Taking process automation to the next level

With shared service centres in particular looking to gain control and visibility of a wider range of processes through automation, Freya Purnell spoke to ReadSoft SAP Solutions Lab CEO Carsten Nelk about the company’s solution to this issue.

As more organisations move to a shared services model to manage not only financial processes, but HR and other processes such as lease management, the benefits of automation become more attractive as a means of gaining control and increasing speed and efficiency. While ReadSoft is perhaps best-known for its account payable (AP) automation solutions, the company decided to go broader – to address the entire ‘purchase to pay’ and ‘order to cash’ process chains.

In designing its new Process Director solution, which acts as a single platform for a whole range of processes, ReadSoft also had the opportunity to provide a better, more flexible business analytics solution.
“Previously we didn’t have a good integration into SAP BI. Now we can provide clients with good numbers and reports so they can actually improve performance. It is very important to know where the bottlenecks are, and you can try and change the processes and get more efficiency later on,” Nelk says.

This is particularly relevant for shared service centres – which may have deliver an initial uptick in efficiency improvements when first established, but then plateau. By focusing on optimising processes, further gains can be made.

In addition to streamlining administrative processes by only allowing requests to be submitted if they contain the correct data and approvals, the solution provides the business with much greater transparency and visibility of the status of requests – rather than using paper-based processes that are slow, virtually invisible to management, and which don’t follow defined, repeatable processes.  Frank Volckmar, managing director of ReadSoft Oceania, says this standardisation is critical for shared service centres.

“If people can do [a process] different ways, you have no standardisation and you have no governance over the process, and then you can’t really measure the performance of the process either,” he says.

For enterprises running SAP, there are some common pain points which it addresses.  “For document-driven processes, it is usually that the interfaces into the SAP environment are not as flexible as they to be in order to accept some wrong data from a symantic point of view,” Nelk says. “Our solutions can take all the data in and try to correct as many problems as we can automatically. Very often we can do the job completely, and automate from beginning to end. If we are not able to do that, we can show the user in a user-friendly way what the problem is.

“For request-driven processes, the pain point is ease of use. Because we have one common interface for the entire organisation, we are able to add different process types as we go forward, but users continue to use the same interface.” According to Volckmar, many customers also see a great deal of value in being able to access a consistent set of online forms with one workflow engine.  “A lot of customers are using Adobe, Word, Excel, and they can’t control it. We’re giving them a solution that they can control. If they can control it, they can measure it. If they can measure and improve it, they can charge for it. That’s huge,” he says.  This capability also allows shared service centres to create a tiered pricing model depending on the complexity of requests and the amount of time and resources they take to process, charging cost centres different amounts.

Hear Carsten Nelk talk more about driving procure-to-pay performance in a shared service centre in a video available through YouTube (http://youtu.be/B32KhtxJRAo) or through the ReadSoft website (www.readsoft.com.au/shared-service-centres.aspx).

 This article was first published in Inside SAP December 2011.

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