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University of Essex streamlines purchasing and invoicing processes to drive extra value and improve efficiency

Executive overview

Profile

Sector
Education

No. of suppliers
4,000+

No. of invoices processed
25,000 p/a

No. of staff
3000

How Proactis helped

  • Implementation of a marketplace giving end users access to various punch-outs and catalogues.
  • Provided an automated solution so that invoices are scanned with "intelligent” data capture.
  • Dedicated query desk handling for invoices.
  • Provided employees with a single "consumer-style" online destination.
  • Seamless integration with the University’s finance system.

Benefits

  • The University now has much more visibility of the ordering and invoicing processes.
  • Processes are now standardised across the University.
  • Employees can now quickly and easily find what they need from approved suppliers.
  • Consolidated supplier base.
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Background

The University of Essex is a public research university in Essex, England. It was established in 1963 and welcomed its first students in 1964, now serving over 14,760 and employs over 800 academic staff. The University processes almost 25,000 invoices a year. 

The Payments team is made up of five people who were having to manually manage and process the 25,000 invoices a year. “We have 300 people around the University who are able to raise orders,” stated Philip Sweeting, Head of Procurement at the University. “The process of manually managing purchase invoices and exceptions was very resource-intensive.” 

Invoices were not received and registered centrally and they were often received into departments with no PO number. Not only did this lead to suppliers sometimes being paid late, but there was no transparency of our financial commitments or where invoices were in the payment process.”

The University already used Proactis’ Source-to-Contract solutions so took the decision to implement Proactis Invoice Capture to automate receipt and payment of paper and pdf invoices, and to introduce a process where orders would not be taken without a valid PO number. The ultimate aim was full control and visibility of the ordering and invoicing processes.  

How Proactis helped

Proactis introduced a fully-automated invoice scanning and PDF import solution with intelligent data capture and query desk resolution. This integrated seamlessly with the University’s existing Unit4 Business World finance system.

Carol Saward, Head of Income & Payments at the University: “Invoices are now received centrally, scanned, automatically attached to the relevant purchase order, and then transferred into the finance system for matching and payment approval. We are also now able to accept electronic invoices and suppliers can use the ‘PO flip’ functionality. This has streamlined the team’s turnaround time and provides more insight into where invoices are in the payment process. This, along with the ability for us to pay on time, has improved the relationship with our suppliers.”

Working with Proactis, the University also looked at providing employees with a single online destination where they can quickly and easily find what they need from suppliers – all within established purchase authorisation policies. Proactis Marketplace was selected to host all supplier catalogues and punch-outs as required.

“We have received excellent feedback from our buyers that the Proactis system provides an easy-to-use online tool for them to quickly and easily find, compare and choose what they need, when they need it. All from approved suppliers,” added Phil.

Benefits

Through Proactis Marketplace, the University was also able to streamline and consolidate its supplier base. This not only resulted in improved efficiency but also savings such as membership fees and postage. Phil estimates that the University saved over £8,000 in delivery savings through Amazon Business punchout. 

“Overall, we have been able to streamline our purchasing and invoicing processes. Purchase order invoices can now be scanned with the information extracted and automatically validated. This vastly improves our invoicing process and provides the visibility and control we need for financial planning,” continued Carol.

A dedicated, web-based query resolution process was deployed so that the University can rapidly resolve any invoice non-conformance issues such as missing or incorrect supplier information. This gives a clear picture of the reasons and sources of any invoice exceptions. 

"The audit record provided by Proactis is also extremely beneficial. If a query is raised about why an invoice isn’t on the system, we now have clear visibility and email trail,” added Carol. “We can safely respond with details of when an email was sent. Additionally, we have been able to improve our service to suppliers. If we haven’t paid an invoice, we are able to identify immediately where in the process it is and can inform the supplier accordingly.”

“Probably the most relevant benefit, however, is that the University can access everything, in the same place, from anywhere,” concluded Phil. “The Proactis solutions have been hugely helpful during Covid. We actually implemented the project during lockdown, when we were working remotely. There were occasions where invoices were literally sitting in people’s in-trays. We now have full confidence that our invoicing processes and payment to suppliers are robust. Through working in partnership with Proactis, we were able to deliver this project for the university, despite the Covid situation, on time and within budget."