Embracing the culture of change
With a high volume of invoices requiring approval from a range of different people across the country, paper invoices would often go missing or come back with coding errors. After automating the process, they have taken back control of the process.
Lambert Smith Hampton is a commercial property consultancy focusing on the UK and Irish commercial property markets.
As one of the leading London commercial property agents involved in the selling and letting of commercial property throughout the UK, Lambert Smith Hampton has in excess of 37 offices with its various accounting operational centres responsible for the processing of supplier invoices.
Following growth of the business over recent years and in particular a dramatic increase in the number of properties managed, the company was prompted to look towards automation of key business processes. In particular, its use of Invu’s Invoice Processing solution has transformed the invoice approvals process, driven efficiencies and empowered staff to make informed decisions within property management.
“It has improved our processes – not just the payment run but everything involved in the invoicing process.”
Processing large volumes
Lambert Smith Hampton is a commercial property consultancy focussed on the UK and Irish commercial property markets. Its property management division looks after a multitude of portfolios on behalf of its growing swell of clients, ranging from private investors, local authorities and a number of top-performing UK property funds. The challenge it faces is ensuring all the invoices and costs relating to each property it manages are paid in a timely fashion, having first been through the company’s invoice approvals process.
The company provides Facilities Management services to in excess of 1,200 properties which give rise to a large number of invoices for each property due to the range of services provided. In addition, it provides commercial property management services to over 12,000 properties which each generate perhaps no more than one or two invoices a year. The combined portfolio of management properties means the property management division is processing in excess of 100,000 invoices annually. Property Operations Director at Lambert Smith Hampton, Mark Butcher explains how they have overcome the pain of processing a volume of documents using the Invu Invoice Processing solution.
“Around 5% of all our invoices were going into a black hole”…. “Sometimes we were requesting four or five copies of invoices.”
Avoiding the paper process trap
The existing manual invoice approval process hadn’t really changed since the 1980s, as Butcher explains, “An invoice could touch a lot of people before being paid and there was a risk of error. One facility manager might look after 25 properties and might use the wrong expense code, which might not even exist for that property. Finance might then set up another code for that property but when it came to the Year End, we would end up having to correct it.”
A typical journey for paper-based invoices and printed copies of electronic invoices – representing around 10% of the total – started off by being stamped with a property and supplier reference and manually registered onto the accounting system, PMA (Property Management and Accounts). These stamped invoices were then forwarded to relevant surveyors for authorisation. The surveyors would then add the recovery information before the approved invoices were then sent back to finance to be entered onto the system and marked for payment. It was clear that the process was long-winded and prone to error.
“The invoice could touch a lot of people before being paid and there was a risk of error.”
Add to this antiquated process that each invoice required approval from a range of different people – many of whom were geographically dispersed – it becomes clear to see the fragmented nature of invoice processing. Meanwhile different authorisation levels were required depending on the value of the invoice. The time taken to route invoices around the business by a variety of means including internal mail and the post was not only long-winded and fragmented, but incredibly inefficient. The manual system also resulted in invoices being approved by people who weren’t authorised to do so due to the invoice value.
However, by far the biggest issue was missing invoices. “Around 5% of all our invoices were going into a black hole,” Butcher explains, “The lack of an audit trail meant visibility of the invoice approval process was inexact and if there was a hold up somewhere along the line, the absence of any notification often led accounts to assume the invoice was lost and request a copy. Sometimes we were requesting four or five copies of invoices.”
Going digital and saving space
Following years of continual issues, the decision was taken to implement an electronic solution. Butcher explains, “We were looking for visibility of the process and we needed something that removed all of the paper we had in files. Space is a really big issue with paper files occupying expensive office space.”
Lambert Smith Hampton evaluated a number of other applications but Butcher realised these would need significant customisation to meet his requirements. Having seen Invu in use first-hand at a smaller managing agency, Butcher admits, “I was impressed from the outset, particularly in the way that Invu integrated with our PMA accounting system. The ability to retrieve records at the touch of a button offers huge advantages over the manual system.”
“We know who is responsible for any particular part of the process in the approvals chain and we can see any weaknesses in that chain. It has given us visibility across the whole division.”
Despite the highly-technical nature of the software, in-depth understanding of the property management industry combined with a good track record and a host of happy clients made the decision to go with Invu all the more easy as Butcher describes, “Invu spoke our language, they knew the PMA system and they had done it all before.”
Spending a lot of time on the detail ensured that Lambert Smith Hampton went live on Valentine’s Day 2015 without a hitch.
Increased visibility and control
The visibility offered by Invu has given Lambert Smith Hampton a new level of accountability. “We know who is responsible for any particular part of the process in the approvals chain and we can see any weaknesses in that chain,” Butcher says. “It has given us visibility across the whole division as well as the ability to see everyone’s intray, files and queries.”
Web approval and coding modules further streamline the process, allowing people to access and approve invoices at any time and from anywhere as long as they have a VPN connection. Invu uses a matrix to define workflows, allowing only those staff with the requisite authority to approve invoices. An in-house systems analyst keeps the matrix up-to-date to ensure invoices pass through the solution seamlessly. At the same time, Invu only allows people to choose expense codes that are relevant to that property. “It gives us lots of control, but also eliminates the opportunity for error,” Butcher says.
“It has improved our processes – not just the payment run but everything involved in the invoicing process. People are empowered to know everything that’s going on with their invoices and it has given accounts payable teams more authority to make informed decisions.”
Lambert Smith Hampton – Invoice Processing
Changing the business culture
It’s no understatement that Invu has changed the culture of the accounting team, who no longer use PMA to identify where invoices are in the system. Butcher explains, “We know that if it’s not in Invu, we need to get a copy. Overnight uploads from Invu into PMA ensure that the system is always up-to-date. It has moved us away from relying on PMA to identify where invoices are in the process.”
Similarly, the use of Invu represented a huge shift for authorisers of invoices who were perhaps more used to the ‘comfort’ of paper. “Change is always difficult to manage but the team very quickly saw the benefits of having access directly in their inboxes and on their desktop,” Butcher says.
The intuitive nature of the product helped hugely. “We did a roadshow around the country to train authorisers on Invu starting with our biggest sceptics and they found it so easy straightaway. The coding module within Invu has revolutionised the way invoices are coded, approved and processed within LSH.”
“Invu spoke our language, they knew the PMA system and they had done it all before.”
Empower the workforce
The number of operations (mouse clicks) needed to approve an invoice has been pared down to the minimum, however the solution remains flexible enough so that surveyors can go in and change things if they need to.
But for Butcher, it’s the visibility offered by the Invu solution that has had the biggest impact on the business. “It has improved our processes – not just the payment run but everything involved in the invoicing process. People are empowered to know everything that’s going on with their invoices and it has given accounts payable teams more authority to make informed decisions.”
“The coding module within Invu has revolutionised the way invoices are coded, approved and processed within LSH.”
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