Manually processing invoices, without automation assistance, takes a vast amount of people power. For Hertfordshire County Council’s Accounts Payable Team, this was no different.
The challenge the Council faced was the seemingly lengthy back-and-forth from mailbox to mailbox. This not only took up team members’ valuable time, which could be better spent on analysis, innovation, and ideas, but also led to inevitable inaccuracies, further reducing the efficiency of the team.
Although the Council had implemented solutions previously, these no longer fully met their evolving requirements. A change was needed – and Hertfordshire County Council were eager to make it.
So how exactly did we approach this and what were the outcomes?
For us, we chose Arvato based on how approachable they are as a company. The Automation Team were genuinely interested in finding a solution that would benefit Hertfordshire County Council and supporting us on our transformation journey while making sure it would be cost-effective and practical.
Waqaas Munir, Head of Financial Systems and Transactions, Hertfordshire County Council
After engaging in a collaborative workshop with the Council, Arvato identified opportunities and processes that would be suitable for robotic process automation (RPA). RPA has been employed by some councils to transform their back-office operations, not only to provide citizens with an improved and more streamlined service, but also to reduce cost-to-serve. For Hertfordshire County Council, this, alongside enabling its team to engage in more impactful work, was exactly the solution they needed.
The Council were also eager to partner with an external organisation, so that they could benefit from advanced technical capabilities, whilst implementing best practice and saving on costs. Arvato was chosen for its collaborative approach; strong track record in delivering and managing automated solutions in both local and central government environments; and authenticity when it came to suggesting solutions.
Following the workshop, Arvato agreed to deliver a pilot for purchase order invoice processing. Using our extensive automation knowledge, we created an agile, virtual workforce that was able to mimic human processing of labour intensive tasks, following rules-based business processes and interacting with systems in the same way that people do.
This was achieved through combining advanced machine learning and the all important human touch. When an invoice or document comes through to the Accounts Team, the automated solution conducts an initial validation of the information provided, prior to processing the invoice in the Council’s accounts payable system (SAP). It will automatically check, for example, the validity of the invoice’s PO number, invoice reference, invoice date etc.
If the robot – lovingly named ‘Gary’ by the Council’s team – identifies any invoices or documents that don’t pass the validation checks, they can automatically be sent back to the vendor (depending on the information missing) or passed on to a human team member. As Gary continues to learn and understand the complexities of the invoices that the Council receives, fewer need validation by human team members – increasingly freeing up their time to focus on more complex tasks.
As a result of implementation, 87% of invoices are currently fully completed through the solution – with no issues and no human intervention.
Arvato’s team also worked closely with the Accounts Payable Team to understand and overcome any internal barriers that might have hindered the implementation. This was very much a collaborative effort and something which is essential to achieve successful delivery.
Continuing this theme of collaboration, we not only implemented the full solution for Hertfordshire County Council, but also provided a managed service. This meant we didn’t simply hand the solution over; we continue to oversee the ongoing maintenance, optimisation, and success of the project. Again, this allows the Council’s team to concentrate on what they do best, rather than managing software that falls outside the remit of their expertise.
The combination of Arvato’s delivery and management of bespoke solutions expertise, together with implementing innovative technology, is generating significant results:
There were two reasons why we wanted to automate. One was to improve efficiencies within the department and deliver cost-savings, and the other was because it’s such a manual process and we wanted to free up our officers’ time to enable them to do more impactful, value-added work.
Ultimately, our team members now get more meaning out of their roles, but at the same time are also adding more value to the organisationWaqaas Munir, Head of Financial Systems and Transactions, Hertfordshire County Council