For many organizational leaders, evolving technology can become somewhat of a “shiny new toy.” Enticed by exciting features and proposed benefits, organizations sometimes take the plunge into new software systems too quickly. In our 25 years of business, we’ve helped thousands of organizations identify opportunities for automation and have successfully implemented software systems that make their workflows more efficient and cost-effective.
We’ll share one of our customer’s stories and also walk through the process of selecting a partner, implementing an automation solution, and identifying the return on investment for your organization.
Understanding exactly what you should automate is a key step in the automation evolution, but equally important is the “why.” Having a champion within an organization that is technologically progressive is often the driving force behind automation and a common case for many of our customers.
National Distributors, a family-owned Anheuser Busch beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverage distributor in Portland, Maine, had the benefit of a leader who understood the impact of investing in automation. Chief Financial Officer, Mike Meserve, joined National Distributors in 2020, coming previously from Baker Newman Noyes, one of the largest accounting and advisory firms in New England.
In his previous role, Mike obtained his certification in Machine Learning and Business Intelligence, through which he learned firsthand the clear value of automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). When he joined National Distributors, he identified the opportunity to invest in these processes and progress the organization. National Distributor’s leadership agreed, “Tim (Longstaff), the President of National Distributors had a vision for bringing automation into the workplace and the utilization of bots, we connected there, and that was something we wanted to work on together,” said Mike.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the technology that allows anyone in an organization to utilize software to replicate the actions of a person using digital business process software. RPA utilizes the user interface to capture data and manipulate applications just like humans do. They interpret information, trigger responses, and communicate with other systems in order to perform a vast variety of repetitive, sometimes mundane tasks.
Most digital, highly repetitive tasks that are completed by employees can be completed by Robotic Process Automation. When evaluating tasks for RPA to complete, organizations focus on the most time-consuming “human completed” digital processes in their workflow or business process. For example, within an accounting workflow, you can identify specific parts within the process that can be automated. These include opening emails, downloading invoices, extracting data from those invoices, and then inputting the data into your ERP or Financial software.
The benefit of RPA is that it can complete these tasks without ever making a mistake or taking a sick day. And because these repetitive tasks are completed by a bot instead of an employee, your team can focus on activities that are more fulfilling and better suited to their skill sets and the needs of your organization.
A common value proposition for organizations considering automation is the ability to reduce or reallocate their accounting staff who were completing redundant manual tasks. Some organizations though, such as National Distributors, did not have pain points regarding staffing, and in fact wanted to keep their current AP clerk, Scott Brousseau.
“Obviously, he’s still here, we haven’t had to hire anybody else in AP, he’s the only guy in AP. And you know, we’re going to be keeping him for a long time. But what the software has done is freed up his time from processing invoices and now he’s actually started helping audit some of our pricing, which has really provided dividends to us.”
An already efficient accounting staff doesn’t negate the need for automation. An investment in Accounts Payable automation created a valuable impact for both National Distributors and their existing AP clerk. Scott was able to further develop his career and add additional value for National Distributors by freeing up time previously spent on manual tasks to complete more in-depth work.
Scott explained firsthand the value he’s seen from automation, “The thing that I’ve noticed is that it’s freed up a lot of the time for entries. The system learns as it goes, so the next time you put in invoices, it’ll catch the things you put in the last time, and you know, that that’s always a good building point to move forward.”
Through the use of an Artificial Intelligence solution called Intelligent Data Capture, Scott was able to reduce his workload processing invoices. Now instead of spending a majority of his time manually matching invoices, he now only has to get involved when the system alerts for human verification.
“And by doing that it freed up a lot of my time. And that’s an area of our business, we really needed more help but if we didn’t have to, we didn’t want to bring on another person.”
Scott estimates that roughly 10 hours a week, or 25% of his time, has been saved on Accounts Payable thanks to automation.
When choosing a partner for an AP Automation solution not everyone provides the same level of support, integration, and pricing. Aside from Mike’s technical understanding of the processes PiF employs, something that heavily influenced National Distributors’ decision to work with PiF specifically was their history of success within the Beer and Wine Distribution industry.
Another consideration made after meeting with several other AP providers was the experience and expertise that PiF provided when it came to ease of integration with their enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, VIP, is what sold Mike on choosing PiF.
“The thing that really sold me when I was at the beginning is I knew you had worked with VIP,” explained Mike. “You know how to make the systems talk to each other.”
National Distributors signed their proposal in January 2021, with the expectation that they’d be live by November and ideally see an ROI in 36 months. Through their work with the PiF Technologies team, Mike explained that their anticipated “go-live” date was mostly just a date on the calendar.
In early spring the project was officially kicked off as Mike and Scott met regularly with Chris Call on the PiF Professional Services Team. The National Distributors Team began utilizing processes and finalizing nuances within their solution up until the set go live date in November.
“Chris kept saying that ‘you guys are a little bit of a unique case and your go-live date is really more of a formality. You’re already doing everything.’ So the day that we went live nothing changed.”
National Distributors has been successfully using their system ever since and have already seen the payback that they were initially looking for.
The appeal of automation is ever-growing for organizations, especially those within the food and beverage manufacturing and distribution industries. Finding the right partner who has knowledge and experience in your industry as well as the capacity to support your organization’s needs is a challenge. Arming yourself with knowledge and understanding of the tools and processes used you can make an informed decision and find the solution that works.
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