Headquartered in Manchester, Harvest Housing Group is a not-for-profit group of housing associations and companies that owns and manages over 18,000 affordable, quality homes and provides a range of housing and community regeneration services across the North West of England and beyond.
At the heart of managing such a large estate is the Finance Department. Specifically, it is critical that the organisation runs a highly efficient, organised and cost-effective accounts payable (AP) operation, which is not a simple task to manage when receiving over 20,000 supplier invoices annually.
The Business Challenge
Previously, suppliers tended to send their invoices directly to one of Harvest Housings twenty offices, but this meant that the office would need to forward the invoice to the Finance Department, where it would be registered manually before being sent back out to the local offices for review.
Tracey Neale, Project Manager, Harvest Housing, explains: Our previous process consisted of sending paper copies of invoices from office to office for approval. This was costly, time-consuming and inefficient plus the chances of an invoice going missing were high. It was very difficult to keep tight control over every stage of the process, which in turn made management of the finances a complex task.
Another issue was physical storage of the invoices. We are legally required to keep invoices for six years, so we currently have about 1,000 boxes in a paid storage facility, which is obviously a further expense.
We were aware of the considerable scope for introducing a more systematic and automated approach to AP. We started to search for a technology-led solution that would help streamline the process as far as possible, whilst satisfying HMRCs documentation requirements. This would help us save money, time and office space as well as giving us a new level of financial control and compliance.
Harvest Housing began to evaluate the available technology solutions on the market, and despite having pinpointed a preferred provider at an early stage, the Group Financial Controller, Richard Morris changed his mind when he attended one of Formscans regular invoice automation seminars in London. As a leading European provider of document solutions with a particularly strong track-record in AP, Harvest Housing chose Formscan above all competitors as they were convinced of the companys ability to deliver the best, all-round solution to meet their requirements.
Working closely with Harvest Housing to understand the precise needs of their busy AP function, Formscan recommended a suitable mix of hardware and software to equip the Finance Department with a best-in-breed AP solution. Drawing on their technical expertise and strong technology partnerships, Formscan oversaw the implementation of invoice capture software from AnyDoc combined with matching, workflow and approval software from Basware. Formscan also recommended the purchase of a single Kodak i260 scanner and server hardware.
Tracey Neale continues, At the same time as the solution was being implemented, we sent a letter to all of our suppliers asking them to send their invoices directly to the Finance Department, rather than local offices, so that all invoices would be received centrally for processing within our new AP solution. Now, when invoices arrive, they are scanned and all crucial data (such as purchase order number, etc) is automatically captured by the AnyDoc software into the secure online repository. The captured data can be easily checked by our AP team, and then routed electronically to the reviewer in the local office who uses password access to log-in to the system via their web browser and verify the invoice details.
As soon as the reviewer is happy with the details, they send it on to the authorised approver. They can be located in any office, or even at home, as the secure online solution is accessible from anywhere. An alert is sent via email, and with a few simple clicks they can access the invoice data and give the Finance Department approval for payment.
Digitising the AP process has made a huge difference to us. For a start, we have completely eliminated manual data entry, which was error-prone and labour-intensive. Whats more, we now have tight control and visibility of our cash-flow status, as well as complete auditability of payment transactions. On a practical level, we save postage costs, speed up the payment process, reduce the risk of errors and introduce far greater efficiency into the process.
Harvest Housing has also eliminated the need for physical storage. Tracey Neale explains, Formscans solution is HMRC-compliant, meaning we no longer have to keep the cumbersome paper invoices for six years. This is a huge saving for us both in terms of space and cost.
Another major benefit for us is our supplier relationships. If there is an urgent invoice that needs to be paid on the day, it would potentially be scanned and go through the whole system within two hours, if necessary. Before, this couldnt be achieved in one whole day, due to the sheer logistics of moving the paper invoice from office to office. It is really great that our reviewers and approvers can see the scan of the invoice online. Our financial managers are not always in the same office, and the hosted solution means they can work from anywhere, cutting delays.
A final advantage is the positive impact the change has on the environment invoices are no longer photocopied several times, and posted from office to office. This creates a real financial efficiency, as well as making the whole process much more environmentally friendly.
Formscan has been at the forefront of the document management marketplace for over thirty years, developing and deploying document and data capture solutions for business and government. Our unique heritage and comprehensive range of services enable us to offer true end-to-end document management and archiving solutions, addressing todays critical challenges of security, disaster recovery, customer service standards and regulatory compliance.
Formscans tailored document solutions are based on a combination of selected third-party technologies and proprietary integration expertise and technical support services. We are a leading European integrator for AnyDoc, Kodak, Basware and Kofax, and are fast becoming the preferred specialist document services partner for leading software providers such as Civica.
Hundreds of private and public sector organisations have entrusted their business documents to Formscan, from blue-chip corporations, central and local government organisations and mail management and scanning bureaux. Current customers include Dell, Calor Gas, HMRC, Veridata, Trinity Mirror as well as numerous local authorities, housing associations and police forces.
Formscan currently employs 26 staff and are headquartered in Kent, UK.