By automating manual inefficiencies and low-value tasks in procure-to-pay and order-to cash processes, Esker is empowering construction businesses to make better decisions, focus on continuity and more importantly, focus on growth.
For nearly 40 years, Esker has been enhancing document business transaction processes through leading-edge technologies for industries around the globe. A pioneer in cloud solutions, the company is making waves in the Australian construction industry by putting an end to manual data entry in the procure-to-pay (P2P) and order-to-cash (O2C) processes (the cash conversion cycle).
Harnessing its global footprint and multi-industry experience, Esker delivers artificial intelligence (AI)-driven solutions to the construction and infrastructure sectors.
In the P2P space, otherwise known as source-to-pay, Esker automates supplier management, contract management, procurement, accounts payable and expense management processes. In the O2C space, the platform automates the processes of credit management, customer inquiry management, order management, invoice delivery, payment, cash application, claims and deductions, and collections management.
Esker ANZ managing director Christophe DuMonet and customer experience manager Dalene Simpson are both extremely passionate about Esker’s solutions and their ability to empower the people and improve the processes that grow construction businesses.
“On the supplier side (or P2P side) organisations are buying goods and services which require purchase orders, receiving goods and invoices from suppliers, managing supply and onboarding suppliers into their systems,” says DuMonet. “On the customer side (or O2C side), companies are receiving order contracts from customers, providing quotes, eventually providing services or products to those customers, invoicing them and collecting payments.”
“It’s a lot of interactions which are supported by processes, documents, people and communication.”
Esker’s role is to support and enable those processes to make them more effective and efficient and make people more productive. The company’s end-to-end solution is constantly evolving to reduce friction – from things like misplaced documents and errors in processing and shipping – as much as possible. Shipping construction materials, for example, is expensive and getting it wrong can create a chain of negative effects for a construction business. Having to ship materials to different locations is not great for the environment either.
DuMonet says an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, or sometimes multiple industry specific systems, is at the core of most construction businesses – but many don’t interact with each other.
“We don’t compete against these systems or ERP; we don’t overlap with them either,” he explains. “Esker supports these accounting systems to eliminate the pains of manual processing and data entry.”
For instance, when a business needs to process a supplier invoice, the delivery to the right location might take place in an ERP or construction specific system. When this invoice comes in as a PDF via email it needs to be processed and eventually paid. But without a solution like Esker that automates and digitises the processing of that invoice, manual data entry is required.
By digitising the process, Esker makes the PDF digitally available for processing and for access by multiple stakeholders in the organisation. Instead of spending 10 minutes per invoice, Esker ensures little to zero time is spent per invoice.
“If you look at each type of transaction, there is an interesting set of sub processes – which are normally manual activities that need to take place for that document to be processed,” explains DuMonet. “Esker is all about basically eliminating all this manual data entry and all the errors that come from data entry.”
“Also, newer generations don’t want to do data entry; I don’t think anyone ever has.”
A construction site is a stressful environment with moving parts, people and processes. Construction workers are often bombarded with activities they need to do to get the job done, including the task of processing transactions. Traditionally, people would need to go back to the office to access a paper transaction document. With Esker supporting transaction processes, such as purchase orders, procurement and accounts payable – supplier interactions – people have access to the information and data files onsite, on the road or in the office of a supplier, enabling them to make better decisions because they have everything they need at their fingertips.
Today, says DuMonet, people want access to information on almost any device, especially in the fast paced and constantly moving environments of the construction industry. “Being able to review, for example, invoices quickly and approve them or send them to the right person to address them is essential – that’s what we enable,” he says.
Surrounding its success in delivering great outcomes for its customers is Esker’s use of AI. Rife throughout the media are headlines about AI replacing jobs, although DuMonet says at Esker they don’t believe this is the case.
“Our vision in what we do today is to think more about how AI is supporting humans as opposed to replacing them,” he says. “We see AI as an opportunity to enhance the ability of a human to do certain activities more quickly and effectively and with less stress.”
“AI can be used to provide insight in terms of, for instance, gathering information about suppliers through credit management activities or processes.
“It can indicate to you that a supplier is becoming riskier by say, not delivering certain goods – in previous times, people would be in reactive mode because of this.”
DuMonet says AI is not necessarily going to detect everything that can go wrong, but it can on many processes be much more proactive for people and businesses in providing them predictive analysis.
AI is embedded in almost all of Esker’s solutions. For example, Esker uses AI to do the pre-processing of cash payments from customers, meaning the system allocates cash that a business has received in its bank account, correctly. This provides businesses a better understanding of their cash flow position and forecast which, at a time of rising interest rates in Australia, is vital.
“Whether it’s about wanting to process documents much more effectively as opposed to the old-fashioned way, better understand a document or make better business decisions based on predictive analysis – these are the areas in which AI shines,” says DuMonet.
For systems to be effective, AI is really powerful in being able to figure out which data field means what on documents. AI can, for example, be used for very simple things like a triage of an email inbox. All sorts of business documents like purchase orders, claims and remittances are in most cases sent to one inbox within an organisation. But these emails typically need to be triaged, as in routed to the right person inside the organisation for processing.
Esker, being an order management system, will pre-process each order so that they can go straight through to the right person or team without the need for manual intervention.
“For us, we’re focused on understanding the structure and content of documents so that we can rank these documents into the right place and into the right process, as opposed to someone sitting there and opening every email one-by-one and then forwarding them,” says DuMonet. “So here, AI has this ability to be like a second brain that can analyse the content and do something with it.”
“The use of AI is accelerating across the construction industry, and we’re making sure we’re ahead of the curve by delivering constantly evolving AI-driven solutions now and into the future.”
Esker in action
Fletcher Steel, Fletcher Building’s steel distribution division, is one company that found itself held back by inefficient, manual processes. Team members were swamped with tasks associated with processing between 200 and 1,000 transactions a day. The team used to get up at five in the morning to do the cash allocations in an accurate and time effective manner, which had an impact on team productivity, efficiency, and morale. Adding to this workload, missing remittances resulted in large amounts of unapplied payments, shifting the process from cash collection to cash allocation.
This motivated Fletcher Steel to reach out to Esker to find a way to simplify and speed up its labour-intensive cash allocation process, resulting in its adoption of Esker’s Cash Application solution.
“Esker automated every step of the cash allocation process, from remittance capture to the reconciliation of matched invoices into the ERP,” says DuMonet. “This optimised the allocation of the incoming cash and downstream processes such as collections.”
“Esker had an impact on reducing costs in Fletcher Steel’s cash allocation process and eliminated the need for manual processing, thus providing the team more time to enjoy their jobs and personal lives.”
Simpson says it’s customer success stories like that of Fletcher Steel’s that truly highlight the value of Esker’s solutions.
“One big thing for end users that’s really important to understand is our solutions allow people to go from a data capturing environment, which is quite a heavy lift for an individual, to a verification type of role,” explains Simpson. “The way of working certainly changes for our end users.”
“We know some people find change really challenging, so we’re all about supporting our customers to change the way they work while continuously highlighting the benefits of doing so.”
Further, Esker supports its customers throughout the ‘user acceptance stages’ to make sure end users are comfortable with the solution and functionality.
“A lot of our customers report back and say, suddenly, they’ve got this world of information opening up for them that they never had visibility into or access to before Esker,” says Simpson. “This allows them to then review business processes and policies, how they as a finance team can influence the rest of the business and start challenging and understanding the business’s roadblocks.”
With Esker doing the heavy lifting, Simpson says, it can also add intrinsic value to a person’s day-to-day life.
“Our customers can head home and cook dinner for the kids or go to the gym because the job is done quicker and more efficiently with Esker,” she adds. “It’s not just about those holistic advantages – work also becomes fun for our customers because they have a great solution that allows them to do things in the most efficient way.”
Having already fostered positive outcomes for hundreds of its customers, Esker continues to evolve to provide the best possible solutions that support the construction industry in its journey of transformation.
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