The Welbeck Estate extends to some 15,000 acres and straddles the borders of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. With additional estates in Northumberland and Caithness in Scotland.
Over the past few years, The Welbeck Estates Company has embarked upon significant, and successful, business diversification. The estates combine farming activity with commercial and residential property management and investment.
More recently, the company has begun a complete redevelopment of 300,000 sq. ft. of buildings previously used by the Army as an educational college. A number of the buildings have already been refurbished and now house a range of commercial and retail operations – from the School of Artisan Food to a Farm Shop and Café, as well as offices.
Ian Goodwin, Finance Director of The Welbeck Estates Company, explains, “The heart of the business remains a very traditional English estate, but the company is developing and embracing other businesses. This diversification has created new demands and it is important to gain an understanding of the performance of the new business areas.”
One of the key steps in this process was a decision to minimise reliance on paper. “Welbeck Estates wanted to find a far more effective way of both managing and finding information,” he explains. “Driving paper from the business would reduce storage costs but, more importantly, release finance staff from routine clerical work.”
“From a purchase ledger perspective, it is now far easier to trace where invoices are in the purchase-to-pay process.”
Welbeck Estates opted to implement the Invu document management system. Goodwin confirms, “Invu offered two key benefits. Firstly, the powerful search function which enables users to locate data very quickly. Secondly, the integrated workflow enables the company to transform the purchase-to-pay process.”
Traditionally, invoices had been provided by suppliers direct to each department at Welbeck Estates as well as to the sites in Northumberland and Caithness. Processing up to 100,000 invoicing documents a year through a manual, primarily paper based process, the company found it difficult to track the progress of each invoice, and risked both duplicate invoices arriving in the finance system and invoices being misplaced during the approval process.
Welbeck Estates worked with Invu to centralise invoice processing and exploit the workflow functionality. Invoices are now all received centrally at Welbeck – either electronically to the finance department email, or paper based, where they are immediately scanned and loaded into the Invu workflow which is directly integrated with the finance system.
“This highly flexible way of searching for information is incredibly valuable.”
The centralised model has reduced the purchase-to-pay process by 50%. It now requires minimal input from the purchase ledger clerk, which has enabled Welbeck Estates to redeploy the clerk to other duties. The company has also significantly reduced the amount of space required for paper storage – a fact that enabled a shift to a smaller office during the recent redevelopment of the commercial space
Furthermore, information management has been transformed. Thompson says, “If Welbeck Estates receives a query from a supplier or a particular budget holder the information can be retrieved in seconds. In the past that process could take up to ten minutes to locate the correct file and any supporting information.”
Users also appreciate the ability to search for documentation in different ways, either against the document index or the document content. Thompson confirms. “Combined with good change management and a positive information management culture, Invu’s ease of use was key to achieving good user acceptance.”
Surveyors, for example, will routinely use the system to check whether or not a tenant has paid a bill and access relevant associated documentation. The next move will be to consider the value of adding non-finance information, such as property leases.
“If Welbeck Estates receives a query from a supplier or a particular budget holder the information can be retrieved in seconds”
Simon Thompson, Financial Accountant, Welbeck Estates Company, explains, “To realise the value of the investment in document management it is essential to avoid rekeying invoice information into the finance system. Using the Invu workflow and integration to the finance solution, there is no need to rekey.”.
In addition to removing the errors that are typically associated with the rekeying process, Invu automatically checks invoices for duplication, using supplier name, invoice number and amount to minimise the risk of duplicated invoices arriving in the finance system.
The implementation has created a far more robust invoice authorisation processes: each invoice is reviewed by three people and it is no longer possible for paper documents to be processed without the correct authorisation. Furthermore, the company has complete visibility of the invoice status in the process at any time. “In the past, when invoices went direct to the office in Caithness, for example, it was difficult to respond to supplier queries or effectively manage the process,” says Thompson.
Having realised the original vision of improved information retrieval within finance and far more effective purchase-to-pay processes, Welbeck Estates is now assessing how best to expand the use of Invu to include other documentation. The system has already been extended to include information on credit control and VAT returns and expanded to 35 users, including non-finance users, such as the property department.
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