Adieu to Paper-Based Processes

Panasonic is standardizing invoice processing across Europe (source: Panasonic/20th Century Fox)
Panasonic is standardizing invoice processing across Europe (source: Panasonic/20th Century Fox)

By electronically processing their incoming invoices, internationally operating companies with a large number of invoices entering the organization at different places can reduce their process costs considerably and make their accounting practices more transparent. Panasonic Europe used to deploy a non-SAP-based workflow solution. “We wanted to replace this with a system that’s directly integrated with SAP,” says Dirk Bammann, general manager for European projects at Panasonic. In the end, the company chose the product xFlow Invoice from WMD. More than 800 users now sign off around 75,000 invoices every year with the solution, which is integrated into SAP ERP.

Panasonic now has a workflow solution that can be deployed Europe-wide and adjusted to meet individual country-specific processes, such as determining agents locally or specifying special input help for certain geographic areas. What’s more, xFlow Invoice complies with the U.S. Sarbanes-Oxley Act and enables the company to meet all the related legal requirements for the steps in invoice processing, by providing, for example, a complete document history.

International implementation team

After Panasonic had decided on the product, it formed an implementation team from resources distributed across the globe. The task of this team was to coordinate the technologies of the individual project partners and to prepare the European rollout of the workflow solution. The parties involved were IBM for the archiving component with an IBM content server, HP for the hardware, and WMD and Aequitas as Panasonic’s external IT service providers. The project kicked off in February 2008. Once the groundwork had been completed, xFlow Invoice went live at the U.K. subsidiary in October 2008, followed by the Nordics in January 2009, and Germany and Austria some two months later.

xFlow Invoice is installed at locations in Bracknell (United Kingdom), Hamburg (Germany) and Stockholm (Sweden). All the U.K. invoices are now sent to Bracknell, where they are scanned. The German and Austrian invoices are sent to Hamburg, while Stockholm is the central point for documents from Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. During the scanning process, the document reader software reads the relevant invoice data and reconciles it with the master data in the SAP system. Together with the image, the invoice data is then forwarded by workflow to the relevant locations to be verified and released. In total, 800 people are involved in verifying and releasing invoices throughout Europe. Panasonic scans its documents using its own KV-S7075C flat bed scanners.

WMD workflow based on SAP standards

“Today, we map all our invoice verification processes with the WMD xFlow Invoice workflow solution, which is based on SAP standards,” Bammann explains. “This enables us to standardize our European processes for dealing with invoices and credit notes to a large extent. There’s no longer any need to send paper documents backward and forward and all the parties involved can view the status of their invoice at any time.”

WMD xFlow Invoice is based on a generic solution that comprises a large number of functions, including customizing for individual workflow steps, central user administration, and its own text system. All verification and release steps are available within and beyond the SAP system (using Web access). A central incoming invoice ledger provides the necessary transparency.

Optimized balance sheet planning thanks to detailed reports

Speeding up processes also reduces process costs. Because there is now greater transparency, all the cash discount periods can be adhered to and less data entry work is required. Staff who were previously employed to enter data manually into the SAP systems can now be given more meaningful tasks in accounting. But the new solution has other benefits for the heads of the accounting departments in the individual European countries. “xFlow Invoice enables us to – for example – create comprehensive reports about invoice statuses, so we can optimize our balance sheet planning,” says Holger Huber, general manager at Panasonic’s Finance and Accounting Center.

WMD connects to SAP ERP using its own xFlow Interface, an SAP-certified system interface for integrating processes with the SAP NetWeaver technology platform. This enables Panasonic to map “early” and “late” storage using the SAP ArchiveLink software and to link different file formats to any SAP business objects – all useful functions when processing incoming invoices. “We can now transfer invoice header and item data together with images to our SAP systems,” explains Bammann. “The interface verifies that the data transferred and the values are correct and performs a completeness check. With a special monitoring function, our employees monitor the status of all the invoices – and can process the invoices, too.”

Next: holistic solution for purchase orders and payments

Now that the invoice processing solution has been implemented and gone live, Panasonic Europe is already in the throes of follow-on projects with more WMD solutions. Rollouts are in the pipeline for other Panasonic subsidiaries that use SAP as their main ERP system. Furthermore, Panasonic plans to implement the xFlow Procurement solution for digital procurement management throughout Europe as an enhancement to xFlow Invoice. The goal is to set up an holistic procure-to-pay solution for purchase orders and payments. This will enable Panasonic to improve the way it structures its ordering processes for SAP users. xFlow Procurement is also based on the SAP Business Workflow standard and was designed for corporate purchasing departments.

xFlow Procurement provides employees in the ordering department with a central overview of their orders and enables them to create procurement requests in SAP or through a Web browser. As a result, users who had previously only been able to participate in processes using hard copies can now be included in the automated ordering process.

“Our aim is to use xFlow Procurement to considerably increase the proportion of invoices with a purchase order reference, so that we can automate invoice verification and release to the greatest possible extent,” says Bammann, evidently satisfied with the progress made so far.