63,000 Invoices, Eight Countries, One Solution: The Magic of Combining Shared Services with Business Process Automation

by Steve Smith 0

When it comes to shared service centers and business process automation, 1+1=3. The use of shared services is on the rise and the growth shows no sign of slowing. A recent report from Research and Markets predicts 14% growth in the shared services market from 2016 to 2020. The report also points out that business processes are the biggest beneficiaries of shared services with processes such as procure-to-pay and accounting gaining significant efficiency.

As Research and Markets points out, “a key growth driver is the need for process automation” and it’s “an important component of business transformation at a functional level.” This transformation comes from the proven benefits of automation including an increase in efficiency and output and a decrease in redundancy and errors. Combine that with the shared services model and you have a formula for accuracy, consistency and maximum productivity where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

A shining example of the magic of combining business process automation with a shared services model can be seen in Sony Electronics Asia Pacific’s move to an internal centralized accounting shared service center (SSC), and its implementation of an accounts payable (AP) automation solution. Before automating, Sony was manually processing approximately 63,000 invoices per year from eight different countries. Management realized that the time consuming and inefficient process was having an impact on operational costs and employee satisfaction.

Sony knew that adopting an AP automation solution would only add efficiency if the software integrated with its existing systems. The company needed an electronic workflow to facilitate AP processing in its SSC using a regional SAP® FI software system and Oracle® Financials system. After evaluating vendors that met its requirements and soliciting recommendations from its legacy BPO company, Sony selected Esker’s AP automation solution.

Now Sony’s vendor invoicing process is streamlined. Received vendor invoices are automatically uploaded into the system for processing and approval, all with full visibility and minimal risk for entry errors. Once invoices are approved, invoice details such as the corresponding account codes and cost centers are interfaced into Sony’s two accounting systems.

Sony’s reported benefits were not unpredictable, but nonetheless make a strong case for the combined power of AP automation and a shared services model:

Improved visibility: Sony can see and track Invoice submission and approval status in real time, providing visibility on accrual amounts if invoices have not yet been approved.

Easy invoice retrieval: The electronic format allows invoices to be attached to the accounting booking entry, enabling quick retrieval of invoices for audit purposes.

Cross-border support: Sony’s SSC multi-country, multi-language needs are supported by Esker’s 120 language capabilities.

Increased efficiency: Manual data entry has been eliminated as information in Esker is automatically interfaced to Sony’s accounting system.

Convenient (and mobile) approval process: On-the-go access allows managers to review and approve supplier invoices anytime, anywhere.

External ERP workflow: Web-based AP workflow outside the ERP system delivers simplified setup for the SSC and the ability to work with multiple ERP applications as needed.

The purpose of the shared serviced model is to create a centralized place for companies to house, perfect and monitor business process operations and resources. A key part of realizing the benefits of a SSC comes from the tools that are implemented and scaled to maximize unified operations. Moving to a SSC is step one. Implementing business process automation is step two. Together, each step amplifies the scalability, efficiency and flexibility benefits of the other, as Sony found out first hand by bringing AP automation to its shared services center.

About the Author
Steve Smith is U.S. chief operating officer at Esker, a worldwide leader in cloud-based document process software to automate order processing, accounts receivable, accounts payable, purchasing and more. Smith is responsible for all operations in all of the Americas.