Incoming Invoices Without Integration Gaps

High productivity can be achieved through end-to-end digital business processes. However, in reality, manual routine tasks reduce processing speed, as well as the quality and economic effectiveness of the processes, because the medium of paper acts as a brake. It requires the involvement of people, who function as “translators” for the computer. The SER InvoiceMaster program provides support for SAP users in the processing of incoming invoices by enhancing the SAP solutions with functions that are able to read, process, and check invoices. The software eliminates the integration gap between paper-based and electronic processing.
The SAP software partner and specialist for enterprise content management (ECM) SER Solutions developed the application for automated invoice management. SER InvoiceMaster accelerates the processing and updating of invoice data in SAP R/3. Additional functions for the digital reading and classification of invoice documents enhance the scope of the SAP solution and eliminate the need for the manual entry of invoice data. Integration in the SAP Materials Management (MM) and Financial Accounting (FI) components ensures that automatic checks are carried out against SAP master data and ordering transactions, that posting proposals are automatically generated in FI, and that data is updated without any user intervention.

Electronic invoices

The Flensburg public utility company has implemented an end-to-end digital process from invoice receipt through to automatic updating. The tight integration of SER InvoiceMaster with the SAP FI component and the SAP for Utilities industry solution enables a largely automatic business process for the processing of distributor invoices.
The north German energy provider, which currently serves 18,000 external customers, was confronted with an annual volume of around 80,000 documents, including contract confirmations, annual consumption bills, budget billing requests, and final invoices. As most of these documents are received within the space of a few weeks at the end of the fiscal year, the company had to demand overtime from its Financial Accounting clerks, and deploy extra staff to process the power supply invoices. The situation has been improved with the introduction of the SER solution and process automation.
For the introduction of SER InvoiceMaster, the Flensburg public utility company initially concentrated on the 10 distributors with the highest number of documents, and achieved up to 95 percent automation in Financial Accounting for this group. The documents are scanned without user intervention and SER InvoiceMaster uses optical character recognition (OCR) to automatically identify posting-relevant data and extract it from the document. The data read in this way is then transferred to the SAP solution and updated. “Even in the initial phase, our expectations regarding potential savings were surpassed,” says Jochen Niedermeyer, project manager at the Flensburg public utility company. While the manual entry and updating of an invoice document previously took up to 10 minutes, SER InvoiceMaster now completes the same task in less than one minute.

Comparing documents and contracts

Thanks to integration in the SAP solution, different check and plausibility processes are possible. Information from the distributor database is accessed in order to classify the electronic invoices by distributor and document type. The SAP interface protocol Remote Function Call is used to activate a function module that determines the business partner number on the basis of the read document address, and the system automatically determines whether the invoice includes the correct number and type of discounts by comparing the information with the stored contract data.
Data is exported to the FI component in different ways, depending on the type of document. For a contract confirmation, for example, a SAP transaction creates a new recurring entry document. Final invoices are first posted, and another SAP transaction then cancels the existing recurring entry document. At the end of automatic processing, SER InvoiceMaster transfers the data to the SER DOXiS archive and to the SAP solution, where SAP table entries are updated with the transferred distributor customer numbers, contract data, and details on the locations of the current meters. The barcode of the related invoice document is entered in the SAP/SER archive link table and an audit-proof electronic document is archived.

Workflow to Sales and Distribution

Previously, up to four employees in Sales and Distribution were involved in checking meter data, checking and where necessary updating contract data, maintaining meter readings and periods in SAP, archiving the transaction in the Sales and Distribution archive, and sending invoices to customers. Today, a SAP for Utilities workflow informs the employees when there are new electronic documents to be processed. Employees receive a list of new documents flagged by transaction type, for example residential customer or nonresidential customer. The entries are linked with the archived documents and can be displayed again immediately. When the relevant SAP transaction is started, the processing screen of the SAP solution is filled with the header data that the system has already determined. The employee only needs to enter the remaining data such as the starting and ending meter readings or meter reading date in the SAP industry solution.
Automation of the first three substeps in Financial Accounting – determining the vendor or business partner number, updating the electricity bill and valuating and processing the discounts, and storing the distributor numbers – helps to save costs. The fact that copies were no longer needed also contributed to the savings made. This, coupled with the fact that storage and resubmission work was no longer involved, means that the entries in the first year add up to a six-figure sum. “Our cost/benefit analysis showed amortization in less than one year,” says Jochen Niedermeyer. The public utility company’s next step will be to enhance its invoice management with an automatic meter reading check from existing distributor documents. The company is also planning to introduce meter reading of counter data reported by customers and the automatic processing of material invoices.

Invoice Management at British American Tobacco

British American Tobacco (BAT) automated document entry with SER InvoiceMaster in order to achieve maximum effectiveness for preparing invoice processing in SAP R/3. In the company’s past procedure, the incoming invoices were not entered in SAP until a check had been carried out, but now, the invoices are scanned immediately on receipt by a provider and are then available electronically for further processing. The system classifies documents by vendor, and more than 1,000 vendors can be automatically identified in this way. The posting-relevant header and table data is then automatically read from the documents and parked in SAP R/3, or automatically updated immediately, if the data agrees with the order data in MM. Only invoices without a PO reference are sent to the relevant user department for checking and release, using a Lotus Notes workflow integrated in SAP. The incoming invoices ledger also included unposted documents, and therefore shows the total payables.
“Investment in SER InvoiceMaster paid off for us within just one year,” confirms Karsten Weber, European Treasurer at BAT. “The greater degree of transparency in accounts payable accounting supports the systematic exploitation of discounts and improves liquidity. The work processes in accounts payable accounting and user departments have thus become more efficient and effective,” says Karsten Weber, describing the company’s experiences with the solution.

Manfred Zerwas
Manfred Zerwas