The Hendre Group manage a combined housing stock of over 5,000 properties. with an annual turnover in excess of £35m and a total headcount comprising over 950 staff.
Hendre’s Looking to the Future objectives are resolutely growth-driven from providing existing services to more clients to developing new products and services. Alongside this is a stated ambition for Hendre to remain a major influence within its sphere of work. According to Allan Jones, Information Systems Manager at Hendre, the organisation prides itself on being “ahead of the field, delivering support, housing and services to the local population from cradle to grave.” All of this requires good enabling systems and Hendre understood early on the need for appropriate processes and technologies. In 2005, the search for a Document Management solution for the finance department led to the adoption of Invu Document Management.
Hendre Ltd was formed in November 2002 creating a new Group structure to provide corporate services to its Group members. This centralised service model gives both strategic and operational support to organisations within the Hendre Group so they can focus on delivering primary customer services. Hendre recognises the commercial value of these services and therefore they are also available as an outsource to external organisations. These range from operational support with corporate services (finance processing, IT consultancy, HR services etc.) through to a full development service. There is even access to the executive team with a strategic support service.
“I can’t think how we ever managed prior to Invu – it’s become completely engrained in how we operate.”
Prior to adopting its Invu solution Hendre faced a number of issues that created a drag on operational efficiency. Some were widespread across the business but it was in Finance and specifically the Payables team where the most significant day-to-day problems arose. Charged with managing a busy purchase ledger this group deals with suppliers, contractors and HM Revenue & Customs. Approximately 1,000 invoices are processed each week.
- Invoice authorisation was paper-based – as much as 50% of a team member’s day could be spent finding and processing physical invoices
- Invoice processing was inherently slow taking 4-6 weeks for a typical payment to be processed through to payment. Much of the department’s time was spent chasing down budget holders to sign off invoices. Saving time was therefore a prime consideration in the Hendre decision to adopt a Document Management solution. Quicker processing would release a disproportionate amount of time as chase-up time and supplier queries would reduce.
- In some cases late payments would trigger red letters, penalties and even court notices
- Paper-based invoices were frequently unaccounted for – they could be in-transit between finance, authorisers and next level sign-off or even lost. This could lead to poor communications with suppliers, service issues, late payment and an overall lack of control in some cases
- Storage – despite modern new offices Hendre faces some very typical space constraints. This was highlighted when Foundation Housing Tai Sylfaen’s offices in Taff’s Well were closed. All personnel and the records of all current and previous tenants needed to be housed in Hendre’s Cardiff head office. This meant 7,000 files needed to be stored – 7,000 files which would take up a large amount of valuable space.
- “Hendre has a good Disaster Recovery plan, but our paper files were always the weak link,” according to Allan Jones, Information Systems Manager, Hendre. “Our IT systems are well catered for but paper is extremely vulnerable to fire and flood. We were nervous when thinking about how we’d ever recover if we lost the physical records.”
“Within days staff were using the software and within a few weeks we could see benefits. As Hendre has expanded we have become leaner and increasingly efficient.”
The Approach – Selection
Hendre’s purchasing decision came at the end of 2 years of research and vendor meetings. Thinking back to the final shortlist of 3 candidates, Allan considers the contributing elements in the final decision and is very clear: “There were two things which we identified as winning factors. The integration with our QLx system was clean and simple – it was something we felt we could use immediately. There were other alternatives but the combination of functionality and cost was pitched just right. We could have paid a lot more money for features we probably wouldn’t have used. Invu struck the right balance.”
Project Design & Implementation
Hendre kept things simple so implementation was straightforward. Aside from configuring a practical filing structure and taxonomy the most significant piece of work related to Invu Workflow. Hendre’s invoice process was to be automated with invoices being routed automatically to appropriate budget holders for sign off. The rules in place would be determined by an invoice’s value, type and a budget holder’s authorisation limit. Understanding the desired process, agreeing the need and then designing the workflow involved close consultation between engineer and customer. Once tested the workflows were signed off by the Hendre stakeholders ready for use.
Hendre uses Aareon’s QLx as its Housing and CRM technology. At this stage in proceedings deep level integration was not seen as a necessity. Simple access to documents from key QLx screens enabled staff to find all documents within context – if a finance team member has a supplier query to answer then it’s simple to pull back the documents by reference to the property or tenant or supplier whilst in the QLx record.
(For the future, Hendre anticipates implementing more detailed integration based on document content and PO details within the QLF finance system. This will automate much of the document capture and even more of the authorisation workflow whilst also cross-referencing and updating QLF to register new invoices)
“The integration with our QLx system was clean and simple – it was something we felt we could use immediately.”
Invoice authorisation has been transformed. All invoices are scanned in as they arrive into Hendre. All budget holders have access to the Invu system and receive tasks with invoices for review and sign off. There is no need to chase manual invoices around the organisation. Instead, automated workflows deliver electronic versions to the authoriser’s desktop for action or escalation. The result is much quicker approval and resolution. The process is slick with the Finance Payables team accessing invoices and related documents directly from within QLx for a flow which is uninterrupted by trips to filing stores. Payment times have been slashed. The 4-6 weeks typical duration is now down to 2 weeks and frequently less. As a consequence those embarrassing instances where late payment attracts a penalty are rare – “Being cautious, I’d say these have dropped by 60-70% from the pre-Invu days. It’s a real exception where we incur a penalty nowadays,” according to Allan.
However, headcount has increased from 2 to 4 dedicated staff. Allan identifies this as a consequence of the additional services and greater throughput: “We’d have needed a small army to handle the increased input if we’d stayed as we were and the service levels would have been unpredictable.”
Because finance documents are no longer sent around the organisation, originals aren’t lost or sitting untouched on a budget holder’s desk. The level of control for the Finance Department is vastly improved leading to greater confidence in levels of commitment and exposure
Peace of Mind
Shortly before closing its Bridgend office, Hendre experienced a minor flood. This was after all filing had been transferred for back scanning and lodging into Invu Document Management. The damage was not significant but it served as a reminder that paper filing is vulnerable and carries a high risk of losing years of information which could never be retrieved or recompiled. All key documents and all finance departments are saved into Invu and, once digitised, they can be backed up and the risk assuaged.
The 20 staff in the Housing Management team also have access to Invu and have seen real, everyday improvements. All outgoing post to tenants is captured so there is always a complete history held for every property and tenant. Remote workers can access Invu and so no longer need to take files out on site. Information is always available. Document retrieval is quick and so queries are now more straightforward rather than a wholesale interruption. Although the amount of time previously wasted on searching for documents hasn’t been formally quantified it is clearly noticeable, with service improved and productivity enhanced.
Allan cites the maintenance team. Regular property surveys are needed for gas and electrical safety certification. Following each inspection the forms are lodged on record in Invu’s document repository. By tagging the next due date in each case, a regular report can trigger the next survey for example, including a note to the tenant. Compliance across a range of areas from Health and Safety to Data Protection can be maintained thanks to accurate fiing, secure access and automated processes.
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