Worcestershire County Council
Pioneer in electronic invoice management
WORCESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL provides a huge range of services to more than 545,000 citizens living within the county’s boundaries. One of the largest and most progressive employers in the region, the organisation has over 19,500 staff and an annual turnover in excess of £750 million.
Over the last decade, the Council has been a pioneer in electronic invoice management, a strategy which will now serve the organisation well as the next wave of Government funding cuts take effect, requiring that the public sector operates at maximum efficiency.
In 2001, Worcestershire was one of the first local authorities to implement an integrated business management system, by combining SAP software with a document scanning and archive platform from SAP certified partner EASY Software, EASY Enterprise for SAP. This has had a huge impact on business efficiency and supplier remuneration, given that Worcestershire processes almost 400,000 separate invoices each year. Invoice management is one of the core processes in an enterprise which can tie up significant personnel and financial resources. The process of scanning invoices, which are captured using a Fujitsu scanner, enables simple verification of supplier invoices, supports the approval process within the council, and has improved the visibility and control of expenditure.
The software is very reliable and good value for money. It fits in well with our processes and the seamless integration with SAP is vital.
BANISHING THE BASEMENT BLUES
Since implementing the system, the Council has been able to eliminate paper from invoice processing, improving efficiency while reducing instances of documents going astray. “All invoice documents come straight into the central revenue section where they are scanned and added to the SAP system,” says Dave Bessant, Worcestershire’s financial systems manager. “From this point on, documents are handled and archived electronically.”
Payments happen swiftly, because the process of reconciling invoices with purchase orders is so quick and easy, that a budget manager is only involved if goods haven’t been received, or prices or quantities don’t tally. “Even then, the budget manager can quickly drill down into the SAP system where he or she can easily see the invoice, enabling immediate follow-up,” Dave notes. “The revenue section no longer needs to send out paper documents to satisfy this type of query.”
The expected benefits of this improved process were so tangible that the business case was self-evident, he adds. “The integration with SAP was particularly popular, because it meant an ability to quickly retrieve an invoice a few months down the line, without having to go down to the basement to dig it out.”
When choosing an electronic document management system, Worcestershire County Council decided on EASY Software because of its formal SAP certification and partner status, and its ability to work closely with other solution providers to deliver a holistic and seamlessly integrated solution that represents good value for money.
Originally implemented by EASY Software’s partner Kontrolla in conjunction with Serco, the software has proved to be very reliable and easy to use, thanks to its seamless integration with the SAP graphic user interface.
“We looked at a number of solutions that could ostensibly provide what we wanted, but EASY had proven SAP credentials, and could meet a specific need we had at that time for ‘late archiving’. This means we enter the invoice details into SAP first, before scanning the document, using a barcode to match the scanned image with the file we have created in SAP. We may move to ‘early archiving’ in time, where the scanning happens up front, but we have the flexibility to do this.”
Since the system was first deployed, it has been extremely stable, Dave notes. “We have no real problems at all, to the point that over a period of about five years we didn’t need to have any contact with our account manager at EASY other than when upgrading the software.”
PURCHASING CARD MIGRATION AND REAL-TIME DR
The two organisations are now working side by side again however, as the Council embraces a new, related efficiency project, through the adoption of a purchasing card system, which will vastly reduce the volume of invoices passing through the authority. “Instead, all authorised staff will carry a purchasing card which they will use for procurement, keeping a VAT receipt for our records,” Dave says.
To this end, EASY Software and partners are working with Worcestershire County Council to deploy a new archive repository within the EASY archive server which will be rolled out imminently to manage the submission and authorisation of employee expenses. The purchasing card solution, provided by another SAP partner, BizAps (now WNS), will be managed through the SAP system.
The Council has also embraced an opportunity to restructure its disaster recovery capabilities, by moving to a real-time DR solution. “Until now, the process of disaster recovery testing has involved recreating SAP from scratch, taking a backup tape and loading all of the data onto SAP so that it can be tested as a complete and true view of SAP at a given point in time,” Dave explains. “This takes five days, creating significant downtime meaning we would be unable to make payments to staff or suppliers during this time. In the new set-up, we’re adopting a real-time DR process where the data will be held on a second site and transactions pulled from live SAP servers. If the systems go down, we’ll be able to move to the DR solution in a fraction of the time than before. The EASY system will be a mirror of that too: each time we scan something it will be copied to the DR site.”
EASY Software in conjunction with systems integrators Diagonal and 2e2 is working with the Council to reconfigure the DR facility, while adjusting the software licence to encompass the second site.