Centaur Communications re-engineers internal business processes with OIT UK
Artikel von Crispin Coulson. Crispin Coulson ist als Berater für die PCI PROJECT CONSULT International Ltd., London, tätig.
The efficient movement of information around an organisation, especially that of a financial nature, is of paramount importance. Any delays in progressing and processing information such as invoices can have a detrimental affect on a company’s efficiency and ultimately its bottom line. To address these issues Mike Lally, UK Finance Director of Centaur, a £65 Million Publishing and Communications company, is applying the latest imaging, document management and workflow technologies and is already making substantial financial savings through streamlining and improving internal processes.
Centaur publishes such titles as Marketing Week, The Lawyer, Money Marketing, Design Week and The Engineer, as well as organising industry events throughout Europe. The company is made up of numerous individual business units throughout several offices representing the many titles published by the group. Each unit runs with their own styles of operation and cultures but still requires the services of a central finance department.
Mike Lally, a highly experienced Financial Director with over 20 years in the publishing industry, joined Centaur some 2 years ago. The finance department was providing a bespoke service to address the idiosyncrasies and modus operandi of each business unit. Obviously this made it very difficult to provide service level agreements to the business. Invoices requiring action or approval would be moved around the organisation and delays often occurred, especially if a person was not available to accept or approve a document, or if the document was mislaid or misfiled. Mike felt that by making key operational changes in the financial process, efficiency could be greatly improved and costs dramatically reduced.
Due to the sheer size and diversity of Centaur’s operation, any changes had to be fully cost-justified as Mike explains, “Nothing could happen unless you had really done your homework. You really had to understand what the business objectives were, what was happening in a process, why it was happening and what was the result before you could go about changing it. The main objective was gaining each business unit’s trust by proving to them that change was for the best.”
Attendance at regular monthly accounts review meetings gave Mike important feedback on various issues, especially the problems faced by management accountants when trying to produce their various accounting reports.
Mike’s first move was to empower the business units with responsibility for ensuring that all information pertaining to advertising sales was complete and correct to circumvent any potential customer queries relating to invoices etc. As a result of this shifting of certain responsibilities from the finance department back to the actual publications, the level of customer queries reduced within 6 months.
The next stage of Mike’s business process re-engineering plan was to address the movement of financial information around Centaur’s various offices. Too much time and effort was being spent manually moving paper around the organisation. Therefore, Mike gained approval from Centaur’s Board of Directors to develop a system that could not only move financial information around the organisation using email but also allow the business units to view documents from their desktop without having to set foot in the finance department. The only proviso was that the system had to work within Centaur’s mixed PC and Apple Macintosh environment.
“We approached a number of vendors to propose a system that would cover all our requirements,” says Mike Lally, “but the only supplier who offered a cost-effective and workable solution was OITUK. They suggested we run their browser-based DocFinity solution that incorporated electronic document management, imaging and workflow, across Centaur’s corporate Intranet, thus addressing our operational needs and the PC/Mac paradigm simultaneously, as well as offering a relatively fast roll-out with minimal training requirements”
OITUK’s proposition opened up a number of exciting possibilities for Mike and his team. Clearly workflow could be applied to any number of procedures at Centaur, including payroll, credit control queries, supplier invoice and sales order processing. It was decided that only way to introduce a system that had such far-reaching consequences in terms of working practices was to adopt a two-phase implementation strategy. This would cause minimal disruption to the running of the business and if successful, gain the confidence of the business units who been disappointed with previous attempts to automate financial processes.
The first phase involved the Accounts Payable team scanning supplier invoices back to July 2001, which were then indexed and placed into a document repository on one of Centaur’s servers. Personnel with the appropriate rights can run business and supplier specific searches on that repository. This means the business units have secure on-line access from their browser screen to the finance department’s filing system and can quickly find a specific document, without having to physically access rows of lever arch files. The paper originals are still placed in lever arch files within the finance department where people not comfortable with the browser-based system can still manually work with the paper files.
The DocFinity system works in parallel with Centaur’s accounting system. A simple search facility launched within a browser allows staff to find scanned invoices contained in the department’s lever arch files using a wide range of parameters including, date, invoice number, supplier name or unique reference number that is assigned to any scanned document, so that all documents meeting the search criteria will be displayed on screen.
This stand-alone, on-demand system clearly did not address the paper-flow problem as the system merely provided an image back-up of a paper document. However, many of the business units and the management accountants, whether they were using a PC or Mac, could access files faster than the traditional manual method, which prompted the second phase of Centaur’s business process re-engineering project.
The Finance Department is now using DocFinity to capture the invoice approval process electronically. Instead of sending an invoice to an individual for approval, the Finance Department allows them to refer to an image of the invoice on the server via DocFinity’s workflow capability.
There are three types of person involved in the invoice approval workflow, the distributor, the acceptor and the approver. The distributor is traditionally an assistant within the business who will receive all incoming workflow instructions, which are sent to the appropriate people advising them that there is an invoice in their workflow queue that needs attention. An acceptor will initially receive workflow notification to confirm the invoice details are correct and once this is ascertained the workflow notifies the approver to act.
When DocFinity is launched, the document requiring an action is displayed as a link. When this is selected a workflow approval form is launched along with an image of the actual invoice. Using traditional methods the paper invoice would have been stamped with grid and an accounting code entered on the grid. DocFinity electronically captures this accounting code using a drop down menu, which enables the recipient to enter the appropriate accounting code.
The recipient then has the option to approve or refuse the invoice. Notes can be added to invoices and become a permanent record showing who added the note on a particular date. At each stage in the workflow every action is recorded electronically to provide a full audit trail in the event of any queries. The system’s security hinges on each person’s individual login to the imaging system, which is password protected and encrypted on the server.
Although every business unit within Centaur has different methods of working, each business has to be analysed as to how they flow documents. However, the workflow is flexible enough to address their individual means of dealing with invoices as Mike Lally explains “One of the attractions of DocFinity for us is that it is hugely flexible in terms of Workflow. It is very user friendly and as a result my Financial Systems Manager and Financial Systems Administrator can construct the most elaborate flows or electronic connections on the server in an almost infinite number of combinations.
“The DocFinity system is a very sophisticated way of storing, indexing and retrieving information,” continues Mike. “It is not a back-office system to make life easier for the service departments - it is a front-end user system for the business units and we are trying to change very well established working practices which can sometimes take time.”
Mike estimates that Centaur has saved nearly £100,000 in terms of reduced salary bills and improved processes and efficiency. People no longer have to spend disproportionate amounts of time dealing with queries on documents or trying to track them down if they have been mislaid or misfiled. By assigning the scanning of invoices to the Accounts Payable team, they have more control over the flow of documents and by using DocFinity they can tell where an invoice is at any time. An additional benefit to Mike is that morale and performance have been improved within his department. Jobs can now be properly described and positioned and consequently staff are happier and accordingly so are the customers and business units.
“We’ve been very fortunate in our choice of partner with OITUK,” comments Mike Lally, “we’ve got people who understand the business process, understand the detail and have been very accommodating to our needs and requirements. Without exception the whole OITUK team has been superb, it’s been a very fruitful relationship.
“The Board of Directors has been very supportive and even in the initial stages of proposing the system they could see its advantages and benefits,” adds Mike. “The challenge for us is to ensure that DocFinity receives company wide acceptance by presenting a fool-proof system that actually works and delivers what we say it will. We have only scratched the surface of realising the benefits of Imaging and Workflow within Centaur. It has already eliminated the movement of paper in the same way that email has replaced traditional forms of communication.”