- Improved control
- Greater visibility over documents and invoices
- Approval processes streamlined
About Coastline Housing
Coastline Housing Ltd is an independent, not-for-profit housing association owning and managing just over 5,000 homes. The company’s purpose is to build great homes and offer great services provided by great people.
Their recent move into the open market sector through their subsidiary company Coastline Homes has contributed to significant growth in the last 5 years. With such a fast growth rate, their infrastructure has not been able to grow at the same pace.
COVID-19 was a huge catalyst in driving change enabling Coastline Housing to process and manage their Accounts Payable process. With over 300 employees and an invoice volume of 24,000 invoices per annum, the move to remote working driven by the COVID-19 pandemic created many challenges. In this new environment, they recognised that their paper-driven invoice approval process was no longer feasible. Invoices could no longer be passed around the office to staff in-trays.
Coastline Housing’s Director of Finance and ICT, Nathan Mallows, had previously worked with us at another London based Housing Association. With his background and knowledge of the benefits our system could deliver, they approached us for a solution.
”The feel-good factor we get from the system is amazing. You would not believe the messages I have had from users saying how much easier the system has made their job.Nathan MallowsDirector of Finance and ICT
Challenges of a paper-based system
Prior to implementing Agilico’s system, Coastline Housing used a manual and paper-based invoice process which was both time consuming and susceptible to human error. It also created frequent stress for the Finance team who were overrun with paper.
The limitations of their paper-based system resulted in a slow approval process as sheets of paper would often be left in staff in-trays. Authorisers were not always present in the office to sign the invoice. This practice and the time delay in getting invoices approved lead Coastline Housing to develop a complex Excel spreadsheet to track and manage the journey of each invoice through their organisation.
While the Excel sheet gave the team some visibility of the status of invoices, it was prone to human error and required staff to ensure they inputted data correctly and frequently.
Zoe Field, Head of Finance at Coastline Housing noted, “Moving away from our Excel-based system was a massive driver for the project. Regardless of what you can do, human error always kicks in and it only takes one person to type something in wrong and we have an issue.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the company moved to remote working, this paper process was no longer possible. Coastline Housing initially adopted an electronic PDF-based system, where one of the finance team would travel into the office 3 days a week and electronically scan all invoices to a Network Drive. These were saved into folders for relevant approvers who would edit and add notes to the PDFs for approval. Whilst this eliminated most of the paper process, it proved to be near impossible to maintain due to issues with the home users’ IT equipment and infrastructure. Some approvers could not access or edit the PDF document which caused further delays. The IT disruptions required investigation which took up valuable staff time and slowed down the process.
Zoe mentioned, “The time it took to get invoices signed and approved was 3 or 4 times longer than the time it took the team to process and pay the invoice. It was taking authorisers about 10-11 clicks or around 4 minutes just to approve a single invoice and now it takes 10 seconds.”
The senior finance management team at Coastline Housing therefore recognised the need to implement a system that could save valuable staff time, reduce the reliance on the Excel system and remove the risk of human error. Achieving all of the above would enable those involved at Coastline Housing to work more efficiently and accurately.
An automated approval workflow
Coastline Housing now operates our automated Workflow solution for the approval of invoices, allowing staff who are currently working from home to approve and view invoices. Currently, all purchase ledger invoices are scanned into the system where the invoice header details are entered and the correct authoriser for approval is selected. This automatically triggers an email to the relevant user for the invoice to be coded and approved. Once approved, invoices are automatically uploaded into Sun Accounts.
This electronic process has not only streamlined the process but also freed up staff time to do more productive and valuable work. Zoe noted, “The feel-good factor we get from Agilico’s system is amazing. You would not believe the messages I have had from users saying how much easier the system has made their job.”
The new process has also abolished the need for the Excel spreadsheet to track the journey of an invoice. All invoices held within our Document Management system are visible and include a full audit trail so users can see exactly where the invoice is at any one time.
Furthermore, the system provides Coastline Housing with key automated reports which include accrual reporting. This allows users to view details of their expenditure with easy access to view the relevant invoice. Zoe added, “I don’t have to worry about someone misinterpreting an Excel spreadsheet now when doing purchase order accruals as I know it’s coming straight from a report directly from the system.”
Change for the better
The success of any software project is always dependent on users changing and adapting their behaviours. In Coastline Housing’s case, they were worried about a group of users with a combined 80 years of experience using the old process and not wanting to change. One of these users surprised everyone by adopting the new process and solution very quickly and their performance in their day-to-day work improved beyond recognition.
This user liked the control and visibility our system gave them in knowing where any of the invoices and documents were, at any one time. In their most recent appraisal, they achieved the highest mark given by the team and their management commented on how much happier they had become at work. They are now one of the best champions for the Agilico system and often help others to adopt the new working practices.
Zoe also used our project as an opportunity to streamline their approval processes and reduce 126 invoice approvers down to 38. Previously, many users were getting stressed with the unwieldy paper trail and could not keep track of whether their invoices had been signed or not. The new Financial Regulations also acted as a catalyst to change the users behaviour. It now requires them to take more ownership of their budgets and financial approval process.
“It was taking authorisers about 10-11 clicks or around 4 minutes just to approve a single invoice and now it takes 10 seconds.”
Coastline Housing has now been using the Agilico Document Management system to manage their purchase invoices and approval process successfully for several months. They are now looking to take the project to the next step and automate the capture of the invoice details using the Machine Learning capabilities of Abbyy FlexiCapture For Invoices software. This will help achieve further efficiencies and time savings.