COFFS HARBOUR CITY COUNCIL: CASE STUDY

Coffs Harbour City Council AP Automation Case Study

Positioned halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, Coffs Harbour is a thriving regional coastal city of around 70,000 residents. Nestled between the coastal slopes of the Great Dividing Range and the 80 kilometres of golden beaches that form its boundaries, Coffs Harbour has gained a reputation as a dynamic and rapidly expanding economic hub. 

The city’s status has been recognised by the NSW state government, which has designated Coffs Harbour as a centre for strategic growth, highlighting its economic and social importance to the state.

To enable economic growth and to assist the local business community to reach their full potential, Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) decided to set local trends by optimising their investment in administrative processes by re-engineering inefficient business processes. The council embarked upon its programme of functional optimisation by automating their Accounts Payable (AP) process.

THE CHALLENGE

Prior to automation, hard copy invoices were receipted by council staff, who usually instigated the procurement process via mail. If an electronic image was sent to Council it was printed and processed as a hard copy. The hard copy document was stamped with a “goods received” stamp which prompted for a signature to acknowledge that the goods or service had been received and that it was OK to pay. The creditor clerk would manually identify who the purchaser was if it was not clear from the data on the invoice. Where no purchase order number was quoted, the clerk would also request a purchase order number to be supplied by the purchaser.

The hard copy invoice would then be physically delivered to the identified purchaser at one of the Council’s offices or depots disbursed throughout the local government area. After the invoice had been approved, it would be physically returned to the purchasing branch office where it would be manually processed by a creditor clerk. The creditor clerk would then enter textual information from the invoice into the transaction data entry screen of the financial system before matching the transaction to the nominated electronic version of the purchase order.

The Council was not only wasting time by transporting hard copy documents around physical locations but would also often lose track of where invoices actually were in the process. Documents would often get lost or misplaced, resulting in even more processing inefficiencies. This approach to accounts processing also led to the system costing balances being delayed as a result of the processing time required to handle the physical document and manually enter information.

THE SOLUTION

When the council heard about the Efficiency Leaders Automation Platform (ELAP) at a TechnologyOne™ User Group Meeting, their staff were surprised by the extent of technological capabilities available to assist them in making their business processes more efficient.

The council started their process improvements by setting up a dedicated email address for receipting invoices. They contacted all suppliers requesting that, in future, they email PDF copies of invoices in order to eradicate hard copy document processing. In a second step, the Council decided to take full advantage of the ELAP Accounts Payable automation solution, enabling automatic processing of both scanned hardcopy documents and imported electronic images.

After an intelligent image clean-up and data extraction process, pre-defined business rules are automatically applied against the extracted information for validity checking. The extracted data and the invoice image are presented to the AP operator to check validity with the option to correct exceptional invoices. Part of the automated validity checking involves database queries being invoked by ELAP to check that the purchase order exists, the supplier details exist in the financial system, and the ABN details are valid.

Once the operator is satisfied that the image, pagination, data extraction and validation is correct, the textual information and images are exported from ELAP to Microsoft SharePoint. When the export is complete, an automatic ELAP workflow process is then triggered which accesses the information which has been exported to SharePoint. The automated process follows a pre-defined workflow which updates the information stored in SharePoint as appropriate.

Invoices which have been successfully matched to an order or backorder and which have been approved for payment are given a “Ready for Export” status. The credit officer decides when invoices are ready to import into a batch (Document File) within the financial system. Another workflow is then invoked which collects the requested information from SharePoint.

The approved requests for payment are then automatically uplifted into the financial system database import table with a pointer to the path and name of the invoice image file. SharePoint is updated to identify which invoices were exported together as a batch to aid in the reconciliation process.

Once posted, the costing transaction retains the image so it can be accessed via the financial system for ease of reference at a later stage.

THE BENEFITS

The benefits of ELAP Automated Accounts payable were such that Coffs Harbour City Council decided to go into the next phase of automating business processes within Council. Coffs Harbour City Council are currently in the process of planning additional ELAP process automation implementations for payroll time sheet processing as the next phase in their enterprise-wide process automation strategy.

“…As a consequence of these advantages, processing time is reduced which does not only save time and money but is also an efficient and satisfying way of operating a business.…Furthermore, the hard copies do not get lost or misplaced anymore, queries by suppliers can be researched and responded to more easily and quickly and supplier ABN details are more closely monitored and updated. This is very pleasing from a finance perspective in that the financial system actual costing balances are updated sooner as the purchasing branch staff do not have to enter details of all the goods and services in the financial system. The purchaser approval and matching is used to allow the receipting to be done with the order matching and posting in the financial system.” – Dale Allen, Executive Manager, Coffs Harbour City Council

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