Welcome!

Microsoft Cloud Authors: Elizabeth White, Mihai Corbuleac, Pat Romanski, David Bermingham, Steven Mandel

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Microsoft Cloud, Containers Expo Blog, @CloudExpo, Apache

Microservices Expo: Article

Collaboration Advances Bring New Productivity

Collaboration-enhanced procurement & AP automation maximize productivity & profit gains in networked economy says Ariba's Hofler

When the bottom line needs to grow (even when the top line does not), then businesses must exploit open collaboration advances in procurement and finance to produce new types of productivity benefits, say an industry analyst and Ariba executive.

And the benefits of improved data integration and the process efficiencies of cloud computing are additionally helping companies refine their finances through tighter collaboration with all elements of their procurement and supply chain networks.

To uncover how these trends are fostering improved processes in accounts payable (AP) automation and spend management, BriefingsDirect recently sat down with Drew Hofler, Senior Solutions Marketing Manager of Financial Solutions at Ariba, an SAP company, and Vishal Patel, Research Director and Vice President of Client Services at Ardent Partners. The discussion was moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: Ariba is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Today’s landscape for AP and collaborating across business is driving some new processes, new approaches, and you have some new research. Tell us why you did the research now, and what found out.

Patel: We completed this E-Payables 2012 research study in June of this year. It was comprised of approximately 220 AP, finance, and procurement professionals. Our intent was to get a sense of the current state of AP operations, the usage of AP solutions, and to capture some of the key strategies, processes, and performances that these organizations are able to achieve. Also, to determine how best-in-class companies are leveraging AP automation.

Gardner: And what's changed? What's new now or different from say two or three years ago?

Patel: Traditionally, we saw AP as having a very tactical focus. We asked the survey participants, "What do you think AP can do for you?" The responses ranged from payroll and reviewing invoices to responding to supplier inquiries. But in 2012, we're beginning to see a little bit of a shift more toward strategic activities and the introduction of automation in the process.

Vishal Patel

If we compare procurement and AP, AP traditionally is lagging behind procurement in terms of transformation and improvement of performance in their groups. AP is currently at the point where it's trying to improve efficiency and trying to focus staff members on more strategic activities, instead of responding to supplier inquiries.

That's the general trend we've been seeing, and also just being able to connect the various processes within the procure-to-pay cycle.

New efficiencies

Gardner: Drew Hofler, we've seen an emphasis over the past several years, particularly in a tough economy, on seeking out new efficiencies. We've seen that in procurement and supply chain. Is this now AP's day in the sun, so speak, to grow more efficient?

Hofler: I would say that it is. It's probably the last bastion of paper processing in most organizations right now, typically seen, as Vishal mentioned, in the past as a back office tactical organization. They're seeing now that there are benefits that can be had by automating -- and not just automating the process and getting rid of paper -- but automating that on a network platform.

Drew Hofler

That allows visibility into key strategic data that drive decision-making throughout the organization and across their firewall to their suppliers as well. These are things like visibility into shipments, when they're coming in, visibility into line-item invoice data on the procurement side, so that they can do better analysis of their spend.

It's driving more strategic procurement on the supplier’s visibility into invoice status and payment timing, so they can manage their working capital and even access opportunities for getting paid early in exchange for discounts.

All of this stuff flows out of automation, and I think companies are really seeing how AP can now drive some of these strategic activities. So, I think it is their time in the sun.

Gardner: When we actually have an automation across the spectrum of these different activities, it seems to me that we're not going to be just collecting data and be able to proactively seek out new efficiencies or processes. It allows us to have more of an ad hoc, real-time benefit of being adept and even proactive. How is that important now, when you look at this entire spectrum of economic activity?

Hofler: That’s extremely important. Everybody needs to be nimble right now. The big deal is being able to adjust to the circumstances that are just crazy right now. It's having visibility into where you're spending specifically and when you're getting paid. Also, visibility into automating the invoice cycle and the AP process so that now you can do something with that with an early paid invoice that is approved maybe 45 days before it's due.

This opens up working-capital opportunities, where companies are offering early pay discounts to their suppliers. Suppliers who don't have the same access to cash flow that they had pre-2008 are accessing that, saying thank you, and are willingly giving up a discount so that they are lowering their days sales outstanding (DSO).

Buying organizations are getting something for their cash that they're certainly not getting with that cash sitting in bank accounts earning zero percent right now. Both sides are winning, and all of that's really made possible by automation.

Gardner: Vishal, this notion of being nimble, is that something that came up in your recent research and how important is that for companies to once again push the needle on efficiency?

Impact of AP

Patel: It's very important, especially when you start thinking about the impact that AP can have on other parts of the organization like procurement and finance. When you look at the P2P process, it's one transaction that all of these different stakeholders are connected to. But all the stakeholders are not connected to each other necessarily, and that's where automation comes in. That's when you get the added value of collaboration between the P2P cycle.

If you think about the manual environment where you're receiving paper invoices, paper purchase orders (POs). It's a difficult, really tedious work to get the right level of information at the right time, and then make decisions about how to most appropriately utilize cash.

One of the interesting things we found the research was that when we asked the survey participants what some of the biggest drivers are for the AP groups, the top one was improving processing efficiency, which is as expected, and it's been the same way for the last several years.

But the following two were the ones that were surprising. Number two and number three on the list were improving cash and working capital and improving days payable outstanding (DPO). Previously, we wouldn’t even have seen those on the list, but these are much higher on the list in 2012.

Any organization that can have visibility into their opportunities, into their process, and control over that process benefits from this.

Gardner: Drew, we recognize that large companies that are moving lots of goods that have a lot of capital involved are deeply incentivised to do this, but what about smaller organizations? Is this now something that is attainable by them, and are they starting to see benefits there, too?

Hofler: Absolutely. Any organization that can have visibility into their opportunities, into their process, and control over that process benefits from this. Smaller organizations on the buyer side are most definitely seeing the value of this. Lots of smaller organizations on the invoice sending and payment receiving side, what we would traditionally call the supplier side, the seller side, are seeing huge benefits from this.

For example, one of the suppliers on the Ariba network company called Mediafly, invoices with a very large entertainment company. They're a small company, they're a startup, and they're in growth mode. They have a full visibility into when they're paid and their CFO has told us that it's just like gold being able to see that.

So Mediafly has visibility into not only when their invoice is going to get paid, so that they can forecast on that, but also the ability to accelerate that payment on demand. They can literally click a button and get paid when they want.

They have told us that that has allowed them to hire, to accelerate their production of their products by hiring new developers, so that they can actually get a product out the door. They told us an example where they were able to get a new product out the door before they had planned, and they were scheduled to get paid on that original invoice.

Accelerated growth

And so it accelerated their growth. They've been able to avoid using credit lines because they have access to this through this kind of networked economy effect. They're able to see what's going on, and have the capability to make a strategic decision to accelerate cash, and it has really helped them as a small company.

Patel: In general within organizations, collaboration is a theme nowadays, with the workforce being quite diversified in terms of location. People are relying on collaborative efforts to help improve performance overall across the enterprise. And I think that's no different between procurement, AP, and treasury. Their collaborative efforts are going to improve each of their processes and the visibility they all have into the procure-to-pay process.

For example, procurement because of e-invoicing and supplier networks and just the visibility that AP is providing procurement, can improve their monitoring and measurement of supplier performance with invoice accuracy, how the're doing on payments, this helps them understand the total cost of working with a supplier.

That's one example of how procurement and AP can work together. But with treasury being able to understand what invoices are coming due, when they're coming due, when is the best time to make a payment, AP is able to deliver this kind of information in an accurate and real-time way, and that enhances their collaboration as well.

Their collaborative efforts are going to improve each of their processes and the visibility they all have into the procure-to-pay process.

Gardner: Drew, of course we're seeing lots of advancements in the field around cloud computing, mobile devices, and social networks, where people are becoming more accustomed to having an input and saying what's going on along the way. Technically, how is collaboration being driven into what Ariba is doing specifically around this AP automation?

Hofler: It all revolves around visibility into information, and as you said, access to make decisions based on that from across silos inside of organizations. For example, one of our customers, Maxim Healthcare, had very little visibility into procurement, across AP, and into their suppliers. All three of these stakeholders had very little visibility into what was happening, once a PO went out the door and once an invoice came in. There were spot processes that happened, but they were in a black box.

They had no way to enforce compliance to contracts. So an invoice comes in but it's not connected to the original document which is essentially a contract that enforces, say, volume discounts on widgets or whatever it might be. By automating the P2P process, by bringing all of these things into a kind of a network solution, the various stakeholders are able to see what's going on.

From the procurement side, they can see the line items on the invoice, so they can do better spend management and better analysis on their spend.

From a contract compliance perspective, the AP department can automatically connect the data in the invoice to that contract, to ensure that they're actually paying what they should be paying, and not too much.

Increased visibility

And from a supplier perspective, they benefit both from being able to see their invoice approval status, and when they're planning on getting paid. They're also able to access early payment, as I mentioned. One of the interesting benefits of this to Maxim was actually an increase in their DPO, a working-capital metric.

Procurement and AP typically may not have an impact on working-capital metrics that's usually a treasury and finance function. But when they had full visibility into their invoices and their payment terms, Maxim found that they were actually able to pay suppliers on time, rather than the practice of paying them early, because they just didn't have visibility into when they were supposed to pay them.

For a lot of my customers, we find that when we look at their vendor master, they often will have a lot of immediate terms with suppliers that they didn't realize they had, and their DPO was low as a result. So just getting visibility into all that gives them the ability to enforce the terms that they already have, and the net of that is to increase their DPO as Maxim saw.

Gardner: Now of course, we're in the networked economy. We've been talking about this in the context of an individual enterprise or a small business, but when more visibility data and accessed information along with collaboration is perhaps exploited at an industry or vertical level, there are some other benefits.

So does collaboration go beyond just what we're doing as an internal process? What about getting more data about what's going on in the whole industry and applying that to some of these business activities and decisions?

That's definitely huge and I would agree that it's right over the horizon.

Patel: When you have trading partners on a network and a whole cluster of them in a specific industry, there’s tons and tons of data that can be collected on invoicing, payments, purchase orders, spending habits, spending behaviors, and certain commodities.

There is a whole host of data that's collected, that's maybe the next phase of where the supplier networks go and how they make use of information. To date, I think it's still a matter of getting the scale and getting the network to a size where that information is available and makes sense. That's probably the next phase of it.

Hofler: I definitely agree with that. It's really the promise of the network, as Vishal pointed too. As you get the network effect and you get the massive amounts of data, there is just a tremendous amount of data flowing through on a daily basis on the Ariba network.

That's one of the things that's very exciting about our recent acquisition by SAP. There’s a big data program called HANA that they're developing and pushing. That's going to blow out the market. The amount of data that we can bring into that, and then slice and dice to the various different uses that's required to get intelligence into some of the things that Vishal was talking about. That's definitely huge and I would agree that it's right over the horizon.

Metrics of success

Most of the companies that come onto the Ariba network to do invoice automation, we call it Smart Invoicing, are able to set up certain parameters so that by the time an invoice gets to them, it's very clean. The suppliers give an immediate feedback on things that need to be fixed, as the invoice is being submitted, and then they get it very clean.

The result of that is that we have many customers who have 95 percent, 98 percent straight-through processing. Invoice comes through, it goes straight into their back end system and it's scheduled for payment and they're ready to go.

One of our customers, Ecolab Inc., has employed this. They had a couple of big problems, for example, where they had no visibility into their shipment information from the supplier on the front end of the process and their suppliers again had no visibility into payment on the back end of the process.

There are benefits to thinking more long term about the entire process.

A very interesting thing happened. When they weren't able to get visibility into shipment, they couldn't invoice their customer until they knew they had received the shipment that was going to be part of what they are invoicing their customer for from their supplier.

That led to an extended DSO, which is not a positive. By getting visibility into this, they were able to invoice on shipment and lower their DSO. Traditionally procurement and AP would not play in terms of DSO, but now they're able to contribute to the more strategic level of the company by impacting DSO in a positive way.

Additionally, they had risk in their supply chain from their suppliers not knowing when they were going to get paid, and sometimes threatening to and carrying through withholding shipment until they received payment on a particular thing. Now, their suppliers can see exactly when they're going to get paid and that has increased satisfaction and lowered the risk for them as well.

Just by automating the process and approving invoices in time, Ecolab increased their capture of contracted early-pay discounts from somewhere around 25 percent or 30 percent that they were able to capture before, to upwards of 95 percent. So that's a huge benefit to them as well.

Gardner: Vishal, in closing out, how do organizations get started on this? What are some typical steps that they should take in order to avail themselves of some of these benefits that we've been discussing?

Patel: One of the key things is, when looking at an automation initiative in the procure-to-pay process, to think about the process holistically, instead of focusing on automating one part, one process in AP or in procurement. There are benefits to thinking more long term about the entire process, how it's going to integrate, what technologies are going to be used for each part of the process, and whether that's all done at once or over phases.

Best practices

Gardner: Drew any thoughts from your perspective on getting started, best practices, or even where to get more information?

Hofler: For more information, come to ariba.com and look at all of our solution pieces. For getting started, I would agree with Vishal. In the networked economy, it's all about sharing information across silos, across stakeholders, and doing so in an automated fashion.

There are a lot of pieces to that and a lot of steps and processes along the way, where that information can be captured and shared across these parties.

A lot of people take it all at once in P2P process. Other people will automate POs and then invoice automation and then early payment discounting. I say look at where your communication breaks down internally over these processes, and let's target that first with some automation that can bring visibility into that.

You may also be interested in:

More Stories By Dana Gardner

At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and IT-Director.com. As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Increasing IoT connectivity is forcing enterprises to find elegant solutions to organize and visualize all incoming data from these connected devices with re-configurable dashboard widgets to effectively allow rapid decision-making for everything from immediate actions in tactical situations to strategic analysis and reporting. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Shikhir Singh, Senior Developer Relations Manager at Sencha, will discuss how to create HTML5 dashboards that interact with IoT devic...
So, you bought into the current machine learning craze and went on to collect millions/billions of records from this promising new data source. Now, what do you do with them? Too often, the abundance of data quickly turns into an abundance of problems. How do you extract that "magic essence" from your data without falling into the common pitfalls? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Natalia Ponomareva, Software Engineer at Google, will provide tips on how to be successful in large scale machine lear...
The IoTs will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and share the must-have mindsets for removing complexity from the development proc...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ericsson has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Ericsson is a world leader in the rapidly changing environment of communications technology – providing equipment, software and services to enable transformation through mobility. Some 40 percent of global mobile traffic runs through networks we have supplied. More than 1 billion subscribers around the world re...
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Peak 10, Inc., a national IT infrastructure and cloud services provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Peak 10 provides reliable, tailored data center and network services, cloud and managed services. Its solutions are designed to scale and adapt to customers’ changing business needs, enabling them to lower costs, improve performance and focus inter...
You deployed your app with the Bluemix PaaS and it's gaining some serious traction, so it's time to make some tweaks. Did you design your application in a way that it can scale in the cloud? Were you even thinking about the cloud when you built the app? If not, chances are your app is going to break. Check out this webcast to learn various techniques for designing applications that will scale successfully in Bluemix, for the confidence you need to take your apps to the next level and beyond.
There is an ever-growing explosion of new devices that are connected to the Internet using “cloud” solutions. This rapid growth is creating a massive new demand for efficient access to data. And it’s not just about connecting to that data anymore. This new demand is bringing new issues and challenges and it is important for companies to scale for the coming growth. And with that scaling comes the need for greater security, gathering and data analysis, storage, connectivity and, of course, the...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Fusion, a leading provider of cloud services, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Fusion, a leading provider of integrated cloud solutions to small, medium and large businesses, is the industry's single source for the cloud. Fusion's advanced, proprietary cloud service platform enables the integration of leading edge solutions in the cloud, including cloud...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Klein, CEO and Co-founder of Rachio, will discuss next generation communities that are using IoT to create more sustainable, intelligent communities. One example is Sterling Ranch, a 10,000 home development that – with the help of Siemens – will integrate IoT technology into the community to provide residents with energy and water savings as well as intelligent security. Everything from stop lights to sprinkler systems to building infrastructures will run ef...
Digital payments using wearable devices such as smart watches, fitness trackers, and payment wristbands are an increasing area of focus for industry participants, and consumer acceptance from early trials and deployments has encouraged some of the biggest names in technology and banking to continue their push to drive growth in this nascent market. Wearable payment systems may utilize near field communication (NFC), radio frequency identification (RFID), or quick response (QR) codes and barcodes...
The increasing popularity of the Internet of Things necessitates that our physical and cognitive relationship with wearable technology will change rapidly in the near future. This advent means logging has become a thing of the past. Before, it was on us to track our own data, but now that data is automatically available. What does this mean for mHealth and the "connected" body? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Lisa Calkins, CEO and co-founder of Amadeus Consulting, will discuss the impact of wea...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DatacenterDynamics has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. DatacenterDynamics is a brand of DCD Group, a global B2B media and publishing company that develops products to help senior professionals in the world's most ICT dependent organizations make risk-based infrastructure and capacity decisions.
The IoT has the potential to create a renaissance of manufacturing in the US and elsewhere. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Florent Solt, CTO and chief architect of Netvibes, will discuss how the expected exponential increase in the amount of data that will be processed, transported, stored, and accessed means there will be a huge demand for smart technologies to deliver it. Florent Solt is the CTO and chief architect of Netvibes. Prior to joining Netvibes in 2007, he co-founded Rift Technol...
We’ve worked with dozens of early adopters across numerous industries and will debunk common misperceptions, which starts with understanding that many of the connected products we’ll use over the next 5 years are already products, they’re just not yet connected. With an IoT product, time-in-market provides much more essential feedback than ever before. Innovation comes from what you do with the data that the connected product provides in order to enhance the customer experience and optimize busi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Stratoscale, the software company developing the next generation data center operating system, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Stratoscale is revolutionizing the data center with a zero-to-cloud-in-minutes solution. With Stratoscale’s hardware-agnostic, Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) solution to store everything, run anything and scale everywhere...
Angular 2 is a complete re-write of the popular framework AngularJS. Programming in Angular 2 is greatly simplified – now it's a component-based well-performing framework. This immersive one-day workshop at 18th Cloud Expo, led by Yakov Fain, a Java Champion and a co-founder of the IT consultancy Farata Systems and the product company SuranceBay, will provide you with everything you wanted to know about Angular 2.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Men & Mice, the leading global provider of DNS, DHCP and IP address management overlay solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The Men & Mice Suite overlay solution is already known for its powerful application in heterogeneous operating environments, enabling enterprises to scale without fuss. Building on a solid range of diverse platform support,...
Whether your IoT service is connecting cars, homes, appliances, wearable, cameras or other devices, one question hangs in the balance – how do you actually make money from this service? The ability to turn your IoT service into profit requires the ability to create a monetization strategy that is flexible, scalable and working for you in real-time. It must be a transparent, smoothly implemented strategy that all stakeholders – from customers to the board – will be able to understand and comprehe...
Artificial Intelligence has the potential to massively disrupt IoT. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, AJ Abdallat, CEO of Beyond AI, will discuss what the five main drivers are in Artificial Intelligence that could shape the future of the Internet of Things. AJ Abdallat is CEO of Beyond AI. He has over 20 years of management experience in the fields of artificial intelligence, sensors, instruments, devices and software for telecommunications, life sciences, environmental monitoring, process...