafford Council
If you live a long way from the offce, there‘s really no reason why you should have to come all the way to the main building; you could do most things from home, or just go to a local offce and do a few hours there as needed. That’s the way the modern workplace is going.”
Mark Lilley, SAP Systems Manager des Trafford Council
In common with most local authorities in the UK, Trafford has a duty to optimise its budget and be open and transparent about its spending. With a finite-sized finance team, it needs to be smart with the information it has, using this to hone decision-making, monitor spending and invoice- handling, and spot opportunities for additional efficiencies wherever possible.
Given the scale of its remit, Trafford Council has used the SAP back-office business platform for the best part of two decades, to coordinate and manage its financial activities. Previously procurement processes had been largely manual, so reconciling purchase orders and invoices was labour intensive and subject to the risk of documents going astray or proving difficult to track down.
“As a local authority, we‘ve got a number of offices across the borough,” explains Mark Lilley, Trafford Council’s SAP Systems Manager. “When there are requests to see invoices, for example in the case of a query or dispute, people – potentially in another location – would have to physically trawl through boxes of paperwork before they could provide an answer.”
Distance is no object with electronic records
To maximise the benefits of SAP, the Council simultaneously introduced EASY for SAP, on the recommendation of one of the IT contractors. This has allowed the Accounts Payable team to capture, store and access documents such as purchase orders and invoices electronically. EASY was the obvious solution, because of its direct integration with SAP, allowing invoices to be scanned straight into the Council’s core finance system. Making documents continuously available directly from SAP, alongside the corresponding financial records, enabled instant traceability and support for rapid, well-informed decisions.
Originally, the main purpose of handling invoices electronically was to cut down on paper, and provide instant access to documents for anyone in the business that might require access to them, so that they could address queries on demand. Over the last 15 years or more, the volumes of invoices processed via SAP and EASY for SAP have exceeded half a million.
“These could relate to anything – from highways to streetlight maintenance to social care, spanning all business functions, contractors: anything at all,” Mark notes. “When you’re managing finances within a borough council, it’s like running 400 different businesses all under one roof.”
Instant auditability, smart data extraction & access anywhere
Maintaining an electronic footprint aids legal compliance too: the Council now retains a permanent record of all transactions, without having to store paper documents in physical fling cabinets.
“Previously, people had less visibility, so teams would never know quite what had been ordered, for example,” Mark explains. “This could be an issue in an auditing situation. Now, by contrast, it’s easy to search all purchase orders, invoices and fnancial records electronically, so visibility and auditability is much improved.”
More recently, Trafford Council has upgraded to EASY Capture Plus for Windows 10, along with the latest release of EASY for SAP platform, providing access to the latest features. Using modern, intelligent recognition technologies such as barcode reading and optical character recognition (OCR) engines, EASY Capture Plus allows organisations to automatically capture, code, and index unstructured content con- tained in scanned documents, making them easy to look up or combine with other data to improve business insight and/or accelerate processes. The software is also very intuitive and user friendly, making it easy to use with little or no training.
Supporting fexible working
“The biggest beneft has been the scanning and transmission of electronic fles,” Mark says. “Originally, we outsourced the scanning and would have to wait for a CD to come back. Now it’s purely electronic fles, and everything is much quicker. It’s more online now as well. Whereas there used to be a dedicated PC, because we didn’t want staff to have CD drives and be able to load things from them, now any authorised users can load documents and their contents from anywhere – in principle even from home.
Over time, Trafford Council’s reliance on paper document scanning is expected to reduce as increasing numbers of purchase orders, invoices and payments are generated and issued electronically. Meanwhile the Council hopes to make greater use of the broader features of its EASY solutions. “We’ve only really scratched the surface of what the software is capable of,” says Jon Dawber, the Council’s Infra- structure Support Manager.
“In fact, we‘re on a bit of a drive towards fexible working now, and our EASY Capture Plus solution is a real enabler,” Mark adds. “If you live a long way from the offce, there‘s really no reason why you should have to come all the way to the main building; you could do most things from home, or just go to a local offce and do a few hours there as needed. That’s the way the modern workplace is going.”